Recently, pop culture site Buzzfeed asked four everyday women to participate in an experiment where each would model in a photo shoot. The photos were then retouched with Photoshop in the same way they would be if they were to be published in a typical fashion or beauty magazine. In other words, the women’s “imperfections” — slightly sloping shoulders, missing cleavage, freckles — were taken away or enhanced. But guess what? The women didn’t like what they saw.
“This is how I always wanted to see myself,” says one woman, “but now that I see it, I’m questioning why I ever wanted to look that way.”
“Once you take away your imperfections, there’s not much left of who you really are,” says another.
Now, surely many women would prefer the enhanced images of themselves. After all, that’s why plastic surgery exists. So is the big takeaway here an Oprah-like be-your-best-self moment? I don’t think so. We all know that we’re way too critical of ourselves. What’s worth pointing out is just how much retouching surrounds us every day. (For an astounding example, check out this shot of Diane Keaton presenting an award during the Golden Globes last month compared with her image in a L’Oreal commercial that ran during the same broadcast. Like, whoa.)
When we succumb to the retouching, when we hold ourselves to impossible standards, we not only torture ourselves, we make it harder for other women everywhere. Worse yet, we teach our daughters and other young women to follow suit.
I don’t know where the line that shouldn’t be crossed lies. It’s somewhere between ridiculous standards and completely letting yourself go, which is a pretty broad spectrum. I do know I have to consciously and consistently remind myself that it exists. I like Lady Gaga’s response to being over-Photoshopped on the cover of Glamour last year. In a statement, she encouraged young people to “fight back against the forces that make them feel like they’re not beautiful.” It’s good advice for us older women, too.
Likewise, Verily Magazine, which has a penchant for runway-to-realway stories, launched last year with the promise to “never alter the body or face structure of our models with Photoshop.” And perhaps our collective craving for real-life beauty is behind the rise of the street-style blog, too. Could imperfection could be the new perfection? Maybe. I guess it’s up to us, and where we decide to draw that elusive line.