Photo Manipulation – There’s an App for That

In this day and age, it’s practically common knowledge that the images we see on magazine covers and in advertisements are digitally altered in some fashion.  Any retouching or editing made to an image, ranging from very subtle color balancing to drastic body contouring, can be considered photo manipulation.  The average cover girl may have her waist slimmed, breasts enlarged, blemishes removed, skin smoothed, and legs elongated – all through the magic of digital retouching.

Recently, though, more and more “regular” people are using programs to edit their personal photos on dating and social media sites.


Some might argue, who among us hasn’t digitally enhanced a photo by applying a red-eye filter or cropping out an unwanted photo-bomber?  Generally, these edits are considered pretty harmless and don’t really alter the essence of the photo.  However, with the use of photo retouching apps such as Facebrush, you don’t need a degree in graphic design to drastically alter your image in photos.

The Harmful Effects of Photo Manipulation

There are countless studies that show the adverse effects to one’s own body image after viewing images of unrealistic beauty standards – anxiety and depression, just
to name a few.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), advertisers commonly alter photographs to “enhance the appearance of models’ bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.”

Now, thanks to photo retouching apps, the “impressionable children and adolescents” cited by the AMA see unrealistic body images – not just from models, athletes, and celebrities – but also from their peers.  The impossible standards of beauty often reserved for the rich and famous are popping up all over Newsfeeds across the country as people are airbrushing out their freckles and blemishes, whitening their teeth, and giving themselves digital nose jobs.

Setting Industry Standards

Over the past several years, several European countries have taken a stand against misleading photo manipulations in advertising by industry giants such as L’Oreal.  Here in the US, publications are starting to feel the heat from their readers.  Glamour magazine recently explained its use of photo editing and asked for feedback from users on how they would like the magazine to address this issue.  The AMA has started to weigh in, recently adopting a new policy encouraging advertisers to work alongside youth health organizations to develop guidelines for advertisements; particularly those appearing in publications targeted toward teens, and discouraging digital manipulations that promote unrealistic body images.

Hopefully, as advertisers and the media begin to outline industry standards, the public will start to see more realistic and appropriate representations of beauty and cease the need to alter their own images.

Let your voice be heard

If you are wondering what you can do to bring awareness to this issue of photo manipulation, here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Educate yourself on the issue and how photo manipulation is used by the magazines and advertisements you consume.
  • Lend your voice and support to some of the brands that promote healthy body images, including Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.
  • Sign’s online petition with nearly 2,000 signatures urging Congress to consider legislation on a Media and Public Health Act.

Tell Us…. Have you noticed an uptick in your peers’ use of photo manipulation?


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