Home BeautyBody Image Retouching, Body Image and The Photoshop Diet

Retouching, Body Image and The Photoshop Diet

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Here on BGG2WL, y’all have told me the “awesome” diets y’all have heard about. The “All Grapefruit Everything” diet… the “All Mashed Potato Everything” diet… the “All Spongebob Everything” diet… I hear y’all…

…but nothing is better than The Photoshop Diet. Allow me to explain.

While I was losing the bulk of the 150lbs I lost, I often wondered what my body would look like once I’d arrived at my “final destination.” Really, I wondered what my “final destination” would truly be, to be honest.

Serena Williams – one of my fit idols, with or without The Photoshop Diet: even at the height of fitness, she had her face “made up,” her tummy tucked, her booty lifted and shaped as well as cellulite (and muscle!?) airbrushed out.

And then, I started to question why my final destination was what I’d set it out to be. I mean, make no mistake about it – my body is a temple that I have the distinct honor and opportunity to rebuild, and that’s how I approach it. But the decisions I make in regard to what it looks like once the rebuilding process winds down to its final moments also become a set of standards to which I hold myself. I can’t have an 18-inch waist (which is actually what my toddler measures right now… yes.) and a 40-inch booty. It just… it just ain’t sensible.

…but that’s what we’re fed every day. Every single day. Women with insanely tiny waists and much larger hips. We’re fed “curves” – women with extremely low body fat percentages whose waists are so much smaller than their hips, that you can’t help but wonder what diet they’re on.

I’m here to tell you. They’re on The Damn Photoshop Diet.

Skin… nipped and tucked. Booties… lifted. Make-up… applied with the brush tool. Apparently… we’re so disgusted by the human body that we need altered views of it in order to survive every day. Why does Serena not have a stomach?

Kourtney Kardashian, after giving birth to her first child

Apparently… we’re so disgusted by a woman’s body directly after she gives birth to her first-born, that we haphazardly just drag that “erase tool” across her post-pregnancy belly… like no one would notice that giant space in between her left arm and her baby (in the after pic), and no one would recognize that her post-baby belly used to rest there. No first-time mother would hold her child like that.

Retouch notes: forehead filled out, hair thickened, cheeks lifted, chin lifted, breasts enlarged and filled, arms made more muscular, stomach shrunk, lower back/upper booty area toned, butt cheeks lifted, calf shaped, ankles on left leg toned. From heiesuke.com; click to view larger comparison.

See, a while back, I had a conversation with a magazine columnist and we had a long, hard talk about magazines and their habit of not showcasing enough of reality on their pages… and I cannot lie. What I was told was profound, frustrating and realistic:

If magazines sold you reality, they’d never make money. You go to magazines for fantasy – beautiful clothes, beautiful shoes, stories that are so amazing that you wish they were you, beautiful scenery and, unfortunately, bodies that are enviable. People are just more likely to buy something that’ll inspire them than they are to buy something that they can – and do – see every day.

Though I paraphrased it a bit, the nuts and bolts of what she said is still there. If the only image I’ve ever seen of the body I want to have is in the magazines and that’s what I’m aspiring toward, am I literally focusing my efforts on a fantasy?

Back fat removed, cellulite erased, booty lifted, face cleaned up, thighs CREATED OUT OF THIN AIR. No, LOOK at them - they look like two blocks of straight brown pillars.

See, it’s easy to allow myself to get caught up in the foolishness of “thinspiration” and “thickspiration,” but what about “fitspiration?” That’s not something you’re going to see in the magazines… because that requires work. Work isn’t “fantasy-like” enough for all that.

I’m not going to allow myself to be caught up in the swirl of imagery of women who’ve had 4 kids and 40lbs erased from their bodies. If magazines and media are meant to sell me a fantasy, and they genuinely believe that’s what it takes to get my money… why would I aspire toward looking like a fantasy? Something that is so rare, apparently, that the only way that even their own models can achieve that look is through The Photoshop Diet?

