Are we ready for #unphotoshopped?

The left photo, retouched, is from a previous CVS beauty campaign. The unaltered image at right shows how the company plans to represent beauty. Both were provided by CVS.

One of the conversations that has come up again thanks to the #metoo movement is the effect of airbrushed images. In a recent NY Times article, Vanessa Friedman reports on the stand that CVS has taken to stop “materially altering” the imagery associated with its beauty products.

Altering images has gone on long before Photoshop. Composite images can be found as far back as the Civil War era where Abraham Lincoln’s head was placed on John Calhoun’s body. There are somewhat benign examples like Oprah’s head on Ann Margret’s body and then the blatantly racist examples like the darkening of OJ Simpson on Time Magazine’s cover shortly after Simpson’s arrest.

These days you don’t need a darkroom or Photoshop; there is no shortage of free apps available for altering images. While many of these effects may seem harmless, research shows that in fact it can be very damaging to self-esteem. The documentary “Killing Us Softly” by Jean Kilbourne reveals the misogynistic fantasy world of the undernourished, oversexed, and objectified women. Kilbourne makes an excellent case for how difficult it is to be healthy in a toxic cultural environment when the ideal is impossible to achieve.

Like the topic of ethics itself, the conversation about what “materially altering” is brings up many questions. Will it be ok to remove stray hair and under-eye circles? Will crow’s feet and laugh lines be off limits?

Photoshop has become so ingrained in our culture that it may take our culture some time to get used to the #unphotoshopped in Advertising. There should be no doubt that it’s about time that we get started.

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