Photoshop Ethics

By Morgan Cannata

We’ve all seen a published photo of a model with a missing limb, pixie stick legs and an all too perfect complexion. With digital technology improving, more possibilities are becoming available. We wonder, just because we can do something, should we?

Photo by Morgan Cannata

Photo by Morgan Cannata

Julia Bluhm, a fourteen-year-old girl, started a “digital diets” petition against magazines’ Photoshop tactics. She asked Seventeen magazine to “show just one unairbrushed photo spread a month.” Julia said, “her peers are increasingly developing eating disorders and serious body image issues as a result of what they see as unattainable looks.”

Bluhm talked on Good Morning America about her petition’s goals and achievements. By the second week, her petition acquired over 25,000 signatures. After that, her petition racked up almost 85,000. A “body peace treaty” was complied by Seventeen Magazine’s staff in response to Bluhm’s petition. The treaty has eight vows including no airbrushing and changing models’ bodies and face shapes. The treaty acts as a public commitment striving to “feature real girls and models who are healthy, and be totally upfront about what goes into their photo shoots.”

Seventeen complying with a reader shows their commitment to the cause, but there was no vow to avoid Photoshop completely. They set parameters of unacceptable editing. However, editing models’ looks is still continuing. Photoshop will remain no matter how many petitions are signed.

Giles Fabris, photo retoucher, shared his views on editing images with Glamour. Giles is the CEO of It is a photo-retouching site where people pay to have images retouched of themselves, mostly for dating sites.

Giles believes the right photo of someone online can drastically change the way someone is perceived. Giles is capable of major photo-altering techniques, but tries to talk clients out of drastic changes that make them unrecognizable. Giles told Glamour he is “fine with erasing blemishes and lightening undereye circles.”

Seeing as Giles, a professional photo retoucher believes certain techniques and drastic changes are unethical shows major dilemmas.

It is difficult to find articles solely convinced that Photoshop is the right way all the way or the wrong way all the way. It’s a gray area. Like so many things in life, discretion is the best policy.

What do you believe are the ethics of Photoshop? How far should publications go, and is this an important issue with new technology emerging?


6 responses to “Photoshop Ethics

  1. As a fan of the traditional newspaper I do not agree with using Photoshop. Magazine should strive to present a reality in a similar way to newspapers. 17 in particular publishes many articles on the right type of photos for specific body types. By editing the models body shapes they are not presenting how the clothes will actually look on a reader. They can remove a stray hair or pimple but they should stop before they change a body or face shape.
    At the same time I think advertisers have the right to do what ever they want to best present their clothes.

  2. I would have to agree with Sarah. I feel like girls today all over the world should know well enough how Photoshop and other such software are used to make models look “perfect”. I think it is amiable that Bluhm started a petition like that, but maybe the solution isn’t that. Maybe the solution is coming out with publications that are dedicated to REAL women. Magazines like Seventeen sell because its consumers desire the content that it has to offer and there really aren’t many publications that promote the idea that being yourself is good enough.

  3. Kristin Doherty

    Despite my close ties to Seventeen, I am often critical of the magazine. However, I’m not sure that you’re correct in saying that “editing models’ looks is still continuing.” I have no doubt that Seventeen does use Photoshop as noted in their “treaty” to fix up stray hairs and do some color correction—and I’m sure as a graphic designer, you can understand the need for that. However, I also know that Seventeen often holds “real girl” modeling castings and strives to cast a diverse group of girls to show in the magazine. The publication takes representing real teen girls very seriously, and I highly doubt they would ever edit a photo of a real girl (or a model, because models real girls, too) in a way that would change her physical features.

  4. I definitely agree with Kristin on this. I think people pounce on magazines like Seventeen because they want to take down a magazine that maybe doesn’t represent diversity in regards to body shape, body size, or skin color as well as it should. Seventeen has been making huge strides since introducing the Body Peace Treaty and holding the “real girl” casting calls that Kristin mentioned. In order to have a polished-looking publication with consistent photo quality and color schemes, Photoshop corrections are necessary. A magazine with no photo editing would look elementary and would not sell. It’s a crucial step in the making of the magazine, and is too often put up in a bad light by people outside of the publication.

  5. Magazine companies would have to find a balance between Photoshopping and not Photoshopping pictures. They have to keep in mind that there are girls out there that would diet to look like a girl in the magazine and at the same time not post someone is who a bit overweight or have acne all over. If they start to tip one way or the other, consequences may occur. It’s just that magazines need to find a balance somehow.

    I do have to say this though: How will the girl know if the pictures were altered or not in Photoshop? Girls would still starve themselves altered or not.

  6. You all brought up great points, varying in standpoint.
    I do agree that Photoshop needs to be a part of the magazine staff’s tools. Magazines are not newspapers. However, I do wish there were more magazines that emphasized beauty less. I’m not saying Seventeen is a bad magazine. They have their niche, and that’s fine.

    It would be refreshing to see a magazine with less glam in it and a more realistic depiction. Perhaps if there was a more diverse selection of women’s magazines, the ones that give style, hair and fashion advice would be less picked on.

    I think girls are always going to have body image issues. Girls know that magazine photos are edited. I did not know about Seventeen’s body campaign events. There are articles that suggest the editor of Seventeen was defensive and didn’t change much after the body peace treaty was made.

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