I’m over it. The strangest thing about it, though? I’ve said before:

The amount of stock we put in this is crazy to me. I’ll even fire a few shots – some of the booties that I’ve seen women claim to want to protect… could use a lot of work. No one seems to notice that the booties belonging to these video and magazine girls don’t have creases… or dimples… or clumps of fat. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to denigrate anyone, here. I’m trying to understand why we would cling to a misconception of what a “great booty” truly is, to use as an excuse to not put in work. Three particular things can actually enhance the booty we all have: 1) decreasing the “spare tire effect” around the tummy actually increases the slope from the back to the booty; 2) decreasing the thigh fat increases the curve in the booty; 3) squatting, lunching and hopping for your life actually picks up your cheeks. But for some reason, we’d rather believe that proper booty shaping comes from being cornfed and allergic to the gym. I mean, I could assume that it’s simply because we don’t want to put in work… but that’s nothing new.

How does this affect our body image? How does this affect the way we look at ourselves? How does this affect the way we treat ourselves? Not even the women we see in the magazines have these ideal bodies… they have the same problems we have. If we’re clinging to these bodies (and booties) in the hopes that we’ll someday look like women who don’t even look like this… all the while, health problems are piling on? It’s a lose-lose situation.

Look how many booty lifts took place on seemingly normal women with figures we see every day. Serena, even in all her fit glory, even had to be “modified.” Look how much cellulite had to be erased from thighs. Look at the arm adjustments, breast lifts, forehead and face adjustments… maybe its time to let these fantasies go.

When we tell each other that we’re beautiful, that’s true. It might not be the kind of beautiful that attracts everyone, but as long as you have a happy and healthy perception of yourself, what difference does that make? Besides, there’s no better feeling than loving and being happy with yourself (and being strong enough to make changes for yourself in order to make yourself better). It’s a feeling that emanates and causes you to glow… and that glow is far more attractive than any booty could ever be. For real.

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36 comments

My Opinion February 22, 2011 - 10:30 AM

I would have to agree that confidence goes a long way!

You are right! Though we know these images aren’t real, we still aspire to the fantasy… They truly sell us a story they know we are going to buy!

A lot to think about and a lot of confidence building on our own personal levels need to happen!

If we feed ourselves a steady diet of these mags… It is no wonder we can’t get the images our of or heads! Maybe just time for us to start having different aspirations! (And inspirations!)

Erin February 22, 2011 - 10:49 AM

Oh I find this stuff so infuriating! It’s loud and clear we will never be good enough, and not only are WE not good enough… the people we are meant to admire aren’t good enough either. I recently responded to Rush Limbaugh’s soundbite about Michelle Obama not taking her own nutrition advice as she would never be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sickening. Especially when you have a daughter- this stuff is crazy. Women are beautiful in a million ways. We don’t need to raise the bar on booty height, but respecting our bodies. The way they are. Love this one!

Sam February 22, 2011 - 11:55 AM

I agree with you 1,000 % Erin, when people try to appease others but imitating these false images are jacked up. Your trying to mold yourself to something that doesn’t exist except in the world of photoshop. We need to Love ourselves more, it sounds corny but it sure goes a long long way, you’ll start to realize that the people you are trying to appease need to make themselves worthy of you!

Daphne February 23, 2011 - 11:30 AM

I remember reading, a year or so ago, a site where it was touted that the First Lady was plus-sized. And I remember thinking, “Da hayel kind of foolishness is this?” Because, seriously, you have to be 5 feet tall and a size 2 to be considered slim? It’s so ridiculous.

This distortion of body images is one of the reasons I stopped watching TV a few years ago. It’s so skewed, and the thin bodies on TV have become so normalized, that I’d caught myself thinking, “Someone is a bit chunky” when they’re perfectly fine. Heck, who wouldn’t appear chunky to a short, size zero woman? What was interesting is that, in real life, I didn’t measure people up like that. Ugh, I had to stop the madness.

