The Ethics of Photo Manipulation

“You don’t have to work in advertisement to keep advertising standards high” – Advertising Standards Authority

In this Digital Age photo manipulation is nearly everywhere. Photo manipulation is not necessarily photoshopping a chubby model into a skinny one, or removing an unsightly old man from your holiday photos. It’s also just adjusting the levels and contrasts of your pictures; anything that alters the image. There are many discussions about this subject, asking questions like “is it okay to plaster manipulated images of people all over magazines and billboards? Should we even put out the manipulated images or should we just use the raw, unaltered ones?” and the question of morals/ethics comes in.

Quite a few clothes retailers have been caught out using 3D mannequins instead of actual models to show off their products, not to mention that the models were all the same exact pose and body shape. The only thing that differed was the faces which were stuck on the bodies after they were produced. Big, popular magazines have been found out to glue celebrities’ faces on random models’ bodies without the people’s consent because they wouldn’t get an approval from the celebrity to use their face on the cover – such an event happened with Britney Spears and was spoken about for ages. Aside from that, most magazines will publish pictures that are severely altered, making people look at humanly unachievable bodies thinking they exist in real life. So is it really okay to put these images out into the public eye?

I suppose this question will always get opinions from both sides, such as that as long as the media is not using YOUR body or YOUR pictures for these purposes, they can put them out as much as they want, while on the other side people will speak up that the media should not alter the pictures to portray the persons as inhuman aliens almost, but keep them as natural as possible, covering up any blemishes or the likes.

In my own opinion, I think photo manipulation can be used in great ways: creating beautiful otherworldly images from just a regular snapshot of your local corner shop, or covering up things that make people feel ashamed of themselves in pictures (acne, etc). However I think it’s somehow morally wrong to be portraying people, women especially, as stick-thin, bobbly-headed toy models on magazine covers and ads. This can be and is harmful to people in general, as research shows (you can read more about it here). It is also probably quite unpleasant for celebrities to see how their own bodies have been altered in the production stage of the magazines or ads – imagine if you had professional pictures taken of you, but the photographer, without asking you, went ahead and gave you a perfect hourglass waist or big hunky muscles. Even if you were perfectly happy in your own skin, it would make you question whether you should really get on that diet or start working out. I think photo manipulation should be used to make our lives better or more interesting instead of making people question and feel bad about themselves. That’s where the ethics of photo manipulation comes in; what do you think should be the standard for it?

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