This week while editing pictures of my friends and I from Prom, I used a popular photo editing software called Photoshop. I used settings to adjust the lighting and make pesky skin blemishes completely invisible. After spending a few minutes enhancing our pictures, I started wondering about the moral implications of what I was doing.
Problems of low self-esteem run rampant among teenagers, especially among teen girls. Teens compare themselves to advertising which display women with perfect bodies, makeup, and hair. When visual perfection is constantly forced on us as a promise of happiness and success, how could we not hope for it? This begins the painful quest by both young and old to work for the perfect body. It can’t be a shocker that this journey ends with disappointment. Because models, who are beautiful to begin with, are Photoshopped and edited beyond any blemish, advertising creates an unattainable goal, and a wild goose chase for anyone who believes their visual fiction.
When photography was first invented, it quickly gained popularity as an art form because it could depict truth and capture images closer than any other medium ever could. Photos quickly strayed from a pure depiction of the world as photographers learned how to manipulate photos in order to increase aesthetics and beauty. Though everyone knows that photos can be changed easily, we still recognize photos as the closest art form we have to sight besides video.
When a writer creates fiction, they make it up. No one feels lied to because they don’t expect it to be fact. The same principle is applicable to photography. When people look at an advertisement featuring a beautiful person, they feel deceived when they learn that the image is fake and the model who posed for the picture might not even be recognizable as the person in the advertisement.
When considered an art form and visual fiction, manipulated photos are beautiful and interesting often because nothing like them exists. I recently discovered how to digitally paint with an art tablet and stylus “paintbrush.” Using software, I can create on the computer similarly to how I would with a paintbrush on paper. With enough practice and skill, I could create a digital painting that looks exactly like a photo. Because of this developing new art form and the ease of manipulating them, digital photographs are becoming less reliable in courts of law. We can no longer trust what we see.
The problem is that people naturally trust what they see when it appears as reality. It is easy enough for a person to distinguish that a cartoon character or image created with paint is fiction, but when something appears real through the help of digital technology, we believe it to be so. We need to train ourselves to look at advertising as potential fiction, and not hold ourselves to the impossible standards it sets. We need to look past the advertising urging us to look perfect and see our beauty as we naturally are: blemishes and all.
Claire Kincaid is a student at Soldotna High School.