Thanks to widespread awareness campaigns, we’re getting better at spotting media fakes. We know that, because of Photoshop “enhancing effects,” the women and men we see on posters and in magazines whose physiques seem too good to be true are just that—untrue.
But would we think to turn that same suspicion onto videos?
Apparently, the reach of Photoshop has extended beyond still-life. Over the weekend, I caught up with a cousin whose son Evan is a successful film student in California. When I asked what Evan was doing at his current internship, my cousin told me that he was working with a group called Beauty Shop, which offers “body stylist” services.
“They work on editing pop stars in music videos, going frame by frame with Photoshop,” he said. “So for instance, if J. Lo’s stomach hangs over a little bit, they go through the video and clean it up one frame at a time.”
“It takes forever, but they make a ton of money,” he added.
It took me a moment to process what he was saying, and even then I wavered between feeling startled and thoroughly unsurprised. I’m well-acquainted with the media’s pervasive use of Photoshop and the havoc this can singlehandedly wreak on self-image. Thanks to airbrush tools and some advanced cut-and-paste methods, models can lose inches from their waists, arms, thighs, hips—the possibilities are endless. And when these super-thin, super-sculpted bodies are the only ones to make it to prime time, consumers become conditioned to think that these images depict what women (and men) ideally look like. The fact that the vast majority of people are not, in fact, endowed with “model” bodies is glossed over as sleekly as the magazine pages they’re printed on.
Luckily, the eating disorder community, body image activists, and others are actively raising awareness about Photoshop and media ploys. Plus, the practice of altering photos the way Photoshop does is actually quite common nowadays—anyone with an Instagram account knows how to cast themselves in their best light. But I doubt that people are equally aware of how this plays out in other forms of media, such as a music video.
On the one hand, this is probably because most of us simply aren’t familiar with the technology. Any Instagram user can enhance a photograph, but far fewer people have the skill to alter videos. (And maybe there are also those who, like me, would’ve assumed that taking Photoshop to a woman’s stomach for a four- or five-minute video seems preposterous and absurdly time-consuming.)
But besides being unfamiliar with just how advanced Photoshop technology apparently is, I think a lot of us presume that videos portray real life. We know that videos can be edited and enhanced in various ways, such as through lighting and camera effects, and makeup and wardrobe. But, unlike still-life photographs, videos are animated, which makes them seem more real. They capture moving bodies, changing expressions, and human voices. They’re much easier to relate to than a still-life photograph. Because of that, I worry that we are far more inclined to implicitly trust what we see in a video.
And if that’s the case, then imagine the damage that Photoshopped videos can do for body image. Even if we know to question the veracity of still-life advertisements, we would probably be less inclined to cast suspicion on physiques in a video that seem too good to be true. And if there is no inclination to doubt the super-thin, super-sculpted bodies moving and dancing across the screen, what would stop us from internalizing the thin ideal that those bodies are selling?
I don’t know the extent to which Photoshop is used in videos. After my cousin told me about these body stylists, I scoured the Internet for information. The only mention that I found was a Business Insider article from October reporting that digital production studio HOAX Films (great name, right?) was hired to do “cleanup” work on Britney Spears’ music video for “Work B***h.” This“cleanup” work involved slimming Spears’ waist and thighs. According to the article, HOAX released six pre-edited images from the music video, but then quickly removed them from the site. Luckily, The Daily Mail got a hold of them first.
So I turn to you readers: Have you heard anything about the use of Photoshop in videos? Has this been going on since the early days of Photoshop or is this new technology?
Whether or not this practice is as pervasive as Photoshop in still-life advertisements, it’s time to start calling attention to this hi-tech artifice—because it DOES happen. And from what I’m told about the “ton of money” so-called body stylists make, I doubt the industry will die out any time soon.
© The Middle Ground, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the article’s author and The Middle Ground with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.