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Why the World Needs Photoshopped Celebrities

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Photoshopped celebrities never fail to cause outrage. The most recent pitchfork parade was started by an article on the Daily Mail website highlighting the "bizarre" practices that go on inside magazines to improve photos.

While the piece focuses mostly on editors' extraordinary abilities to remove entire sections of celebs' physiques without sense checking to see if anyone would notice - it does highlight a trend that appears to be gaining traction in certain circles. People don't want to see manipulated images of celebrities any longer.

One couple in the US has gone so far as to take this fight to the US government. Seth and Eva Matlins have started the Self Esteem Act. The petition wants images to carry "Truth in Advertising" labels to ensure people know if they're looking at something that has been artificially enhanced, or that person really is that lovely to look at.

While this sounds like a very sensible idea, it is not. The world needs Photoshop and photo editing, not just to make people look more lovely.

The history of doctoring images stretches far beyond the invention of the digital image, and even the camera itself.

The Egyptians elongated limbs and necks in their wall paintings to make their rulers look more elegant. Henry VIII paid painters to make him look taller and more handsome than his ever increasing frame suggested. With the advent of photography, this practice continued.

One of the first, and most significant photographic touch ups came in 1865, when photojournalist Matthew Brady shot General Sherman and his top officers only to add another officer to the picture in post production.

Photographer John Filo's Pulitzer winning image of Mary Ann Vecchio that came to symbolise the anti-Vietnam movement in the US was touched up as the original photo accidentally depicted Vecchio with a pole coming out of her head.

Images of the Beatles, Lenin, Oprah Winfrey, Hitler, Kim Jong Il, even an Iranian missile test have all been tampered with to make the recipient respond to the photo in a different way to how the original intended.

The reasons for changing an image are myriad. The Beatles' iconic album cover for Abbey Road for example, originally featured Paul McCartney holding a cigarette as he walked across the road bare foot. But, American publishers had it removed to conceal Paul's habit.

Propaganda images of Lenin featuring Trotsky, at the insistence of Stalin were altered to give the impression Leon was never present. Stalin believed Trotsky was a threat and so had him scrubbed from the Soviet Union's photographic record.

The simple matter is, the motivations for tweaking pictures are far more complex than to simply make the person looking at it feel miserable about themselves. Should Filo have not won the award because he wasn't telling the truth? Or did his changes make an already compelling image even more powerful?

The Matlins' argue that artificially beautified images are making teenage girls unhappy with their own bodies. This is an argument sociologists call the 'hypodermic syringe model' - whereby an audience is passively consuming messages without interpretation or resistance. Girl opens magazine, girl sees images of thin women she admires, girl immediately hates own body.

This theory - largely discredited in the 1960s - ignores the complex exchange that happens when people are exposed to images, words or messages. In essence, what the Matlins are saying is that we, and in particular, teenage girls are incapable of thinking for themselves.

I believe people are a bit smarter than that. Especially teenage girls. It is true that some will look at heavily retouched images of their icons and obsess over trying to emulate that at the detriment to everything else. But, is that because of the images, or are there deeper, more personal issues at play?

I'd argue the latter. Photoshop is not the cause of female body issues, but an unfortunate symptom of it. Stamping every picture that has been altered, for artistic, political, or some other reason is unnecessary, not to mention insulting to people's intelligence.

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