Photoshopped Photos: Okay or Not?
Updated: Aug 28
By Natalie Daniels
Recently, Khloé Kardashian came under fire after posting a selfie on Instagram that fans argued was “almost unrecognizable.” Khloé, along with multiple influencers, celebrities and organizations, have been caught photoshopping or editing their images to depict clearer and “perfect” images. While some people may argue against these photoshopped photos, others may find no problem with it.
Those against photoshopped photos argue that these images promote unrealistic images of people, places or situations. For example, covers of popular magazines are filled with celebrities that have been retouched or re-edited. Actress Jameela Jil has been outspoken about retouching and editing in the past. She quoted in an Instagram post, “It made me so mentally unwell trying to live up to this image in person. Airbrushing is the DEVIL” Other celebrities like Lili Reinheart and Camila Mendes have slammed magazine editors and publications for editing their photos to “slim their waists.” ENews reported in 2018 that both Reinhart and Mendes condemned Cosmopolitan Philippines on their Instagram stories for International Women’s Day after seeing the photoshopped images on the cover.
Young people can often compare their bodies to these unrealistic expectations, where all they see is retouched and re-edited photos of celebrities and influencers who hold such a strong over their fan base.This can lead to a dip in self confidence as well as a desperate need to change bodies—possibly leading to compulsory exercise or eating disorders.
On the other hand, the argument in support of photoshopped photos believes that retouching is done to show the beauty of a person or situation. American photographer Scott Kelby explains in a TedXTalks that “people are three dimensional. When they see themselves in the mirror everyday, they’re moving. Photos show a different view of them. It’s not the right view of them.” He stresses that imperfections aren’t often seen in everyday life because photographers are seeing the true essence of a person. A single photo removes that essence and the person becomes two dimensional where every flaw and imperfection can be seen.
New York photographer Frank Multari penned the article “Why I’ll Photoshop Your Face and Why I Believe It’s Okay” on PetaPixel to argue that retouching helps to avoid distraction in photos. He says he heals blemishes and retouches skin “because temporary pimples, bumps, and blemishes are not the essence of a person.” In an industry like fashion or entertainment where looks represent the main focus, organizations feel the need to retouch images to hold a standard. While Multari understands the ethics behind refraining from photoshop, he says “there are commercial and artistic forces at work that will never relent” and editing of photos—specifically facial—will continue until “there is a major aesthetic shift in the industry.”
So is photoshop okay or not?
In reality, this can come across as a loaded question with many moving parts. Personally, I’ve used special filters on Instagram, Snapchat and my phone camera to “brighten” my appearance. While I have never used Photoshop specifically to alter my photos, I am still using other apps to edit and retouch my photos to smooth out my skin and hide my blemishes.
A research study by Sophie J. Nightingale, Kimberley A. Wade and Derrick G. Watson titled "Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes?” proved that participants noticed a digitally altered photo only 60% of the time. Does this mean that seeing digitally altered photos can negatively influence a person’s perception of reality?
For example, when looking at Instagram and female university students, there seems to be a large effect in how these women view their bodies. In a journal article by Jasmine Fardouly, Brydie K Willburger and Lenny R Vartanian titled “Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways,” a study was done to find the correlation between Instagram and female body image. After surveying participants for their hours spent on social media and their self-objectification, the more time spent on social media proved more self-objectification. Because these photos on Instagram could be manipulated digitally, in retrospect these images could cause women to base these as societal standards and internalize their own body. The study speculates that the influx of celebrities on Instagram where images are photoshopped through filters or reedits can cause these women to have doubts about their own bodies. Thus, proving the negative effect of photoshopped images on social media platforms like Instagram.
The main issue of photoshopped images is the lack of transparency with an audience. If there were disclaimers on images of celebrities and influencers that images had been altered, people would respect honesty and be able to relate to these photos. This might not be the easiest solution since these different industries make their money on perfection.
I think a line is crossed when bodies are dramatically altered. When an photographer photoshops an image of a person to make their legs thinner or create a defined waist, the whole concept and reality of a person is significantly altered.
For the idea of photoshop to change, the mindset of multiple industries and society needs to change as well.
Natalie Daniels is an editorial intern for Dreamlette. She is a journalism major at Emerson College with a love of storytelling. Her favorite topics include entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, social issues, and music.