This paper discusses the issues that women face in a world of photoshopped advertisements and the true violence of forcing women to live up to impossible standards. In this essay, I describe lots of different reasons why photoshopping women in advertisements can have life-threatening effects on consumers.
There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by others. It’s only human nature to look at someone you think is beautiful and desire to look like them - I go through this thought process every day and most of the time it serves to deepen my sense of style and self-image in a positive way. A problem arises when we as women are being presented with examples that are physically impossible to achieve. It’s dangerous for a young girl to desire a biologically impossible waist size after seeing a photoshopped woman in a magazine or on social media. This is how women start to become angry with themselves for not being able to achieve certain criteria. They ask themselves, “Why can’t I look like that? Why don’t I look like that? What’s wrong with me?” as opposed to asking themselves what’s wrong with companies who produce and stamp in these standards. Women have started to take desperate and dangerous measures in order to achieve the beauty standards they see advertised to them every day.
This phenomenon is in part because women, especially young women, often aren’t aware that the women they see in advertising every day have been photoshopped. They think that it’s possible to attain these features. “The more and more we use this editing, the higher and higher the bar goes. They’re creating things that are physically impossible,” says Henry Farid, professor of computer science who specializes in photo manipulation. Most of these standards such as teeny waists and thigh gaps are only achievable with surgery and photoshop for the vast majority of women, who are blaming themselves for not being able to achieve them with exercise, dieting, or simply just inhabiting a certain body type.
In 2011, the American Medical Association released a statement about the connections between photoshopped advertisements and eating disorders in young women, “A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.” More and more magazine editors and social media influencers are broadcasting an unattainable archetype for impressionable young girls to see without presenting them as fake. To present women with impossible standards of beauty and claim that it’s natural and something they can achieve is only bound to cause seriously dangerous methods of reaching that goal. It’s no wonder that women have begun to venture into unsafe methods of dieting, and it’s an act of violence to let women keep believing that’s their only option.
The pumping out of airbrushed and tampered-with images of female bodies has also caused women to undergo dangerous illegal cosmetic surgeries in order to attain certain standards. In 2018, popular rapper Cardi B admitted to getting silicon injections back when she was a stripper by a surgeon without a license. According to licensed plastic surgeon, Dr. Wright A. Jones, the non-medical grade silicone she was injected with could have entered the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, causing infection, loss of limbs, stroke, kidney failure, respiratory failure, heart failure, and in extreme cases, death. Professional and safe cosmetic surgery is way out of range for most women in terms of cost, which is the main reason why women book appointments with “freelance” cosmetic surgeons. Some women feel as though going under the knife by someone who doesn’t necessarily know what they’re doing is one of their only options to feel confident about their appearances.
We’ve still got a very long way to go before corporations start representing the most common body types in women and stop advertising impossible ideas of what women should try to look like. Regardless, some companies such as Dove, Aerie, and CVS have begun to rule out photoshopping women in their advertisements. About the subject, the Marketing Director of Dove says, "As a beauty brand, Dove has always celebrated real women and their beauty -- we believe the No Digital Distortion Mark will help women identify reality in what can be a confusing, digital world and relieve some of the pressure to look a certain way." We can only hope as women and allies alike that more and more companies will make this decision, but until then, we can only try to fight back to the beauty standards being imposed upon us and keep one another safe from the corporations that profit off of our insecurity.