UPDATE: I may have been wrong about this one and, if so, I apologize. The Univ. of Alabama has released a statement saying that the image is not photoshopped, including a quote from the student saying “It’s kind of funny, but people are blowing it out of proportion a little bit.” If anyone has further information on this story, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2000, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was sued by a man named Diallo Shabazz. Because the college wanted to present itself as a diverse place, Shabazz, a black man, had been featured in university marketing materials for several years. That year, however, his face was photoshopped into a picture of a crowd at a football game. He complained, but was blown off. He’d had enough. In his lawsuit, he asked not for a settlement, but for a “budgetary apology”: money dedicated to increasing the actual diversity of the campus.
Today @EricTTung sent us another example of this kind of doctored diversity, currently the first slide on the homepage of the University of Alabama. Do you see it?
How about now?
Note the skin color of the African American man’s hands.
As I’d written in the post about Shabazz, this teaches us both that colleges believe that diversity is a useful commodity with which to market their institutions and that, “if real diversity isn’t possible, cosmetic diversity will do.”
Recruitment of minorities to a mostly white campus: tricky. Addressing the systematic educational underinvestment in minorities prior to arriving: expensive. Retaining minorities in that environment: challenging. Photoshop: easy.
The philosopher Susan Sontag has written achingly about the way in which men are allowed to age and women are not.
The great advantage men have is that our culture allows two standards of male beauty: the boy and the man. The beauty of a boy resembles the beauty of a girl. In both sexes it is a fragile kind of beauty and flourishes naturally only in the early part of the life-cycle. Happily, men are able to accept themselves under another standard of good looks — heavier, rougher, more thickly built…
There is no equivalent of this second standard for women. The single standard of beauty for women dictates that they must go on having clear skin. Every wrinkle, every line, every gray hair, is a defeat.
What a stunning example of Sontag’s observation. The men are not considered unattractive by virtue of the fact that you can tell they have skin. The women, in contrast, have faces that are so smooth that they look inhuman; their images are halfway between photograph and cartoon. Amazingly, this treatment of images of men and women is so ubiquitous that it now looks more or less normal to us.
A former editor at Cosmopolitan, Leah Hardy, recently wrote an exposé about the practice of photoshopping models to hide the health and aesthetic costs of extreme thinness. Below is an example featuring Cameron Diaz:
The story about Diaz, in The Telegraph, includes the following description of the image’s manipulation:
Face: Cheeks appear filled out
Thighs: Wider in the picture on the right
Hip: The bony definition has been smoothed away
Stomach: A fuller, more natural look
Arms: A bit more bulk in the arms and shoulders
Another example was posted at The Daily What. Notice that her prominent ribcage has been photoshopped out of the photograph on the right, which ran in the October 2012 issue of Numéro.
Hardy, the editor at Cosmo, explains that she frequently re-touched models who were “frighteningly thin.” Others have reported similar practices:
Jane Druker, the editor of Healthy magazine — which is sold in health food stores — admitted retouching a cover girl who pitched up at a shoot looking “really thin and unwell”…
The editor of the top-selling health and fitness magazine in the U.S., Self, has admitted: “We retouch to make the models look bigger and healthier”…
And the editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, has quietly confessed to being appalled by some of the models on shoots for her own magazine, saying: “I have found myself saying to the photographers, ‘Can you not make them look too thin?’”
Robin Derrick, creative director of Vogue, has admitted: “I spent the first ten years of my career making girls look thinner — and the last ten making them look larger.”
Hardy described her position as a “dilemma” between offering healthy images and reproducing the mythology that extreme thinness is healthy:
At the time, when we pored over the raw images, creating the appearance of smooth flesh over protruding ribs, softening the look of collarbones that stuck out like coat hangers, adding curves to flat bottoms and cleavage to pigeon chests, we felt we were doing the right thing… We knew our readers would be repelled by these grotesquely skinny women, and we also felt they were bad role models and it would be irresponsible to show them as they really were.
