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EXPOSED: The Truth Behind Photoshop Retouching

There’s the age-old saying “never judge a book by its cover.” Well, the same goes for images. As we all know, the art of retouching can make anyone appear slimmer, shave off excess fat from someone’s figure, or permanently delete any imperfection with the wave of a “magic wand.” Unfortunately, retouching has fooled us into thinking that the world really is a lot thinner or more perfect than we think we are. But exactly how easy is it to completely transform someone’s figure via Photoshop? Does this artful trickery take days upon days to complete, similar to the intense exercise regimens or the carb-less diets we try follow for months to transform ourselves? Unfortunately, the truth about retouching is that it requires a lot less effort than going to the gym or dieting. Frankly, retouching is a lot simpler than we think.

When we look at a magazine ad, we automatically think: “Wow, she’s soooo skinny” or “She’s soooo flawless.” If we spend long enough examining the ad, we typically take a step back and tell ourselves, “Oh, someone definitely airbrushed this ad,” accompanied by an eye roll. However, our initial reaction to the ad automatically makes us feel self-conscious, and that’s an unfortunate problem. In my current Digital Photography class, we learn about every Photoshop tool one can use to manipulate a photograph. That’s right, manipulate: “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously,” as defined by Google. Let me break it to you, ladies: the shocking and unfair truth about retouching is that it takes approximately 1 minute to cleverly manipulate someone’s figure. Here’s how:

In the Photoshop main menu, you can click “Filter,” then “Distort,” then “Pinch.” Yes, you read that correctly: “Filter” and “Distort,” i.e. the most unnatural way to make someone appear thin. What “Pinch” does is let you select any area of the body and re-sculpt it to look less fatty, more toned, and naturally thinner. Here’s how it works:

Essentially, you drag a lever to determine how much you want to transform a certain section of the body. Check out this unbelievable retouching using the Pinch tool:

Yup. Crazy, right? My professor also mentioned plenty of people get paid simply to retouch photographs using this method. What they’re really getting paid to do? Lie, deceive, and trick us…ultimately, to manipulate our perceptions of beauty and body image on a daily basis. Plus, there are plenty of tools in Photoshop to remove blemishes (“Spot Healing” brush); enhance eye and hair color (“Quick Selection,” then “Exposure” or “Sharpen”); even out skin tone (“Vibrance”); and so much more.          

Based on all this information, it’s a fact that we never truly know how someone looks until we see him or her in person. No one is “perfect,” or meets the standards of retouching as perpetuated by popular magazines, movies, etc. The digital world exists merely as a fantasy world, where filters and tools are used to make us appear as idealized versions of our true selves. As easy as retouching is, it’s equally as easy to be fooled by it. Don’t fall into the same trap again. Remember that you are beautiful, authentic, and more perfect than a Photoshopped photograph will ever be. 

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