Numerous other companies have been caught by consumers and journalists altering images of models to portray unrealistic and often extremely distorted images of beauty. In March 2014, the Huffington Post published an article which accused the popular company Target of editing an online photo of a swimsuit model for their junior apparel line. The article, Target’s Latest Photoshop Fail Looks Pretty Painful, criticizes the retailer for editing photos of junior models. The photo depicts a young girl in a two-piece bathing suit with a portion of her crotch eliminated in order to make her appear skinnier. A Target spokesperson casually explained the mistake as “a photo editing error.”
The above examples are important because they epitomize the millions of advertisements and messages of beauty that women and young girls experience in our society. Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory (1954) generally states that we develop our own self-concept through comparison with others who we view as similar to ourselves. Furthermore, Festinger’s theory alludes to the correlation between viewing advertising images and young females’ body image. Researchers Hendricks and Burgoon agree in their 2003 article, “The relationship between fashion magazine consumption and body satisfaction in women: Who is most at risk of influence?” They state that Americans use the media as their primary source of information and influence about others in our culture. Individuals use media images to help make comparisons between ourselves and others. And the more images we view and comparisons we make, the more we accept the image of beauty with which we are presented.
Researchers Krayer, Ingledew, and Iphofen (2007), in their article Social Comparison and Body Image in Adolescence: A Grounded Theory, explore individual effects of social comparisons and explain, “Numerous experimental studies have shown that body dissatisfaction was increased by viewing or reading appearance-focused material or being exposed to peer messages about thinness.” Simply put, viewing images of ‘beautiful’ men and women, such as in advertising, may lower our self-esteem and opinion of our own body image.
Not only are we comparing ourselves to advertising images, but the images we see depict unattainable and highly sexualized beauty. Jean Kilborne, a researcher in the forefront of women’s media studies, clearly articulates the negative messages that are being given to women through advertising in her video, Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women. The American Psychological Association, likewise, published a Task Force Report on the sexualization of girls in the media and found that “…Girls and young women who more frequently consume or engage with mainstream media content offer stronger endorsement of sexual stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects… They also place appearance and physical attractiveness at the center of women’s value.”
When young females are shown a photoshopped image, one that alters a woman’s real physical appearance, they are led to believe that the image they see is ‘real’ and thus an attainable human form. Adolescents’ desire to replicate the images they see in advertising is concerning because the beauty they are emulating only exists because of computer editing software.
When companies decide to use photoshopped images, consumers become wary and may question a company’s integrity and authenticity. Don Tapscott, in his book “Grown Up Digital,” identifies scrutiny and integrity as two of the values that characterize the millenial generation. He describes this generation of students as consumers who ‘trust but verify’ and who expect companies to be honest in their advertising. Although they expect integrity and authenticity from companies they know, young adults are able to search the internet and verify or validate many facts about companies they buy from; such as a company’s hiring practices, mission, values, etc. Tapscott states, “They do not want to work for, or buy a product from, an organization that is dishonest. They also expect companies to be considerate of their customers, employees, and the communities in which they operate.” Young women expect companies such as Target to be truthful about their products and, likewise, be truthful in their advertising. When young adults discover that a company has been less than forthright and in fact deceived their audience millenials will sound the alarm. Therefore, photoshopping images may not only be an unethical choice for companies, but may prove to be a bad business practice as well.
Not all companies and celebrities agree with the Photoshop epidemic. Many celebrities have chosen to appear on magazine covers without make-up, asking magazines to intentionally use non-edited photos. Likewise, the singer, Colbie Calliet, in her recent music video for the song, “Try,” features the singer and others intentionally make-up free.
Another company which received notoriety for standing up to using photoshopped advertising is the clothing brand Aerie, a company owned by American Eagle Outfitters. In January 2014, the popular clothing brand agreed to stop using Photoshop on their models’ photographs. The brand announced the decision in January to precede the release of their Spring 2014 lingerie line. Although they are not shaking up the advertising industry by any means, the clothing brand depicts models in their ‘real’ bodies—with stretch marks, dimples, moles and tattoos. The company is moving in the right direction and may be gaining new customers who value the brand’s authenticity and commitment to ‘real’ female beauty.
The advent of social media has allowed not only journalists but consumers too, to publicize via social media the campaigns of companies who radically alter images used in their advertising. The public has spoken out through their personal blogs to verbalize their disappointment, while others have used this medium as a vehicle for their personal experiments with beauty and Photoshop. Esther Honig, a 24 year old radio journalist from Missouri, wanted to test the expanse of the internet and the talent of photoshoppers around the world. Using a camera, she took a picture of herself and contacted individuals from countries around the world. She asked them to use Photoshop to intentionally alter her image to their countries’ ideal image of beauty. The result is a beautiful collage of 27 images from different artists all depicting Ms. Honig in different hairstyles and make-up, ultimately reflecting different images of beauty.
Today, consumers capitalize on the power of social media to wield influence with big companies and organizations. Social media has allowed those who oppose the use of Photoshop to form communities and give strength and power to their collective voice. Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook have been vehicles for the recent cultural response by younger generations to such advertising campaigns.
An angry tweet about a product or a blogger who uncovers a Photoshop mistake can alert thousands of followers and gather virtual support in order to pressure a company to make change. The power of individuals acting collectively is an important force in affecting change and pressuring companies to stop photoshopping images.
Using Photoshop to alter advertising images is not going to disappear without pressure from the public. Consumers can and have utilized social media to voice concern and opposition to companies’ use of Photoshop. Using images of unattainable beauty is detrimental to young girls’ body image and perpetuates the Western cultural perception that there is one ideal image of beauty. Perhaps Eric Wilson, author of the 2009 New York Times article “Smile and Say No to Photoshop,” said it best, “The implication here is that what can be considered a provocative image in a fashion magazine today is one that shows something real.”