And magazines – it’s getting to the point where the airbrushing isn’t remotely subtle. For example, Serena doesn’t even look like Serena in the picture referenced above. It’s like a Madame Tussard’s wax museum likeness of her. I have no doubt that the rise of photo airbrushing is correlated to the rise in the “plastic look” as a result of surgery.

malpha February 22, 2011 - 11:49 AM

What do you think about other people at the gym? I mean, I can ignore a photoshopped image, especially one highlighting areas I’d prefer to de-emphasize, but it’s kind of hard to ignore the real life people at the gym with you! I often wonder if I can be that toned/slim with the hips and thighs I have, you know, do they get that from being at the gym or did they not have that much lower body/chest to get rid of in the first place? But I figure if I stay at the gym with them, I’ll find out. 😀

T.R. February 22, 2011 - 4:01 PM

As usual, good article Erika. Malpa as for the gym, everyone has a different body type and shape. So if you have a “slim” body type it’ll look differenct from a “curvy or thick” body type. You’re also seeing most of those people in clothes that cover those “problem areas” that most women (and men) are self conscious about. You don’t know what they look like naked and I guarantee they too have body issues as well and are looking at other people in the gym and comparing themselves.

Kaycee March 1, 2011 - 12:39 AM

I think Malpha makes a point. I see nude women everyday at the gym and sometimes they are flawless. No cellulite, rolls of fat, saggy boobs, etc,. Now I don’t know a woman who doesn’t have SOME issue with her body. But I’m also realistic enough to know that there are plenty of women with fabulous builds very similar, if not identical to mine, with nary a stretch mark. So I don’t think we should completely delude ourselves by saying “it’s all fake” or we don’t know what the clothes are hiding, cause unfortunately that’s not always the truth.

Re: the Serena pic, I can’t see the cellulite, but I do see that they removed a birthmark.

Overall, I agree that we need to stop comparing ourselves to people who have Photoshop on speed dial, it can’t be healthy. Though I admit I do it. However, I’m getting better at loving my body (never thought I’d say that!). In fact, I’m forcing myself to bit by bit.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 1, 2011 - 5:33 AM

I feel like there are a few problems with this.

For starters, its not about saying “its all fake.” It’s about identifying severely unrealistic imagery when you see it. In regards to Serena, they erased her stomach – wtf? Saying that the photos we see are fake isn’t about delusion. It’s about removing ourselves from a cycle that places unrealistic expectations on us as women, keeping us perpetually in an “omg must diet must look like this photoshopped chick” cycle.

There’s a difference between looking at a picture and looking at a human body. If you’re looking at photos, they’re more often than not photoshopped. To keep yourself from falling into that desperate cycle? It DEMANDS that you admit this much to yourself.

If you’re looking at a human body? You need to consider all the factors. Has this person had kids? Has this person lived the life you’ve lived? Has this person been thin their entire life? Has this person ever struggled with their weight? How OLD is she? Because I’m beyond familiar with women who are curvaceous AND tiny who’ve never had to lose a pound in their lives…. and being in their presence doesn’t make me feel some kinda way about myself at ALL. Some women were “born” a certain way. Other women, like me, are coming down toward it from the other spectrum and we’ll get “it” a different way. (It also should be noted that even the most fit of chicks – hence Serena – that we see in every day life would, also, be HELLA PHOTOSHOPPED. THAT might be the point you’re missing, here.)

My body produced a beautiful child, and has been put to the test repeatedly through all the hard work I’ve put my body through. I forced my body to burn off over a hundred-some-odd pounds. No shade, but there ain’t much about a woman with what WE believe to be a perfect body can make me feel about ME. I know that with a rigorous enough amount of effort and commitment, that body will be mine shortly, anyway. Maybe you just need to work on developing confidence in your ability to control your body, or focus that attention inwards away from that comparative nature?

