The Complicated Ethics of Photoshop

The Complicated Ethics of Photoshop | At what point does retouching our images become too much? | Blonde Sartorial

Not long ago, I was sat on a train to Manchester and noticed the girl in front of me editing a photo on Facetune. With a few quick swipes, she made her skin smoother, her waist smaller and erased all blemishes. The tweaks were subtle – barely noticeable unless you were actively searching for them while looking at the original and edited images. Everything looked just that bit more perfect. And, with the ability to alter your appearance so effortless, I’ve started wondering about the ethics of Photoshop and of photo editing in general.

It’s been reported that the Facetune app has been downloaded over 50 million times. In the same way Instagram put photography in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, Facetune has made photo retouching accessible for non-professionals. The basic version of the app is free and to say it’s user-friendly would be an understatement. You can eliminate your acne, plump your lips and give yourself a digital nose job in less time than it takes to order a Deliveroo.

I’ll admit to using Facetune on my snaps. Of course I use it. I’m a blogger and a perfectionist and entirely grateful for the brightening feature when I haven’t quite had enough sleep. However, while I support every individual’s right to do whatever they want with their bodies, the excessive editing of every photo we post online is putting us in a vicious cycle that’s proving seriously damaging to our self-esteem.

Let’s put it this way. Photo editing is becoming increasingly accessible. Everyone from influencers to the girl on your morning commute is doing it. As a result, we’re seeing society’s narrow view of perfection everywhere. Perfection is becoming more and more normal and anything less than perfect is starting to appear abnormal and ugly. We then feel pressure to edit ourselves to fit in with this normalised idea of perfection and the cycle begins again.

All of a sudden, impossibly high beauty standards aren’t just in fashion magazines anymore. They’re shoved in our face every time we scroll through Instagram. Research shows a direct link between social media use and body dissatisfaction. A 2018 study asked women to interact with the social media accounts of someone they considered more attractive than themselves. They reported reduced body image after just five minutes.

We’re damaging our self-esteem by comparing ourselves to people we see on social media. The curse of comparison is alive and kicking. Now, of course, the vast majority of us only post our most flattering pictures online. That’s not the problem. But, the normalisation of photo editing through photoshop-style apps is only making completely normal flaws feel dirty and ugly and wrong. And, as a consequence, our self-esteem is plummeting.

The ethics of Photoshop and our use of photo editing apps is murky at best. We need to tread carefully and truly think about the potential long-term effects on how we see ourselves. Also, just because “perfection” is attainable, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way you can be beautiful.

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