Much has been written about the emphasis on an ideal (and mostly unattainable) concept of beauty, especially in the popular culture, and the negative effects this can have on young women and girls.
The AMA (American Medical Association) came out recently with a policy recommending a different approach to editing pictures. Here’s part of what they said:
BODY IMAGE AND ADVERTISING TO YOUTH: Advertisers commonly alter photographs to enhance the appearance of models’ bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.
The AMA adopted new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.
Over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of photographing dozens of females – from age 6 months to the 80’s. And I’ve had the responsibility of editing hundreds – no thousands – of these images in Photoshop. So I have some thoughts on this topic.
But first, two rather outrageous (and true) stories.
1) Alistair Macaulay, the lead ballet critic of The New York Times, in his review of The Nutcracker, said of Jennifer Ringer, a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, who danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, that Ringer “looked as if she’d eaten one sugar-plum too many.”
2) Deborah Voigt, one of the top opera sopranos in the world, was scheduled to sing Ariadne at Covent Garden in London. At the last minute, she was fired because the producer did not like how she looked in the little black dress she was to wear in the performance. Miss Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery after losing this gig.
In both of these cases, the hue and cry from ballet and opera fans was tremendous, and almost all in support of Ringer and Voigt. Of course, as both of these were live performances, there was no opportunity to “edit” the images of the women in Photoshop.
So where do I come out on all of this?
1) I certainly agree with the AMA that we should not create unrealistic expectations of an ideal body image. And we should do all we can to support and encourage every young woman or girl we know to have to a healthy self-image – whatever her shape is.
2) Almost everyone I shoot – men and women – is self-conscious about his/her appearance. It’s part of human nature. In my work, I try to put my subjects at ease. There’s usually one particular thing the client is most concerned about. I’ll often reassure them by offering to “fix” some things in Photoshop – it often does help to make the person comfortable and relax. I tell the client I’m as interested as she/he is in creating a beautiful and flattering image – which is the truth.
3) I still want to celebrate natural beauty in my work. It’s been done since the beginning of time in art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and can be represented in positive and affirming ways.
4) In editing images, I work hard to make the person look as good as possible – but still look like them. The two images in this post are of Ashley, a very accomplished model. We were shooting lingerie images in a catalog style. Ashley has a lovely figure – but there were still lots of small edits I did to make the images – and Ashley – look better.
5) Something I learned from one of my mentors – you don’t tell the client the things you work on in Photoshop. I love it when I hear, “Wow! you made me look great! And yet it really looks like me!”
6) All my edits are subtle. Lots of small things can have a cumulative big effect. When someone looks at my images, I hope that the Photoshop work is invisible.
7) When I see images of myself, I’m amazed at how wrinkly my neck is. In the rare times I edit images of myself, the neck the first thing that gets smoothed out!
As always, your comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!