I‘ve started noticing more than the usual egregious amount of photoshopping going on in my consumer experience. And so, since most of my consuming is done online, I decided I would begin capturing it. Pointing it out. This is a series of completely unaltered screen-grabs is from the Maidenform website (not even the whole website, just one page). The first two appear exactly as they did on the Maidenform website (i.e. side by side, and in the same row), and the last two were at the top and bottom, respectively, of the same page.
These models are already impossible looking – as in no one not even them actually look that way. And study after study shows how harmful that is to women’s self image:
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(Killing Us Softly is still my favorite discussion of this crisis.)
But that’s not even what’s so deeply offensive about these images to me. Ok, it is, but it’s not the only thing. What’s so deeply offensive to me is that the images are obviously duplicated, with new bras photoshopped on. So not only are these women not real (as in, they’ve been photoshopped out of the reality of their own existence) but the products they’re selling aren’t real either. And that wouldn’t be such a problem, in and of itself. Before the easy reproducibility of the photograph, all products were sold by drawings, sketches that approximated without claiming to represent fully the product:
(Image from a recent, interesting collection on buzzfeed on strange women’s lingerie ads.)
The problem with the photoshopped women and their photoshopped bras is in part the medium. Photography makes a claim to accurate representation that most of us, if we think about it a little bit, know to be a lie. Even in unaltered photographs there is the manipulation of the frame, the restriction of context from the eye, the ability to edit out. Even before photoshop photographers could use countless developing tricks to control the perception of their images.
The problem is really that companies take advantage of our initial reaction to photographs as representations of reality. And these companies are too cheap to pay the model they are about to photoshop into oblivion to put on more than one bra. It’s somehow more efficient for them to manipulate a few images to make them appear to be displaying different products. These women are reduced to a kind of digital mannequin, utterly dehumanized by two processes. We register their bodies as photoshopped, yet real ideals of beauty, and simultaneously disregard their bodies in their obvious duplication. In that doubling gesture of identification and dismissal, we reduce our own worth further. Even the achievement that impossible perfection doesn’t save you from being disposable.
A further insult is the assumption that consumers won’t notice (or care?) that they’re being sold a bag of goods. Figuratively, of course.