Are Retouched Photos Damaging? How to Protect Your Mental Health As a Model

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We are constantly inundated with retouched photos of beautiful, seemingly perfect-looking people. It used to only be on billboards, on TV and in magazines that we would see such imagery, but nowadays it’s nearly impossible to avoid as social media has become such a huge part of our lives.

It’s hard to feel like we measure up to the images of near-perfect beauty we see every day. And while it’s human to compare ourselves to others, it’s definitely not normal to let it affect our mental well-being – especially when we are usually comparing ourselves to retouched photos.

While it used to be just professional models who had their photos edited with the use of a (typically very expensive) photo retouch artist, there are a host of apps on the market that make editing a photo as quick and easy as a simple click of a button. Now, photo retouching is everywhere – and it’s so good that even amateurs can create realistic-looking edits.

So now we have near-daily exposure to this imagery; how could this be affecting our mental well-being? And how can we protect ourselves from the mental strain this is undoubtedly causing?

Retouched photos have become prevalent everywhere

Do Retouched Photos Damage Our Mental Well-Being?

First, let’s think about the repercussions that being constantly exposed to edited photos could be having on our mental well-being.

While it’s nice to look at beautiful things, it’s very difficult not to compare yourself. In fact, it’s perfectly natural to feel envious of others when they appear to have better lives than ourselves. But what we don’t see on social media are the ‘outtakes’; the thousands of other photos taken and specifically selected NOT to be shared with the public. We also don’t tend to see the pre-edited, raw (unedited) photos that are taken. We simply see the end result.

We’re also not really privy to the amount of editing that often takes place. There is skin smoothing, waist slimming, brightening, blurring… a vast array of different effects can be added, not to mention filters. The more you’re willing to pay, the more edits and filters you can have access to.

They can alter your face, your body, your skin… anything you can think of. While they can be fun to play around with, they’re incredibly damaging to our self-esteem when misused.

Fake Perfection

Nobody – not even your favourite supermodel or celebrity – looks flawless 100% of the time. Even those times they do appear to look perfect, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes – from make-up artists and fake tanners to hair stylists, wardrobe experts and cosmeticians, it can take a small army to get a model photo-ready. That’s not to mention all the hard work done at home with regimented exercise routines and diets, skincare routines, wax and nail appointments to keep… the list goes on.

But while we can know that, logically, nobody looks great 24/7, it’s very difficult to truly believe this when all we see online is image after image of faultless beauty. It can be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to think objectively about ourselves. We may find ourselves judging our own appearance or photos more harshly, perhaps turning to editing software ourselves in an effort to keep up appearances online. Perhaps we start to think cruel thoughts about ourselves, admonishing ourselves for not being as slender as our favourite celebrities…

The Negative Impact of Photo Retouching

Prolonged exposure to airbrushed photos can absolutely have a lasting impact on our mental health. Individuals can not only feel flawed in comparison, but they can also start to experience low self-esteem, reduced self-confidence, anxiety, sadness and even depression.

These feelings can further lead to unhealthy habit changes focused on ‘fixing’ the perceived issues. That includes things like under-eating or over-exercising in a bid to lose weight, seeking cosmetic procedures to ‘fix’ flaws, or becoming ultra-fixated on something like blemishes or body hair.

But there is no surefire way to look ‘perfect’ – because even the people in the photos don’t look the way they appear. Photo editing has not only created unrealistic beauty standards, but they’ve also given us false hope. The images portray something that is completely unachievable, even if we try – and so it becomes a vicious cycle of chasing a beauty we can never fully obtain.

Remember, too, that the more women are concerned with their appearance, the more the beauty industry profits. So any brands you follow on social media will also be perpetuating

A Changing Tide

Fortunately, there have been some changes implemented in a bid to reduce the damage caused by excessive exposure to retouched photos.

Some celebrities – including Zendaya, Kate Winslet and Lady Gaga – have spoken out against magazines that have either unknowingly, or excessively retouched their photos. Winslet requested a ‘no photoshop clause’ in her contract with L’Oreal, and Zendaya even posted before and after photos on Instagram when a company she worked with in 2015 made unnecessary edits to her already-slim frame.

There has also been an influx of new influencers intent on sharing more body-positive imagery in an attempt to help others feel happier in their natural bodies.

Does More Need to Be Done?

A handful of celebrities and influencers speaking out isn’t enough to change and undo the damage that unretouched photos are causing. Unretouched photos lead us to believe our imperfections are unacceptable and unattractive and that we can’t lead fulfilling, meaningful lives if we’re anything less than perfect.

The reality is that we are more than capable of leading full, beautiful lives even if we do have imperfect bodies and make mistakes. If we PhotoShop all the bad parts of our lives out, we lose our authenticity and ability to accept imperfections in other areas of our lives.

Because there is no way to control this over social media, we must take responsibility ourselves to ensure we don’t lose focus and maintain healthy mental health. This is of particular importance if you’re in the fashion industry, where physical looks are so important.

How to Become More Body Positive

Follow Good Role Models

Body positivity starts with role models, so it’s a great idea to surround yourself (whether that’s on social media or in real life) with people who are also body positive. That means avoiding those who constantly criticise you for the way you look or who make you feel bad about yourself, and instead hanging out with and following more people online who do not perpetuate the false narrative that beauty is the only important thing in life.

It’s also a good idea to follow a host of different-looking people; sometimes it’s easy to forget that we all look different and that’s something to be celebrated. Nobody is perfect and we all have flaws!

Focus on Health and Well-Being

While we’re told looks are important to success and happiness, this isn’t really the case. It’s our health and mental well-being that ultimately affects our true happiness. Focusing on your physical and mental health are both surefire ways to feel good about yourself. Eat well and feed your body the nutrition it deserves. Move your body and appreciate all it can do for you. Learn to accept your body, even with its perceived ‘flaws’, for an altogether more healthy mindset and better well-being.

Understand That Natural is Beautiful

It can be difficult to love your ‘flaws’ when social media tells us to hate them – but there is beauty to be found in the natural. Fat, wobbly bits, stretch marks and spots – they’re all a perfectly normal and natural parts of the human body. We are not dolls; we are living, breathing entities. Flawless skin is not real, nor is it normal! Your favourite models will suffer from imperfections daily – but it’s their job to cover it up, and appear as a blank canvas to perspective brands. Just because they are good at hiding their imperfections does not mean they don’t have them!

Are you interested in becoming a model? Why not register with us today – it’s completely free and we could help you take your first steps towards your new career!

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