In February, Buzzfeed published a collection of before & after Photoshop GIFs. It’s typical Buzzfeed fare, but something about it is mesmerizing—one image after another of Beyonce, Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie; the GIFs flickering so quickly between ‘before’ and ‘after’ that it can be hard to tell what’s been airbrushed and what’s real.
Real being a relative term, of course. We are talking about about 200-by-200 pixel bits of digital dust; and in both the ‘real’ and retouched photos, the women have the benefit of hair styling, professional makeup, good lighting and lenses, etcetera.
But for our purposes, let’s say the un-retouched image is “real,” and the Photoshopped image an advertising mirage. The “after” GIFs are the photos magazine editors, photographers, publishers, publicists and celebrities thought fit for our consumption. And there’s something about seeing all those pictures in one place that drives home how insidious the use of Photoshop has become.
I want to love anything that undoes the strokes of the airbrush and shows us what the women in these photos really look like. As a big time body positivity enthusiast, I feel like jumping for joy when a celebrity points out these airbrushed images and says, “That’s not really what I look like.” Or makes the ‘before’ pictures from the shoot available, or just speaks out against altered editorial images more generally.
I want to think of these things as signs that we’ve come a long way, baby, and that we’re freeing ourselves from the shackles that have kept us bound to a narrow, confining image of what a beautiful body looks like!
But I don’t.