That being said… I feel like this stretch mark thing is stupid. I have them EVERYWHERE and when my body finally looks the way I want it to look, guess what – it won’t be NARY A PERSON ALIVE who will make me feel bad about having stretch marks instead of simply letting me appreciate my hard work. Like… if YOU want to get hung up on something that neither holistic method NOR cosmetic surgery can fix completely? Feel free. I wouldn’t dare beat myself up over something like that.

Really, this comes from having a less-than-stellar body image, to be honest. As often as I’m on the boardwalk and encountering lots of women with incredible bodies, you’ll never catch me comparing myself to them and subsequently beating myself up over being “less than” or “imperfect.” I don’t need to shit on her existence – I can give her her credit for her hard work, while still acknowledging and appreciating mine… and not be left to feel some kind of way about myself in the process.

Kaycee March 1, 2011 - 2:33 PM

Oh Erika–I think you misunderstood me. I’m not saying recognizing that some of it is fake is delusional. I just would hate for us to create a false impression that every woman out there has been photoshopped, had work done, or hides behind well-tailored clothes. Reading the article and the comments gave me the impression that folks kind of don’t believe those women exist.

Now, I don’t know if these women have had children (except my friends) and certainly acknowledge that some of us are “born with a body” (my daughter) that others (like me) have to work for. Even after a child, her body’s sick with no effort on her part!

As I mentioned I’m FINALLY getting over the need to compare. I’m just being honest. I just want people to recognize that as you said some were “born” with those bodies and that’s great! It doesn’t take away from our fabulosity, nor does it take away from their fabulosity.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 1, 2011 - 3:17 PM

“Reading the article and the comments gave me the impression that folks kind of don’t believe those women exist.”

But Kaycee… look at Serena – look at the picture of Ki Toy at the bottom – THESE women HERE? They DON’T exist. Ki Toy has legs airbrushed out of NOWHERE. Serena? They airbrushed OUT her skin! Now, I used polite examples because, for some strange reason images of Black women are usually MUCH more ass and MUCH less face or tummy…. but listen to me. We KNOW there are women who work hard and have amazing bodies out there. We’re also embracing the fact that you WON’T find examples of that in the media. Plain and simple. You’re not talking about media… but we are, here. *big hug*

Kaycee March 1, 2011 - 3:33 PM

Okay…gotcha Erika! I was thinking that we were talking about both. My bad! *big hug back*

LA Red July 14, 2013 - 5:58 PM

I know this is article is old but it popped up on my Fb news feed. I’m confused. You keep saying they erased Serena’s stomach. Her stomach is already flat. It seems to me they smoothed it out and made her waist smaller but erased it it? Maybe it’s me but I just don’t see it. O_o

Erika Nicole Kendall July 14, 2013 - 6:09 PM

You’re right – they “smoothed out” and “made her waist smaller” when it was already flat.

What was the point of photoshopping it in the first place? To make it unnaturally flat? Do you think the average person realizes that’s what’s going on? What’s more, are there people looking at the post-photoshop image, then looking at themselves in the mirror, wondering why they can’t get their lives together?

It’s not that you don’t see it; it’s that it’s just not clear to you why the little bit of photoshopping is such a big deal. The fact that the “little” photoshopping was done in the first place is what makes it so ridiculous.

Sonya February 22, 2011 - 4:11 PM

As much as I agree with the article, I have had to “reprogram” my brain to respond to my own beauty. When I look back at pictures of a smaller version of myself and think “wow, I was really hot”…I have to remember even then I was finding fault with myself. NO MORE since the cost has been very rough on my ego. Im much more aware of what I allow in my spirit. Great article.

