Friday, 26 February 2010

This Post Has Been Airbrushed

Ok, so this is something that's been rattling around in my brain for a while - the arguments over airbrushing in magazines and the effect that it has on women's self-image.

I think we can all agree that being constantly shown images of perfection which, not only are unobtainable for you the reader, but which haven't been obtained in the first place by the model/ celebrity you're looking at, is a bad thing for your confidence. It contributes to this culture which demonsises anyone above a size 10/12. My concern is with what people are proposing to do about it - which is essentially just full disclosure. People at the moment are pushing for laws that require magazines to put a stamp, or a little notice on the bottom of the picture saying "this photo has been airbrushed".

How is that going to help?

Women (for the most part) are not stupid and/or blind to the world around them (and I wish people would stop trying to pretend that we are). We know that the pictures we are seeing have been airbrushed - we're told often enough at the moment. There are even magazines that have deliberately unairbrushed paparazzi photos of celebs not looking their best held up for women to mock (which is a fairly disgusting practice in it's own right), so we know our idols don't look picture perfect all the time in real life. Women are not stupid, so telling us something that we already know, or could probably guess, is not going to help one iota.

The problem is not that airbrushing is undisclosed - the problem is that people feel the need to airbrush at all. What magazines are doing is promoting an ideal. It may not be a real one, it may not even be a possible one (though women do tend to kid themselves that it is; whether or not they have proof) but it is held as an ideal. I don't care if they're telling me (or showing me) that such body types are achievable, they are telling me that such body types are admirable, possibly even the only ones which are even acceptable. They are saying 'look at these celebrities and models. They were gorgeous to start with, but even then they are not gorgeous enough. We must make them "better", we must, in fact make them conform to our standards of what is beautiful, what women should look like. We must bring them up to scratch, and hold them up before you as the standard to which you must aspire.'

Who cares if that standard is achievable or not? It is still being touted as the standard. In effect, by acnowledging that all their pictures are airbrushed, all these magazines would be saying is that no woman will ever be good enough. No women's bodies can ever be beautiful in their natural state - that all women, in fact, are ugly and sub-par. So we have to air brush them to make them better. Only when airbrushing stops, when real women are lauded for their real beauty (whatever size that comes in) will women start being able to accept themselves for who they are.


  1. And now I have proof...

  2. Just a thought: do you think we should praise women for their beauty at all? After all, those born with what society deems to be natural beauty are no better or more useful people than anyone else. I hate the fact that women are judged almost exclusively on how they look, rather than their grades, their kindness, their flexibility, their ability to fly a plane and the millions of other things we can do.

    Would you agree that it's time to end the cult of beauty once and for all? I fail to see what useful purpose it really serves.

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  4. I don't think there's anything wrong with appreciating beauty, as long as we expand our definitions of what is beautiful outside of the tiny little size 0 box they've got stuck in at the moment. Women of all shapes and sizes can be beautiful, and I think we need to acnowledge that.
    I don't, however, think that a woman's appearance should be the be-all and end-all (or even the most important part) of her worth as a person. Nor do I think that women should be pressurised into conforming to any standard of beauty, and punished if they do not.
    I also think that it's less about not giving women credit for being beautiful, but acknowledging all of the women who do more with their lives, and give them the credit they deserve for being intelligent, kind, creative, dilligent, committed and thoroughly wonderful. Whether they're outwardly "beautiful" or not.

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  6. But if women are clever, as we all are, why would we be led to believe that we are being told we can never be perfect - pictures in magazines AREN'T attainable, we know that, they are fantasy, make believe - there is always a human need for things that are not real, that are fantastic and wondorous and imaginary - children reading books about magic schools or watching films about fairy tales doesn't mean that the authors and writers are telling these children that they'll never be adequate because they will never have magic powers, they're providing escape, something to feed the imagination.
    Airbrushed models, super skinny size 00 models on catwalks displaying ridiculous non-wearable clothes, are doing a similar thing, and it should be recognised for what it is, art and fantasy, not reality.

