Airbrushing for all?

In a world where women are systematically confronted with endless images of airbrushed female “perfection”, I heaved a large sigh whilst shopping in Boots yesterday. A simple trip to print some photos turned into body insecurity 101 when I was handed a receipt for “25p off” their new facial retouching service for photographs. My heavy eyes turned to the promotional poster which promised to “remove blemishes, smooth skin tones and reduce the appearance of wrinkles”.

Is there no respite? Should I even be surprised? Airbrushing and picture retouching has taken off at an alarming rate in the past ten years, with the introduction and availability of digital photography for all. People retouch their own snaps at home, so why shouldn’t Boots cash in on the same service?

Personally, airbrushed images make me deeply uncomfortable, on both a public and private level. Representations of femininity cannot be dismissed or underestimated when they’re so pervasive. Even if you choose not to read fashion magazines (in which every other page tends to be an airbrushed advert promoting overpriced tat) you can’t avoid adverts at bus stops, on television and on hoardings. Such images are unavoidable and being constantly presented with unrealistic representations of what human beings actually look like can be damaging to everyone, resulting in impossible expectations, insecurity and pressure to ‘conform’. Rubbish.

I also find the increasing desire to airbrush or edit personal photographs slightly odd, too. Why would you want a photograph of a place or a person that bears little resemblance to the actual reality? Surely it’s the details and idiosyncrasies that make each person and place unique and special and interesting? In my humble opinion, airbrushing out wrinkles or spots only serves to reproduce and contribute to the plethora of generic images that already exist in the world. Why can’t we face up to our shared reality?

When I raised this issue with a photographer friend of mine who takes pictures of the rich and famous, he confirmed that virtually all the photographs they take – even of models! – are edited, airbrushed and “touched up”. Rather than lamenting the unfortunate consequences of such representations for us normal folk, he claimed that contemporary photographs, such as those featured in advertising campaigns and magazines, didn’t really qualify as realism, in any sense of the word. Instead, he argued that such images have now become more like paintings, in terms of the work that’s applied to each one. He wholeheartedly agreed that existing pictures were not reflective of reality, retorting instead that it was madness to think otherwise.

Despite this, I still believe that perpetuating this pretence is not helping anyone. For Boots to now offer this service to the average consumer sends the message that your appearance is not acceptable unless it’s been doctored to death. Where does it end?

Do you agree? Or do you embrace this new ‘service’ as positive and progressive?

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