We all know they do it and they know that we know they do it, yet they still do it. I’m talking about the fashion and beauty magazines and advertisers that use Photoshop to digitally airbrush photographs of real human beings, already made up with every beauty secret known to mankind, to reduce their waist lines, remove thigh bulges, smooth skin blemishes and modify other features thought to be unacceptable or unsightly to our purchasing eyes. It’s for our own good, they think. We would be offended to see a real person with real flaws.
Consequently, this never ending cold war arms race of digital manipulation has resulted in images of human beings that could never possibly exist in reality. But it’s presented as reality. More than that, presented as a reality we must aspire to conform to.
How destructive is this to the psyches of real people who could never resemble these Frankenstein’s Photoshop monstrosities. The image of beauty we are presented with daily, at saturation coverage levels, is now so bizarre and artificial, that it has taken on its own unique form of grotesqueness. Yet each and every person gazing on these images is subtly insulted and belittled for not looking like this. We’re humiliated for being what we are, instead of these imaginary concoctions from crazed Photoshop artists. Could there be a more powerful form of misogyny/misanthropy?
If it comes down to being a race to create the most exaggeratedly thin and perfect human form digitally, why bother with the photographs and models, in the first place? Turn the whole enterprise over to artists, who will paint these humanoid forms starting from nothing but a clear, blank canvas. At least there will be an honesty and integrity involved in the process. No longer will there be the merest pretence that these images accurately represent creatures that exist in reality. Instead, the works of art will be stated as being what they are – imaginary representations of non-representational humanoid forms, but still a product of the mind of the artist. Images divorced entirely from reality. Pictures offered to the world with some ability to look you straight in the eye.
Some artists would do very well. Those that could create beautiful forms, from their imaginations, using their skills as artists, would grace the covers of the glossiest magazines with their works. They could hold their heads high as having reached some high level of achievement in creating an aesthetic experience that people liked, however unreal or fantastical their work.
The best artists would become household names, not because they can render the human form accurately and in precise detail, but because they can manipulate familiar forms, shapes, textures and colours and produce a confection for the eye that pleases viewers. Oil painting could replace photography and digital manipulation entirely. The work would have some integrity and open honesty about it.
But the deception is the point, isn’t it? There are artists whose work graces the covers of the glossiest magazines, but they work in Photoshop, starting with real images. What they conceal is the whole sordid deception. You’re not supposed to notice the vast extent of their photo retouching.
Their names are not recognised in every household. They create these imaginary images in the shadows, ashamed of the work they do, not proud of their ability to create imaginative pictures with a unique, if inhuman, aesthetic. In short, these are prostituted artists being used by corporations to deceive consumers into believing they must buy particular products, in order to reach a level of beauty and desirability that is completely unattainable, in reality. They are willing accomplices in the fleecing of people drawn in by the seductive images. The entire enterprise reeks of dishonesty, disreputability, deception, degradation and denial.
Can people be forgiven for forking out fortunes to buy potions, lotions, pots of coloured paints and greases, powders, clothing, accessories and shoes that will not make one iota of real difference to their beauty and desirability in reality? Are they unwilling victims or complicit in their own exploitation? Are they simply avoiding the fact that we age, we’re mortal and with age comes a patina that is, in itself, rather beautiful? Are they so focused on impossible perpetual youth and superficial appearances that it excuses their failure to develop compassion, kindness and a beautiful soul or to get on and do something meaningful with their lives while they still can? Are they trying to stay young looking to forgive themselves for not having spent their youth wisely, so trying to take multiple, repeated bites out of that cherry? I’ll leave that question open for the reader to decide. I know what I think.
Why do these artists play along? Because it pays well? Is that all that matters to these digital artists? Does their integrity and pride have no value? Do they care about the people whose psyches they assault by creating impossible comparisons, setting unreachable goals of desire? Are these people artists at all, or just journeyman illustrators prostituting their skills for a few crumbs?
I think it’s time the digital artists that create these unrealistic images came clean and stopped participating in the whole deception. They should do so for reasons of compassion and self-worth. They should stand up to the people that commission these fantasy fashion fiascos and raise their heads to the sun, proud of their status as artists and act responsibly and honestly as practitioners of the visual arts. They should have a little bloody personal integrity.
We get diverted, in our youth, to serve other people’s agendas and to suppress our own development. What that leaves is a hollow emptiness where your self-worth and self-satisfaction at your own growth and your pride in the meaningful achievements you should have made by now should have been. You sacrificed all of that to serve somebody else’s dream and now you want to be young and beautiful again, as if the mistake didn’t matter and as if you have several lifetimes to live; some to waste frivolously, some to sacrifice your own development as a human being to serve another (often corporate) agenda and some to maybe live your life with integrity and authenticity. In truth, it’s a self imposed agony without end. You only have one life, in truth, and you must decide whether to waste it frivolously, self sacrifice to dedicate yourself to serving other agendas or live with honesty and truth.
I think that’s why we all play along with the impossibly idealised versions of beauty Photoshopped for our consumption. Nobody wants to face having missed the boat or having been duped into devoting their lives to something that has no real resonance with their deeper goals, dreams and values. Too many of us put on hold what we should emphatically be getting on with and we turn to promises of renovation and renewed youth to soothe ourselves for all the wasted time. We’re trying to buy a second chance we can never have.
I recommend opting out of this cycle of abuse at the earliest opportunity, whether you’re a fashion consumer or a digital artist manipulating the masses for money. It’s your only actual hope.