    I have never once felt demonised of being a size 10/12 by the media, a magazine, a picture of a celebrity etc. I HAVE however, felt demonised by peers and my mother for it. I don't think fashion designers, beauty editors or magazine writers are accountable for the issues women are increasingly having with body image - its the women themselves who don't want to face their own self-confidence issues and stand up and say "I'm beautiful", but would rather find someone else to blame it on.

  7. Yowch - quite a damning statement about us women there...
    The problem is that, as I said in the OP, these magazines set the standard. They aren't being touted as fantasy, but even if they were, there still isn't any diversity, it's one uniform standard of beauty across the board - all boards, "fantasy" and "reality" - and unless you're saying that culture and magazines have no impact in shaping our thoughts and beliefs, that's going to be where our peers and mothers get their ideas of what is "beautiful" in our society from.
    Think about it - when was the last time you saw someone in the media, or on TV who was beautiful - and lauded as such - but in a non-standard way? Compared with how many variations on the one narrow theme? If there aren't women out there, of all shapes and sizes being presented as beautiful, if our society refuses to recognise more than one image of "perfection", then where are people going to get plus-size role models from? How difficult is it going to be, in the face of the whole world refusing to recognise your body shape as anything but ugly, to stand up and say "I'm beautiful". That takes more self confidence than most people have. If some people have that, then great! Good for them! But it doesn't mean that the way our society thinks about beauty isn't utterly toxic.

  8. Yeah, I think you're right - there are places in the media where they show off alternative, non-mainstream beauty - in my home country in india, for example, pale white, plump voluptuous women are shown as beautiful, not skinny women. I read a few magazines, ranging from the standard "Women's interest" such as Glamour, which show tanned, toned 20-something year old pretty girls, I read Good Housekeeping, which show lovely images of mature, 40-50 year old women with sparkling silver hair, wrinkled skin (NOT a bad thing by any means) in gorgeous outfits, I read men's magazines like Front which have images of "punky" alternative girls with imperfections, tattoos, piercings and trainers and pink hair, and Bizaare magazine with images of ALL sorts of women, sizes, shapes, colours, etc. I think the average women walking through a street in a town would SEE far more REAL women than the number she sees on magazine covers or posters - surely WE all set the standard, the population, not the relatively few images thrown at us by the media? And I believe the media don't aim to "create" an ideal, designers and photographers perhaps, but the media publishers and producers seem to just want to supply a demand and make a profit, rightly so - so we need to change the demands and I think this will happen slowly as cultures merge and communication and tastes and preferences expand and diversify - my generation for example has a much varied view on what is considered beautiful or even acceptable, compared to my mother's generation. I think we are better off than in the 50s when even though the "standard" was "healthier", (e.g. size 16 Marilyn Monroe being the idol of the day), as we all have access to alternative sources of beauty.

    Sorry for the damning statement too, I didn't mean to generalise it so much - I meant **some** women do this. But I do believe that reinforcing bonds between sisters, girlfriends and mothers and daughters, accompanied by both reassurance that we are all beautiful, inside AND out, will be more effective than magazines stopping airbrushing.

    As for the way society thinks about beauty, again, I feel that women have a far more negative view on it than the men in our society - more girls call each other fat, ugly, orange, fake, skinny etc than men do - the attitude behind all this cat-calling needs to change and I think one way this can happen is if each woman acknowledges that they are truly beautiful in their own right, inside and out, and make it clear to others that this is how they feel - the women the media find the most beautiful overall (not necessarily the striking ones used on fashion catwalks) are the ones that exude confidence and strength - regardless of appearance - from the tall skinny pale waif-like Tilda Swinton, to the curvy punky Kelly Osbourne, to plastic-surgery ridden glamour models such as Jordan (even she is beautiful in her own right, physically and as a person and the media and public should not be proclaiming otherwise)... not sure what my point was really here... :)

  9. I think it is a good point though that if there is to be real change, it has to come from ordinary women themselves. Adverts are never going to stop displaying certain images unless women stop buying the products. For as long as we keep buying, they know their method (make us feel crap about ourselves so we have to buy the product to get the perfect life) is working.