Kjen February 22, 2011 - 6:21 PM

“it’s what the people want” – I find that logic to be disingenuous. This photoshoot diet was not an overnight phenomena. The media has been feeding us these images for years. And darn near nothing else. The figures not photoshopped are ones held up to be ridiculed. So finally, people, me included, began to accept this as normal. And the fact that we don’t see any other images reinforces that image. People won’t buy ‘normal’ weight images? Did you ever really give me a chance before you kept insisting that I wanted the super slenderized figure models?

Abby Agbabiaka February 22, 2011 - 6:36 PM

I remember seeing an episode of The Kardashians where Kim Kardashian whose body has been touted by so many as one to aspire to, went to try get cellulite removed from her thighs. At 5’6 and 145lbs, I do not consider myself overweight but I wish my belly were just a little bit less jiggly and jelly-like so I work out not just to stay healthy but to be more toned. To see one whose body is so lauded express insecurities about said body was kinda upsetting. I wanted to climb in to the tv and smack some sense into her but then reality smacked me in the head with the fact that she’s only human!

KC February 25, 2011 - 7:59 PM

Wow…superb article! I’m a new fan, glad to have found this blog! (:

Jeanine February 27, 2011 - 10:14 AM

WTF? This is truly disturbing.

Erinn Davenport February 27, 2011 - 10:15 AM

Wonderful Article .. very inspiring to those who question her progress! Kudos to you for this piece and I pray that God continue to bless all that you are doing! It’s spreading.

Crystal February 28, 2011 - 10:24 AM

Loved this article Erika! goes to show that you not only cannot believe everything you hear, but also you cannot believe everything you see either. Stands to reason why most exercise commercials tend to use the old ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics to boost ratings and purchases. SMH! really!

More And Again March 10, 2011 - 7:33 PM

This is why I’ve stopped buying magazines!! Seeing the images makes me so angry and frustrated, I have to take deep breaths to calm down. And, I knew they were doing it to a lot of women, but I had no idea how far it went, that even Serena can’t escape the Photoshop scalpel. It doesn’t “inspire” me, it makes me feel like they’re saying “you’ll never be good enough”. So, figuratively, flip the bird to all of them. They need me, more than I need them.

Lisa January 15, 2012 - 12:29 PM

You are so right on point

Lee April 19, 2011 - 12:50 PM

You know what’s funny? Back when I used to pay closer attention to media images, I would have looked at that picture of Ki Toy and been SOOO confused–I mean, how can you turn over your shoulder with a come hither look and have nary a wrinkle or fold pop out on your back? And that pic of Serena? I would have wondered, “How can her booty be PERFECTLY SMOOTH?”

And I would think, “If I loose enough fat, my back, my butt, everything, will be smooth, at all times, no matter how I’m laying, posing, twisting, working or twerking.” Which is completely unreasonable.

Thanks for the “before-and afters.” We need the reminders about what we should really be aspiring to (inner health and well-being).

Eva May 5, 2011 - 9:07 AM

Years ago Annie Lennox had a CD called “Bare” (I think that was the name) and on the cover, was her face without make up. I think Jamie Lee Curtis did something similar in a magazine. A few years ago Kate Winslett got angry because some magazine photoshopped her curves out to make her look thinner. It’s not what the people want. It’s what the editor wants.

I used to go out with a man in the movie business. He once told me that what I see on TV or in the movies was just one person’s opinion. And I think that is very true. What you see in magazines, photoshopped images is just one person’s opinion, just what one person thinks is attractive, and then they try to convince you to feel the same way.

Claire May 5, 2011 - 10:33 AM

And to think! When I started my own weightloss journey I was printing out celeb pics for “thinspiration”. Well…they helped out a bit, but in the end when I started seeing changes in my own body I really got excited!!

