Striving for perfection, pixel by pixel
Do you look like your profile picture?
In an age where people have more friends online than in real life, the pressure to look good is ever-present in every medium. Thanks to the magic of technology, people can look as good as they want. All it takes is the click of a button.
Anybody with access to the internet can digitally alter what they look like.
It seems as if there is always some sort of controversy featuring a photo-shopped model or celebrity in some beauty campaign — somebody suddenly becomes unnaturally thin or a different race — but that’s business. If a company messes up, they suffer a very public backlash, like Ralph Lauren recently after publishing advertisements featuring French model Filippa Hamilton. Photoshoppers at Ralph Lauren made her pelvis smaller than her head and critics on the internet were quick to jump on the mistake.
But what happens if you’re just a normal person? Most young adults have some familiarity with Photoshop and use of it is more popular than most would like to admit. To be fair, I’ve even altered my own photos in the past. (I whitened my teeth once. Deal with it.)
Ithaca College sophomore Ben Ratner was one of few students who openly admitted to editing pictures of himself that were used publicly.
“I’ll usually only photoshop a photo of myself to get rid of minor, temporary features,” Ratner said. “Like, I’ll get rid of acne in a profile picture.”
The majority of students interviewed said that they don’t mind if a peer enhances personal pictures unless it is to an unrealistic or unnatural extreme. Senior Charlotte Sableman agrees with this.
“I think it’s fine,” said Sableman. “That is, unless it’s blatantly obvious.”
Some students, like sophomore Taylor Palmer, think that students should be honest about their appearance.
“You walk around everyday looking exactly like you are,” Palmer said. “Unless you’re going to change that, why change your pictures?”
With the features that some editing software programs offer, it’s almost as if they’re encouraging users to alter photos of themselves. The photo editing website Picnik features teeth-whitening and blemish fix options. Photoshop has an eyelash tool. Many digital cameras now have settings that instantly take away ten pounds.
Like Sableman said, it’s fine unless obviously apparent. There’s no harm in wanting to make a good impression in a virtual medium. So long as the changes are things that constantly change, it’s okay. Zits can go away, teeth can get whiter, a few pounds can fluctuate.
Some students, like junior Mike Hanold, think that editing your photos is an extension of one’s self-esteem.
“I think everyone is insecure about themselves physically on some level and photoshopping yourself allows a person to fix their perceived problems,” Hanold said. “It just comes down to insecurities.”
Of course, not all people who photoshop pictures are insecure. Some just want to promote a specific image of themselves, which is certainly the motivation for fashion magazines and other advertisements.
Self magazine received a lot of negative attention for their decision to significantly slim down Kelly Clarkson’s body for their cover in 2009. Many on the Self staff were forced to defend their position, including editorial assistant Ashley Mateo.
“The truth is, we have absolutely no reason to get worked up over Photoshop,” Mateo wrote in a blog post. “Magazines don’t hide the fact that they’re always trying to sell issues — and to sell copies, you need to appeal to readers with the best writing and the best images possible.”
Self is a magazine that promotes healthy living and appropriate amounts of exercise, so putting a heavily doctored photo next to a headline that says “Slim Down Your Way” is hypocritical, but unfortunately, it’s also the norm. Websites like the blog PhotoShopDisasters highlight bad editing jobs from advertisements, celebrity photos, and even the occasional Facebook photo. While the photos may be hilariously awful, they shed light on a serious ethical media problem.
Maybe we can do something about it. In December of 2011, Dartmouth College Professor of computer science Hany Farid and doctoral student Eric Kee created a computer program to identify photos that have been heavily retouched. This system includes rating pictures based on the amount of editing they have undergone.
“Such a rating may provide incentive for publishers and models to reduce some of the more extreme forms of digital retouching that are common today,” Farid wrote in his study. “We can also predict what an average observer would say.”
This technology will hopefully have a significant influence on media images, but because it was so recently created, it is too soon to tell. Mild photoshopping of images may — and probably will — still occur, but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Major edits that are standard for a fashion magazine should not be considered standard for everyday life. A person should be able to recognize you from your picture. It’s that simple.
So you want to get rid of the red eye in that otherwise perfect picture of you? Go ahead! It would probably be weird if you didn’t edit out those demon eyes. But photoshopping has its limits, and ultimately, the bottom line is that your profile picture needs to look like you.
Chloe Wilson is a sophomore television-radio major who looks like her photo except for her brand spankin’ new haircut. E-mail her at cwilson6[at]ithaca[dot]edu.