How far should we go in retouching Grad. Photos?

My daughters graduation photo’s arrived along with a quote to retouch the blemishes.

After my first thought of,

“She hasn’t any blemishes and if she does, I’m going to be the one to retouch them.”

I began to think… What about all those parents who are now faced with that choice? Even if you don’t buy the photographs, at least one will end up in the school year book.

In a graduating year do you want your son or daughter to be the only child with the acne marks typical of so many teenagers? Personally I think if you are going to retouch blemishes on one kid you do it for them all. But then where does it go from here? Do we offer to:

  • Straighten teeth?
  • Take a crook out of a nose?
  • Pin back ears?
  • Shape eyebrows?
  • Add highlights?

Don’t we want to remember our friends as they really are? What does it do to a child’s self esteem if they are the only one who doesn’t look “perfect”?

Do we as Photographers or Image Editors have any moral responsibility?

Growing up in England we never had this problem. The last day of our equivalent of High School, we simply went into assembly, sang Jerusalem and left with promises to keep in touch. (In the UK you don’t “graduate” until you leave University or College.) On this side of the Atlantic things are very different.

Over the last few years there has been a movement to ask the media, and in particular magazines aimed at young girls, to state when an image has been altered or “Photoshopped”.

“Oh…that’s been Photoshopped.”

Is generally not a compliment.

Long before Photoshop we looked at altered sketches in catalogs and airbrushed photos of models. (I can remember my mother pouring over Vogue Pattern Books.) Did we ever believe that people really looked like that? I don’t know if we did back then but obviously, in North America at least, we do now.

The US numbers from the petition to “Protect our Girls” and pass the “Media and Public Health Act” are alarming.

  • 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner
  • 51% of 9-10 year old girls feel better about themselves when they’re dieting
  • 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies; by the time they’re 17, 78% of them will be
  • By the time they’re 17, these girls have seen 250,000 TV commercials telling them they should be a decorative object, sex object or a body size they can never achieve.
  • 7 million girls and women under 25 suffer from eating disorders (
  • 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old. A rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930. Anorexia has the highest rate of mortality of any mental illness. (
    80% of women feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty ad. $20B is spent on beauty marketing in the US annually. That’s a lot of money being spent making women feel worse about themselves.
  • Nearly 25 million people – male and female – are suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder (
    3-12% of teen boys use anabolic steroids in pursuit of a lean, muscular ideal

Up until recently it simply never occurred to me that anyone would take any of those images as reality. Women’s magazines are for the most part, about fantasy and always have been.

I mean yes of course, there is always the one person who really is that thin and that beautiful naturally,

(Alison if you weren’t so nice I would hate you every time you have two portions of fries covered in gravy, followed by a chocolate bar and a can of pop then complain you can’t gain an once.)

and for every nine people who want to loose weight their is that one who is desperate to gain but when did we stop looking at the real people around us? For most magazines it would be simpler to say all photos have been retouched or to simply point out any image that hadn’t been.

Photoshop isn’t to blame, nor is any other form of digital manipulation but for those who don’t know the difference it is obviously disastrous.

Dove’s Self Esteem program has been running for quite some time, and in my opinion does an excellent job. Watch the Dove Evolution add here. (In some areas you may have to search on You Tube for Dove Evolution.)

One thought on “How far should we go in retouching Grad. Photos?

  1. As a photographer and Photoshop artist, I do not completely disagree or agree with this viewpoint of everything falling on the shoulders of the photographer. Sure, a photographer’s corporate (or individual) social responsibility (CSR) may need to be address to some degree, but I am sure most photogs are producing what ad execs, & agencies are requesting. Perhaps Ad agencies need to be more responsible and inclusive of the everyday people; or maybe they think they are giving us our personal fantasizes. Alternatively, perhaps clothing designers and product manufacturers are specifically trying to target the beautiful only. Please understand that I think photo-shopping should not be so extreme where the people look completely unreal and plastic (I used to make that mistake myself). Yet, I have many clients both young and older that request some extreme photoshop-surgical-procedures. I try to reassure them that they are beautiful, period. However, lately, I have tried to be encouraging from a healthy point of view. I have done a lot of research and found that many skin & body issues are directly related to how & what we choose to eat (anorexia is different & extremely serious matter). Therefore some (not all) of these issues that Photoshop artist are asked to make disappear, can in fact be addressed by the individuals themselves if they choose to commit to. What I have said may not be completely helpful, but I am trying to balance the responsibility on photogs. I don’t want people to view us as evil photo-shopping problem makers distorting self-image views, but I do want us photogs to remember how powerful a picture is and to be mindful of the unwritten message it might be sending to someone who doesn’t understand the concept of photo-shopping an image—”A picture is worth a thousand (plus) words.”

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