April 21, 2008

On ‘Beautiful’ Women Looking ‘Unhuman’

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, Celebritocracy, mass media, photoshop at 10:31 am by LB

(This post is kind of a smattering of several sites I’ve seen recently about photoshopping the life-literally-out of women in mags and some of my semi-random thoughts on the topic.)

Shakesville has a great analysis of Vanessa Williams’ photos in Ebony vs. what she looks like in real life (to the extent that any image can reflect “real life”). And this photo comparison in a terrific commentary on the beauty of ‘real life’ and the tyranny of photoshop from AfterEllen is quite pointed:

(actually, check out that whole AfterEllen Article with pics–it freakin’ pisses me off that 60 year old women can’t just be beautiful 60 year old women–I absolutely adore that photo there of Helen Mirren!)

It also reminded me of Jezebel’s analysis of Faith Hill (who is 39 and great looking) on the cover of Redbook over the summer, which was equally disturbing.

This professional photo retouching site has some examples of celebrity retouching. Click “portfolio” then choose a thumbnail. Move your cursor on and off the photo to see the photo vs. the retouch. It’s amazing! The untouched photos look like beautiful women still, but they’re beautiful like the “regular” women in our lives are–our friends, lovers-sisters. They’re beautiful, but they have wrinkles, freckles, bags around their eyes, complexions that look–real. Seriously…look at the “before” and “after” of several of those images and after just a few the retouches start to look really creepy and alien. And just think…those are what we’re accustomed to seeing in the mags and internet. Those are what “beautiful people” look like! Freakin’ aliens!

But regarding wrinkles especially, my question is simple: why do insist on an “ideal” female appearance that makes it look like you’ve lived a boring life? Is “correcting” the flaws that come from actually doing things in life via actual cosmetic surgery or the virtual Photoshop “quick fix” in fact more a testament to wealth than to so-called “neutral” and “natural” aesthetics? As in, a reflection that one has the money to surgically or chemically erase the wear and tear of real life off their physical body, or that one has the money to not put the strain of physical labor on one’s body in the first place (which would minimize some but not nearly all of the wear on the physical body–the rest could be “fixed” cosmetically). Not to mention, of course, the economic and time resources required to have the personal trainers, dieticians, fashion consultants, hair and makeup designers, nannies, gardeners…that permit the physical fashioning that goes into being a (predominately female) celebrity.

But since your everyday woman has a job, responsibilities, a limited budget and expendable time, and you know, a life, I s’pose we gotta pay somebody to offer us “the ideal” in the form of oddly bland and, ultimately, boring physical features.

QUICK UPDATE: Feministing had a great post about the need to photoshop curves into magazine images of skinny women. This quote hits it right on the head:

the message is that you should be super, super skinny, borderline skeletal, but without any of the things that come with the territory, like jutting hipbones or small boobs. So even the skinniest celebrities STILL require Photoshopping to meet this standard. You can be less than a size zero and still lose this game.

And this great comment on that thread:

Just because I was bored I copied and pasted these images in photoshop and overlayed them to see what the differences are. Much to my horror (not suprise) she was actually made narrower thru the ribcage and waist in the ‘photoshop’ picture. READ- she was made skinnier! Her muscles were removed, and her arms were made thinner. So in reality- she wasn’t made plumper, she was made curvier and overall narrower. Her hips were also narrowed and made less curvy. Amazing. We all think she looks plumper in the second image, when in reality she is actually narrower, lighter, and slimmer thru the hips.

“Normal” and “heavy” women are photoshopped to remove “excessive” bulk or to at least smooth out their curves–no chunky tummies or rolls allowed (example: this Dove ad). “Thin” women are photoshopped to look not-so emaciated–no bones or thin breasts allowed. To be honest, I’m a pretty thin gal, but I have both a visible breastbone and some bulk around the tummy. That’s just the way bodies are. In the end, we are never seeing what actual “thick” or “thin” women look like, only a oddly perfected version of each.

2 Comments »

  1. Anonymous said,

    The thing that got me really interested in feminism to begin with was reworking the male gaze. My approach has been, initially, to note the way I look at men – I mean the length of time I watch them as they walk past, my body language, and so on – and replicate that way of looking when I look at women in my everyday life. What I’ve discovered is that women’s appearance actually subtly changes. It’s only a few moments here and there, but I have an experience that…well, it’s difficult to explain. It’s as if I have been looking at women through a fun house mirror which enhanced their sexual traits, and that, every now and again, I’m seeing women as they actually are, without the distortion. There’s also a change in the way I see men, interestingly, but it’s too subtle a difference for me to articulate.

  2. Anonymous said,

    One more thing before I fade into the black hole where anonymous commentors dwell. One of my struggles has been in the fact that although the way women look is becoming more…real, the standards of beauty I was taught haven’t really changed. The shameful result has been that it’s very hard now for me to find any woman beautiful. With that in mind, the photo retouching site you linked to is good therapy. You’re right; the women are perfectly lovely without any retouching. And freckles! Why get rid of freckles? Anyway, my freckle-philia aside, I’ve bookmarked that site as a way to retrain my standards or expectations. So thank you for helping with that.


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