Follow me! @BeautyNBrains33

Stefanie August 8, 2011 - 1:49 PM

Well, dang! I’m speechless. I knew that photos were retouched to ‘look’ better. However, to see the huge difference and realize that while most women have the ability to get in the best shape possible, photoshop will fool us to think that some women do not have ‘flaws’ (for lack of a better word – I believe every womans body is beautiful when treated PROPERLY).
I’ve never been one to say (after looking at a picture of a woman in shape) ‘I want to look like her’ but I have said ‘she has a nice body – good for her’. However, I would feel very uncomfortable if (whether or not I was at my ideal body size) I took a picture, only to have it photoshopped to make me ‘appear’ perfect. I wouldn’t want the picture to be posted…..hmmm…

Moni November 3, 2011 - 4:20 PM

OMG!!! I knew they did some retouching, but I never REALLY looked at just how much to make things look so perfect. This was a real eye-opener for me.

LMD November 23, 2011 - 2:04 PM

Did anyone notice that they photoshopped the baby too? How dare a newborn splay his fingers!

Lisa January 15, 2012 - 12:26 PM

I just want to be happy healthy. Happy and healthy. Happy healthy. Well image should never matter if you are happy and healthy. Woman need SELF esteem! Especially if you trying to look like models TV stars entertainers. You basing your image on that is insane. Focus on health and being healthy will naturally follow.

Ln June 15, 2012 - 8:36 AM

It’s frustrating because MEN stare at these images for hours and even have them posted on their walls so it’s burned into them this is what they ‘want’. So when an actual woman comes along with imperfections, lumps, backfat and what have you we are disgusting to them. They don’t accept that the images are doctored or fake. Then we as women see doctored stuff and think we aren’t good enough. I am a thick woman, and would like to be thinner but find myself wondering if its for the right reasons. Yes, when you are thinner people treat you better, and everyone wants a good life right? Is that the wrong reason? I know how I get treated now and I don’t like it. I think I am beautiful, and I get complimented regularly but I need more than just compliments.

mizzcarameldeluxe September 10, 2012 - 12:26 PM

Thanks for this post. I definitely needed this reminder. I think we tend to be hard on ourselves based on the nonsense that media feeds us. Often I find myself feeling not good enough because of the dimple here, or the stretch mark there. Most of the imagery we see on TV and in print is a facade. We should focus on the reality of what we see in the mirror and decide what, if any ‘brush strokes’ we should make. The decision should be made based on our personal goals. We should stop trying to emulate the ‘fakery’, the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that we’re subjected to.

Theresa September 10, 2012 - 2:16 PM

The only thing I can say is thank you. Wonderful writeup and I love the conclusion at the end. Sooo true.

lynne January 26, 2013 - 12:35 PM

I reached my adult height when I was 14. So being skinny was not a good look for me. I am very happy with the goals I have set for myself when it comes to diet and body image. I learned very early on, that the pretty people on the covers were not real ( thanks to my aunt). I will never be a size 10, nope will not happen. At my height a size 14 is good enough, even a 16 if I tone my body.

Bob Hartley March 26, 2013 - 9:58 AM

I find this infuriating. It obviously promotes an unrealistic body image for women, but it also promotes that image to men as well. We are inundated with images of mannequins and are given a cartoon-like impression of what women are supposed to look like. This distortion benefits no one except the fashion and media industries.

Selena April 23, 2013 - 4:44 PM

Damn!!!! As bad as Serena’s body is, they got her too!!! This insanity must stop. I swear, all this airbrushing has taken all the joy out of sitting under the hair dryer, relaxing with the latest issue of Vogue. It used to be comical, but now the body image the media is cramming down our throats….it’s just revolting. I just want to be healthy again.

True July 9, 2013 - 12:52 PM

This is why I talk to my little cousins (boys and girls) about the real deal of what they see on tv and magazines. I have a cousins who is around my age who would look at the magazine girls and always berate herself for not being “perfect”. It doesn’t help when they pepper the article with hints of whatever diet they’re supposedly on. It took me a long time to stop trying to model myself after a picture and just be happy with little ol’ me. I am happy. I am healthy. That’s what counts at the end of the day.

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