Picture perfect, not worth it: Photoshop overuse distorts global ideas of beauty

Living in the digital age means grappling with issues that older generations have not faced. One of these issues, unfortunately, is negative self-esteem and body perception exacerbated by 21st century creations like social media and Photoshop.

Of course, people have had body image issues long before the rise of smartphones and online-editing techniques, but the problem has only worsened now that the means to change oneself have become so readily available.

It is no longer necessary to hire a talented photographer to take an aesthetically pleasing photo — our iPhones can do that easily, and, if you’re not a fan of the way the picture turned out, you can choose any of the filters on your phone to change its coloring and shading.

You can download a variety of photo-editing apps and get to work re-sculpting your body, changing your features and all around recreating the original image to become something other than itself — no longer a representation of reality, but a work of deceptive art.

There isn’t a need anymore for darkroom “magic” with chemicals and paint since all of these effects can now be done with Adobe Photoshop. For around $150, a person can buy the program for their personal desktop or laptop — or if that’s too expensive, all smartphones app stores offer a wide range of photo-editing apps to choose from, with the more basic apps even being free.

What was once a tedious task is now fast and easy and increasingly prevalent among today’s youth, primarily among young girls and women. Just one scroll through the “Explore” page on Instagram reveals how many young women are posting pictures of themselves and their bodies online, and an overwhelming amount of these photos have been “refined” by editing apps or software to some extent — by the girls in the photos themselves or by the photographers, according to a 2016 article from The Guardian. “It would be more unusual for them to upload a completely undoctored picture to Instagram,” researcher Isabelle Whiteley said, as quoted in the article. She considers this to be an “open secret.”

This statement would be radically even more true if the speaker had been discussing young adults in China. A Chinese company called Meitu Inc., or “beautiful picture” in English, owns a whole host of photo-editing apps, like BeautyPlus and SelfieCity, according to an article in The New Yorker. The company also owns one of the country’s most popular social media platforms, Meipai.

Meitu has become so big and influential that its apps are downloaded on over a billion phones across all of Asia, and it even has slightly toned-down versions of its apps for use in western nations like the United States.

“It is considered a solecism to share a photo of yourself that you haven’t doctored,” a “wang hong” — the relative equivalent to an American social media influencer — called HoneyCC was quoted saying in the article.

China’s younger generations seem to find it improper to post a picture of one’s self that isn’t edited or “enhanced,” and to share a picture of your friend without editing her face first? Now that’s just cruel. But after all is said and done, what’s the real issue with adolescents changing their appearance in photos? It’s what that leads to that is the problem.

In the past, it was only the pages of fashion magazines and television dramas that presented girls with images of extremely thin, fashionable, beautiful women. Now it encompasses an even bigger scope of media, which makes up much of teenagers’ worlds these days.

Every time we go online, we are bombarded with images of people far more “classically” attractive than we are. No matter your gender, it becomes hard not to compare yourself to these pictures, but what we don’t consciously realize is that we’re not jealous of real people. Instead, we’re comparing ourselves to the edited versions of other people they share to make others think this is how they look.

Not only does this cause mental distress for many young adults, such as low self-esteem and poor body image, it can also contribute to even worse issues. Almost since its creation, people have credited social media with contributing to eating disorders in adolescents, especially females.

As written about in Fan’s article, seeing others’ or our own doctored photographs can prompt some people to take drastic measures; the amount of plastic surgeries in China have increased since Meitu’s apps became popular, mainly with college-age people trying to look like “wang hong.” The danger in changing what you see in your camera roll is beginning to believe in the artifice that’s just your $0.99 app’s handiwork.