The Photoshop Conundrum

We all know about Photoshop. When used benevolently, it cleans up a photo by erasing blemishes, the errant leg hair, or a visible bra strap. However, we also know that it’s used to significantly change the look of a celebrity or model, most often slimming her down or—ahem—“enhancing” her breasts. But here’s the thing—we all know that magazines use Photoshop, yet we still feel that all-too-familiar pang of inferiority. The intellectual part of our brain says, “Yeah, she doesn't really look like that”; at the same time, the insecure, self-critical part says, “She’s lost the baby weight after only six weeks. And you stand there with your half-gallon of rocky road; no wonder you’re so gross.” Our logical part battles our self-judging part—and guess who usually wins.

Photoshop is a useful tool to bring out the best in the subject. And most of us can look at a magazine cover and recognize when it’s been used to alter someone’s size. Allow me to pick on Oprah Winfrey for a moment. Through the years we have seen her gain and lose weight. But her fans stick with her regardless of what her scale says.

Take a look at the two pictures below. The first one is a candid shot—and she looks great. The cover image, which would have been taken in generally the same time period, shows Oprah with a slimmer waist, much smaller breasts, and thinner arms. I think her face is slimmed down as well. Why is it necessary to alter the photo of someone who has built a career around being authentic and connecting to one’s “true self”?

It’s not just Oprah—and quite frankly, I don’t know how much say she has in the final cover. But I think the Oprah in the skinny jeans and bright sweater looks great. Is that Oprah not good enough for her magazine cover?

Photoshopped magazine covers are part of the barrage of images that we run into every day. And the altered images can get under our skins at a deep emotional level. So when that nudge of self-doubt arises, take a moment and breathe. We live in our un-retouched selves; these imperfect bodies dance, hug, sing, swim, and on and on. Our bits and pieces tell stories that compose our lives.

So when you see a Photoshopped picture, remind yourself that as the waistline was narrowed, as the arms were thinned down, and as stretch marks on the thighs were erased, part of that person’s story was lost too. Luckily, Photoshop isn’t permanent and Oprah still has her whole beautiful self.


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