We can probably all agree on one thing: Photoshopping is the worst. It reiterates the false perception that all women must look a certain way, it creates unrealistic standards of beauty for kids and teens and adults, and it arguably strips the subject of control in terms how how her face and body will be seen by other people.
We all hate Photoshop. We all hate airbrushing. Because it’s awful…to an extent. (Cue loud gasps among all reading this.)
Around this time last year, my friend showed me an app on her phone that the Jenners and Kardashians (allegedly) use before posting their own images to Instagram. It’s not Photoshop (but it kind of is) and allows you, the user, to manipulate any/all images the way you want. Goodbye blemishes, dark circles, and uneven skin tone; hello contouring, deeper smiles, and brighter eyes. And I’ll be real: I wanted this app. I needed this app. Like Kim K—who, let’s be honest, gets more grief than anyone about her tweaked images—I wanted to celebrity-ify my photos on days the Valencia filter was failing me, and I needed to alter any/all photos to make them seem perfect despite them not being that way.
But I was torn because I hate Photoshop. And yet, this app was free and I wanted it.
Spoiler: I currently use the app regularly. I keep my skin tone and face shape the same, only ever really diminish dark circles or breakouts, and if I look a little bit like Gollum, I’ll brighten a smidge. Why? Because these are my photos on my personal Instagram feed, and to tweak what I don’t like is no different from filtering, tinkering with colour, tone, saturation, or clarity. Instagram is like Photoshop anyway — we use it to project a reality we’d like the world to consider our permanent state of being. Nobody’s real life looks like their Instagram feed. So, I’ll take zits out if I so please. I attempt to do the same with makeup, anyway.
But therein lies the difference between Photoshop as a norm and Photoshop as a utility. In the case of Instagram, I am in charge of how the world sees me. I choose my filters, my outfits, my favourite photos, and the moments that allow for the above. I wear my own clothes, hang out with my own friends, and say, “Can you actually retake that?” if I hate how I look. If I want to remove the aftermath of a sleepless night, I’ll reduce the circles that portray just how tired I am, or how stressed I’ve been — the same way I use a gel mask, concealer, foundation, and powder to face the real world. The narrative is still mine, the photos are mine, and I’m projecting the same story we all like to tell. (Life is great, and so are we.)
So to that end, I’ll defend Photoshop. I’ll tell you I use it, show you how to do the same, then say, “You’re welcome” as if we’ve life-hacked the ultimate Instagram filter. But there’s a line.
When Zendaya slammed Modeliste magazine in November for airbrushing away her curves, she wasn’t wrong to do so — mainly because they altered dramatically altered her body (in a way that promoted an unhealthy body type), but also because they stripped Zendaya of control. In fact, whenever a celebrity is Photoshopped to excess (whether it be Tina Fey’s waist on the cover of Vogue or Beyonce’s L’Oreal campaign), the subject is no longer in charge of their narrative, and becomes a mouthpiece for the values of a brand or publication. Their body is indeed a vessel — for the way somebody else thinks women should look. And that is what’s damaging, and that’s the issue. (And also the difference between applying makeup and/or taking out PMS-induced acne.)
So I’ll defend the use of Photoshop (or aforementioned Photoshop-inspired apps) whenever it’s part of someone’s own feed — because it’s their own business. It’s their call and another form of expression. That’s when I don’t hate it or think it’s awful or an abomination or a disgrace to the definition of beauty as we know it (especially since beauty is what we make it, and only our own approaches to it matter). Instead, I think it’s another filter that works provided we’re in charge of it.
After all, I may be able to look like I got more than five hours of sleep last night, but I’ll be damned if you try and do it for me.