by Keava O’Loan
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of Photoshop. It is also, coincidentally, the week which saw the release of unretouched images of Cindy Crawford in a spread for Marie Claire magazine, and over two-hundred unretouched photos of Beyoncé from a 2013 L’Oreal campaign. The most shocking thing about these images was not the fact that, like every other human on the planet, Beyoncé gets blemishes/has laughter lines/is in possession of pores, or that Crawford, at the age of 48, has wrinkles/has cellulite/has abs which are not quite as rock-solid as they were before she had two children. No, the most shocking thing was the public reaction – people are so accustomed to seeing edited and perfected images that we are now shocked by reality.
Obviously we are aware of reality. We see ourselves every day in the mirror; we see our friends and family at both their best and worst. It is very rare, however, that we see a bare-faced, unretouched, totally true to life image of a celebrity. When these types of photos are available, there is a kind of public crucifixion: magazines circle blemishes and under-eye bags in their ‘hoop of horror’, the pictures go viral on the internet. Celebrities are meant to look perfect 24/7 because that’s the image they sell us. When the smokescreens and expert lighting come down, when we are ‘subjected’ to Beyoncé’s blemishes or Cindy Crawford’s cellulite, we’re disgusted. This wasn’t what we signed up for! We want escapism, glamour. We want to be able to believe that perfection is possible.
Thomas Knoll, the inventor of Photoshop, recently expressed concerns about the overuse of his program when discussing Photoshop with the press, saying: “Photoshop is a tool and like any tool it can be abused. A lot of stuff I’m not really happy with … especially the body image issues that it creates for a lot of women.” This is a sentiment that is shared by many, celebs included. Kate Winslet said of her heavily edited GQ cover in 2003: “The retouching is excessive. I do not look like that, and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that.” Model Coco Rocha echoed this, saying:
“You see a model walk down the street and she’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, no makeup, her hair down, and she looks like a regular girl. For me just to look ‘natural’ in a photo takes two hours of hair and makeup, good lighting, styling, and Photoshop – and six hours later, you have the picture. But when I go home, it’s just me with no makeup, pimples, and a pair of baggy pants. That’s life — the rest is fantasy.”
Crawford herself famously said: “Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford when I wake up!” However, others are strongly in favour of the software. Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed her love for the editing tool when she spoke about her Dior campaign: “I love Photoshop more than anything in the world. Of course it’s Photoshop, people don’t look like that!” To a degree, Lawrence is right: when we live in a world so saturated with pictures that have been tweaked and perfected, of course we are aware that digital manipulation is at play. However, it is the oversaturation of these images in our society that causes the problem – when photos of people appearing in their natural state are considered to be grotesque, abnormal, or even brave, it conditions us to believe that perfection is the norm. Young girls shouldn’t grow up thinking that something is wrong with them if they have stretchmarks. Boys shouldn’t grow up believing that women don’t have body hair. They say the camera never lies, but it seems that has never been less true.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining to the leaking of these photos: it has opened up a public debate about the manipulation of the images we see daily. It gives us a chance to realise that an unretouched image doesn’t show us an ugly person; it just shows us a person. It gives us the chance to open our eyes to the media’s overuse of Photoshop and realise that nobody is flawless, not even Queen Bey. And that’s okay.