But now, I wonder. Because for all our retouching, it was still clear to the reader that these women were very, very thin. But, hey, they still looked great!
They had 22-inch waists (those were never made bigger), but they also had breasts and great skin. They had teeny tiny ankles and thin thighs, but they still had luscious hair and full cheeks.
Thanks to retouching, our readers… never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn’t look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and Bambi eyes.
Insightfully, Hardy describes this as a “vision of perfection that simply didn’t exist” and concludes, “[n]o wonder women yearn to be super-thin when they never see how ugly [super-]thin can be.”
UPDATE: A comment has brought up the point that it’s bad to police people’s bodies, no matter whether they’re thin or fat. And this is an important point (made well here) and, while I agree that some of the language is harsh, that’s not what’s going on here. The vast majority of the models who need reverse photoshopping aren’t women who just happen to have that body type. They are part of an social institution that demands extreme thinness and they’re working hard on their bodies to be able to deliver it. This isn’t, then, about shaming naturally thin women, it’s about (1) calling out an industry that requires women to be unhealthy and then hides the harmful consequences and (2) acknowledging that even people who are a part of that industry don’t necessarily have the power to change it.
After the outcry in response to this revelation began, IKEA responded by called the removal of women a “mistake” “in conflict with the IKEA Group values.” IKEA seems to have agreed with its critics: erasing women capitulates to a sexist society and that is wrong.
But, there is a competing progressive value at play: cultural sensitivity. Isn’t removing the women from the catalog the respectful and non-ethnocentric thing to do?
Susan Moller Okin wrote a paper that famously asked, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” The question led to two decades of debate and an interrogating of the relationship between culture and power. Who gets to decide what’s cultural? Whose interests does cultural sensitivity serve?
The IKEA catalog suggests that (privileged) men get to decide what Saudi Arabian culture looks like (though many women likely endorse the cultural mandate to keep women out of view as well). So, respecting culture entails endorsing sexism because men are in charge of the culture?
Well, it depends. It certainly can go that way, and often does. But there’s a feminist (and anti-colonialist) way to do this too. Respecting culture entails endorsing sexism only if we demonize certain cultures as irredeemably sexist and unable to change. In fact, most cultures have sexist traditions. Since all of those cultures are internally-contested and changing, no culture is hopelessly sexist. Ultimately, one can bridge their inclinations to be both culturally sensitive and feminist by seeking out the feminist strains in every culture and hoping to see those manifested as it evolves.
None of this is going to solve IKEA’s problem today, but it does illustrate one of difficult-to-solve paradoxes in contemporary progressive politics.
McDonald’s Canada released a video showing a photoshoot for a hamburger. It reveals the techniques that are used to get that luscious, huge, fresh look that so tempts us in food ads. I think it’s great to add to the examples of retouching people to spark discussion on our relationship to the manipulated images around us and the effects of different types of retouched images.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen multiple examples of before-and-after photos that illustrated how re-touching is used to help celebrities and models meet those unrealistic beauty standards we see in the media (see our posts on Katy Perry, a parody Photoshop ad, pre-retouched Playboy pics (NSFW!), Jessica Alba, and Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian). Dolores R. sent in a video of a man emphasizing the other side of the equation — that is, how the “before” body in supplement ads can be manipulated to make the apparent transformation especially dramatic:
A lot of readers were taken with the new parody video, “Fotoshop by Adobé,” that has been making it’s way around the internet. Created by filmmaker Jesse Rosten, the video parodies beauty product commercials that play on and encourage insecurities while promising women magical transformations that will allow them to attain entirely unrealistic beauty standards overnight due to ground-breaking science-y sounding ingredients and processes (“pro-pixel intensifying fauxtanical hydro-jargon microbead extract”). Enjoy!
Thanks to Jessica B., Kate A., Rex S., Emma M.H., Jessica W., finefin, Bernardo, Robin D., Priyanka Mathew (who posts at Culture+Marketing+Politics), runbotrun, Dmitriy T.M., Lots of Models, Tom Megginson, and my colleague Pete La Chapelle for sending it in!