Debate Magazine

Retouching Photographs: Ethical?

By Starofdavida
Retouching Photographs: Ethical?Retouchingphotographs of models in magazines and newspapers has been a point ofcontroversy in the publishing industry ever since technology like Photoshop hasbecome readily available. Most magazines, especially ones dedicated to fashionand/or celebrity stalking, have no qualms about retouching “imperfect”pictures. I think this practice is absolutely reprehensible.
There areinstances when it’s appropriate to retouch photograph. For example, if a personin a photograph has red eye or some stray hairs, or the lighting isn’t good, orthere’s some other imperfection that doesn’t change the concept of the pictureto a ridiculous degree, I don’t see a problem with that. I do take issue withpictures retouched to the point that the original subject is unrecognizable orcompletely changed, especially in the mass media.
Dozens ofstudies have proven that young women are very much influenced by how the mediaportrays women, whether television or the Internet or magazines. (A specificstudy I have in mind was conducted in Tahiti, where girls were almostuniversally happy with their bodies until the Americans came in and inculcatedthem with the media.) As a result, when models are depicted as super-skinnywith heads wider than their hips (as included in this post), that sends girls a message that they need tobe as thin as possible in order to be accepted, “normal.” This sort of thing iswhy anorexia and other eating disorders are so common in our society. If modelsand celebrities were shown in magazines looking the way they do without make upand Photoshop enhancements, young women would be able to see what “normal”really is.
I think thepurpose of photographs should be to represent reality. If a person wants it torepresent art, he or she should draw or paint. Photographs shouldn’t lie. Photographyshouldn’t be based on the concept of, “I took this picture and I know it’s notperfect, so instead of trying again and again until I get it right, I’ll justPhotoshop it when I get home.” Yes, if at second glance there’s some minorimperfection with the photograph, I don’t think it’s a big deal to retouch it alittle bit, but to completely change a picture is just wrong.
Religiouslyspeaking, there’s the concept of genevat da’at, tricking a person tothink one thing when that’s not the reality of the situation. I don’t thinkit’s a stretch to say that majorly retouching a picture can fall under theprohibition of genevat da’at. (This isn’t my original idea - when aHasidic newspaper infamously Photoshopped Hillary Clinton out of the historicpicture in the Situation Room after Osama bin Laden’s death, Rabbi Jason Milleropposed this on the grounds of genevat da’at.) A retouched picture of amodel depicts a person that doesn’t really exist, and displaying it to peopleis tricking them into thinking that such a person does.
So yeah, Ithink that retouching pictures isn’t the right thing to do, for numerousreasons. As much as I may say this to myself and others, I know that my innermoral compass screaming “ANOREXIA! LYING! GENEVAT DA’AT!” isn’t going tostop me from fixing every tiny imperfection in my yearbook photo, though. It’seasy to talk about not caring about how you look, but a lot harder to actuallyhave to live that way.

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