• Maddie Noton

Are we losing our Touch-Up with Reality?

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Maddie Noton details the unrealistic portrayals of body image and falsified media through photoshop and the online world.

Artwork by Tamara El-Halawani (Instagram: @tamara_elhalawani)

As a 19-year old female student and regular user of social media networking sites such as Instagram, I am a typical target of countless marketing endorsements circulating image and appearance: makeup advertisements; nutritional posts; tips on how to alter and amend cellulite, fat or other bodily aspects of myself deemed unattractive by modern social standards.


Alongside a constant stream of obnoxious, artificial pop-ups encouraging me to subscribe to their lifestyle-altering fitness programmes are the continual posts from celebrities, social media influencers and public role models sporting glamorous self-portraits of their sculpted physiques, picture-perfect faces and enviable lifestyles. Although perhaps harmlessly seeking admiration from fans and followers, these photos have some dark and dangerous repercussions; ones that have provoked discussion both online and in the less-so picturesque reality.


Although perhaps harmlessly seeking admiration from fans and followers, these photos have some dark and dangerous repercussions

Taking flight in the early 1990s, the term “Photoshop” has become increasingly colloquial alongside the ever-developing digital age. Despite sparking controversy, most often when detected in poorly edited images posted by online icons, photoshopping itself is routinely used by individuals and professionals alike. A recent proposal by a UK MP has called into question the ethics of this method. It detailed that online users should be forced to make their photoshopped, airbrushed and otherwise modified images public knowledge. Perhaps through the appearance of a symbol or watermark attached to the photo in question. Something recognisable to adoring fans – those who long for the unachievable features presented before them. This suggestion follows the claim that links the deterioration of mental health with the steady growth of falsified images rotating across our screens like clockwork.


However, this supposedly sensible retaliation to unrealistic beauty standards has highlighted a number of issues surrounding not only body image and the pressure to conform, but also the general lack of authority we possess over the Internet itself.


Would this punctuate the idealistic fantasy we have of celebrities? Do we not already live in an accepted, online universe where the ability to digitally organise our online presence according to modern beauty standards is worshipped and endorsed? Sites such as Pinterest and Instagram financially thrive off their organised aesthetics, filtered images and attractive digital spaces. Furthermore, how would we go about policing and monitoring these images? The authority that sites hold over every post put online does not stretch nearly as far and wide enough as would be needed. The internet has intrinsically spun its (worldwide) web into every corner of our lives and it would seem perhaps unreasonable to expect popular networking sites to ensure all images which we are exposed to have been checked and regulated by a “photoshop-regulating committee”.


Do we not already live in an accepted, online universe where the ability to digitally organise our online presence according to modern beauty standards is worshipped and endorsed?

However, some may view this new implementation as beneficial on a wider scale. It could target bigger companies and co-operations who market themselves through a dominant online presence. Advertisements may have to submit to this the next time they edit a flat tummy in the hope of promoting their dieting regimes. Certainly, we cannot police each individual post; most of us are not even aware of the number of images we are exposed to on a daily basis. Yet the widely distributed ones, posted by established online presences and seen by many could be more affected by this proposal.


Imagine: a social media star poses in front of a camera, assisted by an already facial-flaw-erasing glamour squad and directed by a professional photographer, who has built his/her career on how to look in the modern age. The photos, taken alongside a complimenting backdrop and angled to exaggerate idealised features, are then worked upon by a team of editing professionals. They wipe away unflattering moles, spots and pores all with a couple of clicks and subconsciously perpetuate the unnatural as the ideal. These edits and touch-ups are so small and subtle, they become unnoticeable to the untrained eye. The products of their work become the subject of internationally sold magazines, distributed across communities both on and offline. Meanwhile a vulnerable young adult (for example) receives a notification which informs him/her that their favourite celebrity has posted a photo. It depicts a version of a human which ticks all the boxes of how we physically manifest beauty in the 21st century. It has over a thousand likes and comments and is steadily gaining in numeric popularity. Perhaps they scroll past this image, acknowledging its disproportionate relationship with a realistic human. But it’s unlikely. Perhaps they refuse dinner tonight, feasting instead on sites which glorify unhealthy dieting regimes.


These edits and touch-ups are so small and subtle, they become unnoticeable to the untrained eye...It depicts a version of a human which ticks all the boxes of how we physically manifest beauty in the 21st century. It has over a thousand likes and comments and is steadily gaining in numeric popularity.

This (perhaps extreme) example draws attention to the damaging nature of photoshop. It is, however, not the intention of this idea to eradicate the use of image-editing apps and indeed, many are used for entertainment purposes whereby the editing itself is the subject of interest rather than producing an achievable reality which we seek to replicate. Where the presence of an icon alerting viewers to its edits could be argued as informative, this proposal seems a logical response to the demands of beauty in an already pressurising society.


We cannot deny the powerful influence that online media has over our lives, and its effects should therefore be taken into consideration, especially as generations are now growing up alongside a world of media marketing and new technological advances. This regulation aims to move away from unrealistic portrayals of both body image and general falsified media which we regularly come into contact with. Although the likelihood of this rule being taken any further than word-of-mouth is small, it remains a poignant discussion-topic on the dangers of photoshop and perhaps discourages us from using it altogether: refocusing and re-grounding viewers’ perception on reality and fantasy.


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