Is The Retouching Debate Bringing Us Down?

Photoshop gets more free advertising than any company I know. The most recent outcry from Jezebel, which offered $10,000 for the untouched version of Lena Dunam’s Vogue shoot; and the not so horrified (“Too ridiculous to engage” tweeted Dunam) response to the before and after photos, have garnered Photoshop quite a few headlines just this month.

Photoshop literally changed the way photographers worked, and thus how we see the world…and ourselves. And what Photoshop did for photographers, Instagram and apps like Facetune have done for anyone with a smartphone. We can present a retouched version of ourselves to the world in seconds.

Most photos we see now have been retouched in some way. We don’t know if what we are seeing in photography is real or not. The big question, or at least the one that has received the most headlines, is what all this retouching and enhancing is does to our body image? As someone who has retouched myself and has been retouched, I’m a little torn about the issue, but I do wonder what all this perfecting is doing to our beliefs in what we can achieve on a larger scale.

We know that old adage, that the camera adds 10 pounds. Well, they do — especially to photos taken in a studio setting. Adobe has a solution for this issue, a filter called Liquefy, which you can use to stretch yourself slim in seconds. But cameras can be cruel, and sometimes a slightly “liquefied” photo makes you look more like you actually do than an unaltered image might.

But even celebrities can’t always be Photoshopped. A good example is Jennifer Lawrence, who was quoted as saying that she would rather look “chubby” on camera, if that means that she doesn’t look like a twig in person. These women in real life are super slim, even the ones called “chubby” by the media, because in photos or on screen they look a little bigger.

But the bigger question we all should be mulling is what is all this photoshopping doing to us as a culture?

Now that there are apps like Facetune, where you can correct, whiten and slim yourself right on your phone, we don’t know which Facebook pictures of our friends have been retouched. The Gloss notes that even Kim Kardashian seems to be retouching her Instagram pictures:

Either she liquefied her waist or the doors in her house are warped big time.

You can watch my all time favorite spoof on Photoshop here.

There seems to be a chasm between what we want to see — edited and retouched pictures of glossy women (including ourselves) — and what is healthy for us to see –the blander, less hued, heavier, lined versions of ourselves and others.

The effects of the perfectionalization of our faces and bodies can be quite devastating. UpWorthy notes that over 200,000 teens had plastic surgery in 2010. If you think about Botox as a metaphor for the quest for perfection, we are literally paralyzing ourselves. So, I wonder what does this do not only to our self-esteem, but to our overall morale ?

I was recently asked by a young journalist if I found working on issues like the passing of CEDAW (the only United Nations Treaty on Women) “too big to tackle” and it made me worry. Is the ever-expanding quest for perfection messing up more than how we feel about our looks? What if the ideal of being flawless is also messing with what we believe we can accomplish?

Whether you want to publish a book, grow your business, or participate in a larger call to action, you have at some point cave into imperfection and just move forward as well as you can.

Steve Jobs famously stated, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Sometimes you need to know you are good enough just the way you are right now, especially if you are crazy enough to think you change the world, even just a little. Go ahead skim off a few pounds on those photos, but don’t hold back on what you believe can do.

This post originally appeared on Medium.