    I think advertising is harming us in more ways than one though. Just as some adverts make us feel dissatisfied with our bodies because they uphold a superthin ideal, others tell us that we should eat fast food. If you think about what it actually involves, fast food is one of the most disgusting and immoral things you can eat yet we continue to buy masses of the stuff because adverts push it in our faces all the time.

    We need to keep buying some things, in order to sustain ourselves and to keep our economy healthy. Isn't it time though that we started to think more carefully about the products we purchased?

    The same applies not just to adverts in magazines, but to the magazines themselves.

  10. @PlanetNishy:
    I think you also have to factor in the amount of cultural weight behind each of the examples you give. A magazine with a title like "Bizaare" suggests that the people within aren't ordinary/normal, but somehow wierd and different (which not a lot of people see as a good thing). Likewise, People may see plenty of real women every day, but they aren't being held up as an ideal or a standard. The people who have the weight to throw behind different ideals - sorry - are the media corporations, the advertisers, not the consumers. If there only one brand being advertised, then that brand is going to get more sales, and that I think is what is happening with body shapes. Only one is being sold with any great force.
    As to the difference in cattiness between men and women... that's a whole other can of worms I may have to devote a post to later.

    Also @ Work in Progress,
    I think it's a very noble ideal to suggest grassroots change as a way to changing the supply, but I think there are two problems with that. Firstly there is no real alternative. If people want to buy magazines, then literally every one I've seen aimed at the younger demographic is selling the same body shape. And it's a lot harder to stop people buying something than it is to get them to buy something else. At the minute, I don't see a viable "something else".
    Secondly, supply and demand are a two way street, and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't attack the problem from both sides. Particularly when one side is much easier to change because it is subject to regulation. If we started to require magazines to be more diverse, then we would solve the first problem easy enough, because there then would be alternatives. Don't like the ridiculously skinny models in magazine A? Buy magazine B instead. Then purchasing power actually becomes powerful. But when there's only one product on offer, all the consumer can do is choose the packaging it comes in.

  11. And I think disclaimers of the nature "this image has been digitally enhanced" would do more benefit than bad, as ofcourse we are not stupid, but younger girls may just not be aware that the images are airbrushed (indeed my cousin at the age of 15 would refuse to listen to me or believe me when I (I was 12) insisted that a L'Oreal foundation advert in a magazine was airbrushed and that her skin would never look like that, and that if it did in real life, it would look ridiculous and strange - said cousin is now a medical student).
    And society does not demonise anyone above a size 10/12. Some nasty, narrowminded, often insecure people within society do, but not the majority, in my opinion - just as there are people who demonise people of colour, old people, young people, religious people, children etc etc.

  12. Where exactly do we draw the line between society and people within society? Is society best reflected by majority opinion? Or by the things and institutions it produces? Because if it's the latter, (and I would tend to think it is) then magazines and TV and other media most definitely do reflect an adverse opinion of those who are not slim. Even if it's the former, the number of young girls who hate their own bodies is a majority within that demographic, and I would have to wonder where that has come from. If from mothers and peers then that would to my mind suggest that there are more "nasty, narrowminded, often insecure people" than we would like to think - perhaps even a majority. In which case society could still be said to reflect an adverse opinion of non-thin people.
    Other things, such as the massive increase in eating disorders, the rapidly expanding diet industry, and the media squealing every other day about an "obesity epidemic" suggests that we live in a culture obsessed with being thin. I think putting it all down to the actions and opinions of a minority of bigots is to underestimate the scale of the problem.