Women Don’t Look Like That!

This post is illustrated with a selection of images of women featured on photographic magazine covers, none of which have any relation to reality. They are illustrations, perceived ideals of perfection created with digital brushes, and software. I had many examples to choose from.

When I worked on Elle magazine back in the 1980s, the greatly missed Editor, Sally Brampton banned any advertisements in the small ads at the back of the magazine for any form of plastic surgery. The idea of such manipulation of who we are purely for aesthetic reasons was an anathema to her. How times have changed.

As photographers we also have ethical responsibility. The images we create have the power to influence, and inform both positively and negatively. It is our choice as to which of these outcomes we choose to adopt. The representation of the human form to sell a product or idea is central to the creation of photographs presenting a sense of aspiration, but that aspiration has to be achievable and ethical to be successful. We are good today at spotting fakes.

I could have chosen any over manipulated image to prove my point that post-production goes too far, too often, but I chose these images and magazines as they are speaking to photographers and photographers only. They are on that basis post production cat nip.

I recently saw a BBC promotional film aimed at children, and presented by a children’s television actor on which the actor stated that you should not trust anything you see because we all know that everything has been digitally manipulated. This is a tough, dogmatic stance to take, a sad indictment on how people see visual image makers today and a precedent of cynicism being passed on to future generations.

Not all photographs are true, but not all are false.

The images here are false, women do not look like this away from the Wacom tablet and screen. They have wrinkles, blemishes, freckles, imperfections, unequal eyes, facial hair, just as we all do. A model is not a wax figure, a pallette for retouching expertise, they are a human being whose looks should be respected and exalted, rather than redrawn.

The message these manipulated images give is toxic to both sexes who may believe that these perfect people exist. Who believe that they are lesser because their looks do not conform to these models of perfection. The resultant mental health issues are widely documented.

If the idea of such images being used on the covers of such magazines is to increase sales to photographers then we have to question the intentions of the editorial teams making those decisions and those photographers who see such work as an aspirational goal.

Dr. Grant Scott is the the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com

© Grant Scott 2022

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