Everything that’s wrong with ‘un-photoshopped’ photographs

Beyonce has recently been in the middle of gossip due to some unretouched photographs of her L’oreal campaign being leaked online, before her Cindy Crawford was trending due to unretouched photos of her body surfacing on the internet. A fresh debate has been sparked, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of furore surrounding beauty standards, you only have to google ‘celebrities and photoshop’ to see the history of it, but the real issue goes deeper than that.


Lending yourself to the public eye comes with a high price, you lose your privacy and have thousands of narratives created for you every day in gossip magazines and online. Celebrity culture is something you either love or loathe, body and beauty standards have been set by celebrities since the dawn of Hollywood, with the media promoting those standards in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing product. Famous people are essentially a commodity, and that is how we are expected to view them. Although it sounds harsh, it’s pretty much true, celebrities lend their faces and bodies to brands all the time, we see their personas splashed on billboards, on food products, in adverts and campaigns.

Because of this, the media prefers for their celebrities to be perfect looking. To look exactly like we all want to. Both men and women are sculpted, blurred, defined and polished post production. Women seem to get the most attention regarding their appearance for many reasons, some of which are entirely down to the ridiculous standards society has for a girl and her body, and worryingly other women enjoy seeing female celebrities looking less than perfect. I’ve been guilty of it myself, and caught myself slightly enjoying the fact that Beyonce has spots and doesn’t look airbrushed in real life. But it’s ridiculous, of course she has spots! Of course she looks like a human! We shouldn’t need to see other people looking normal to raise our self esteem!

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Photo from Time

Let’s just take a moment to think about the unrealistic images that the media is bombarding us with time after time. We now have access to apps that’ll allow us to do the same, and we can carefully craft how we are perceived on social media so people see us a certain way – but how long until the idea of realism is completely gone? How long will it be before people are unrecognisable in public from their online personas? We shouldn’t want to look airbrushed and photoshopped, we shouldn’t want to only share bits of our lives that are unreal, sure I get it – I don’t want to be photographed looking podgy or with a nasty outbreak on my face either. So I can see why celebrities, who have thousands of campaigns and appearances to make, would rather slap on some makeup and let the computer wizards do their job. I can see the appeal, but I can also see how unhealthy it’s become for our culture.

We have become a society that’s overly critical of ourselves and others. Young girls suffer more now with their self-esteem than they ever have. Jezebel offered $10,000 for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham’s Vogue shoot, Lena who by her very nature is ‘real’ and has been seen naked on her show ‘Girls’, Lena who essentially has nothing to hide about her image. Yet, by offering money for the originals of her Vogue shoot, they were sort of saying ‘your realness isn’t good enough.’ What were they trying to achieve by offering such a large sum of money? Were they trying to humiliate Lena, or prove that she wasn’t as feminist as she made out by showing that even she conceded to photoshopping? Either way, the fact that unretouched photographs are worth actual money to the right people shows that there’s a serious issue with society’s beauty standards.

Photo from GQ

The real problem with un-photoshopped photographs is their shock value. Firstly, many of these images were leaked without the celebrity’s consent, none of them wanted these photos to be brought to light – in many cases these photographs can be painfully intimate. Perhaps they only show their vulnerable, human side to those closest to them, and prefer to be a touched up persona to the public eye. In that respect, these photographs are a breach of their privacy, the fact that it’s mostly women who get harangued in the media for changes in the way they look (Renee Zellweger, Uma Thurman) seems to be another point for another day as the debate could go on forever! These leaked photographs do not serve a feminist purpose only because they’re taking the choice out of it, forcing us all to see the things that are covered up, violating people’s privacy to prove something we all know deep down. Secondly why should we be so shocked by these photographs? Why should we buy into the shock value, and see photographs of beautiful, strong, brilliant women instead of seeing their shortcomings?

If they were labelled as what they really are, would we care as much? ‘A photograph of Beyonce with some makeup on’ or ‘A photo of Cindy Crawford in her bikini’ surely couldn’t create scandal and gossip? In any case, it’s something to consider the next time you come across an ‘unretouched’ photograph, we’re all beautiful but we all have our bad days. Let’s stick it to unrealistic beauty standards by realising that these rare photographs remind us we’re all human, no matter our background, income or fame level.

  1. Un-photoshopped photos from a photoshoot really only “violate the model’s privacy” if the model had final approval rights on which photos were published, and the magazine had no rights at all in the rest of the shoot, which I suspect only happens with the top of the top talent.

    Otherwise, the magazine themselves could choose to run un-photoshopped images, and that certainly wouldn’t violate the model’s privacy – they signed the contract.

    In addition, judging by the number of protests we’ve seen from female celebrities, I suspect that photoshopping is more an editorial decision than the model’s.

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  3. I think the whole issue is touchy. And I have a teenage daughter, who pretty much isn’t into make up. But she does paint her nails. No matter how absurd the beauty standard is in modern day culture, if the photos are leaked, it’s a beach of the [model’s] privacy, and I daresay, a betrayal in part by the magazine/company and their contacted photographers.
    I remember many years ago when a group protesting the use of animals for fur fashion in Sweden broke into a mink farm and released all of the mink. They ran out into the sub zero weather, got run over and hunted and died, unable to survive. The ends do not always justify the means.

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