Photo Retouching and Young Women
BY MAIJA BARONI
Photo by Kolkata
Editing on social media has drastically evolved since the classic heavy sepia and vignette filters plagued our Instagram feed a few years ago. Now, filters and retouches are often barely noticeable, subtly making their users’ cheeks and lips fuller, eyes bigger, or noses slimmer at the click of a button.
Whereas photo retouches on standard advertisements are expected, editing on social media disguises itself as real life, posing much more dangerous complications. Instead of enhancing pictures, it distorts faces or bodies into something unnatural, then markets the result as an achievable goal.
The Kardashians have practically made a living off this deceptive practice, and are regularly caught cinching their waists and bringing out their hips to create that trademark, exaggerated hourglass figure. Khloe Kardashian has been under the most heat over the last few months, due to her recent posts being so heavily retouched that she is no longer recognizable.
Most recently, on April 5th, 2021, an unfiltered shot of her in a bathing suit was accidentally posted and spread online. Instantly, Khloe and her legal team had it copyrighted and wiped out, with some who had reposted the picture having their accounts suspended and threatened with legal action.
Though Khloe, like anyone else, has the right to remove any image shared without authorization, the intensity with which her team attempted to completely erase the picture sends an alarming message:
Even with plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures, and flattering, thousand-dollar outfits, her body is still not good enough to be seen by others.
Without filters and retouches first, of course.
This detrimental idea is not solely perpetrated by Khloe and the rest of the Kardashian clan, but also by most stars dominating the online social environment — an environment in which teens and young adults are spending an increasing amount of our time being told something is wrong with the way we look.
But influencers and celebrities aren’t necessarily to blame for breeding this impossible standard — they’re victims of it too.
In other words, this is a cycle that hurts everyone. It continuously feeds itself by pressuring influencers into feeling the need to edit their images and fit the illusion they’ve created in the first place. Consequently, it leads to their followers interpreting the fabricated ideal as reality and making it the expectation.
And then the cycle repeats.
Contrary to most criticisms of this phenomenon, it isn’t a problem with women feeling too insecure. It isn’t a problem with women feeling jealous. It’s a problem with the warped, misleading online portrayal of bodies and faces on the internet.
Naturally, young women will compare themselves to this manufactured beauty standard when encountering it on a daily, if not hourly, basis. When they inevitably can’t measure up, they develop a toxic relationship with their self-image. The worst cases lead to eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and other health and mental issues.
As younger and younger generations of girls begin consuming social media, the issue continues to deepen and expand.
Social media’s significance in our lives and interactions is only growing. Therefore, action is urgently needed — and the UK seems to be taking the hint.
According to BBC, the UK is proposing legislation that would oblige advertisers and publishers to disclose images that have been digitally retouched. Suppose The Digitally Altered Body Images Bill is passed when put forward in the House of Commons for a second reading on October 16th, 2021. In that case, it could potentially apply to social media influencers as well.
Though it is an effective surface-level remedy for this growing mental health and self-perception crisis, the greatest solution must work inward to stop the problem at the root. Along with legislation, if influencers use the platform they have to promote realistic body imagery, social media could turn itself around.
Rather than be a source of insecurity and control, the way platform creators and influencers shape the conversation could drastically transform the online space into a source of empowerment, impacting all women.