Every year, my extended family — all twenty-something members — attempt to take family photographs during the Chinese New Year. We have a large family, and it’s almost impossible for all of us to be together in one place at the same time. Someone’s always missing: the one who went on holiday, the one who had to go to work, or the one who got himself stuck in camp for duty.
And every year, someone says the same phrase: “Just Photoshop them in lah!”
It’s strange, but Photoshop seems to have snuck up on us. I don’t remember a time without Photoshop, just like I don’t remember a time without Google. And just like Google, Photoshop has become something more than a brand name: it’s become a verb, used to describe the digital touching-up of photos that everyone does.
And this month, Photoshop turns 25.
Throughout its existence, Photoshop has been used to create some of the most iconic images we know and love. It’s met with its fair share of controversy, too, most notably amongst people who insist that Photoshop encourages things like unhealthy body images and ideals. Blogs and websites collecting instances of #photoshopfails have sprouted up all over the Internet, proving that yes, Photoshop has its haters too. Yet despite all of this, I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer.
So in honour of Photoshop’s 25th birthday, here are some of the biggest controversies the brand has faced in recent years, and why, even with all the hate that it got, and continues to get, I’m standing with Photoshop — and all its edited, retouched beauty.
The time Photoshop got linked to a poor body image
What started out as a program designed to show grayscale images on a black-and-white monitor has grown into the imaging software we know today as Photoshop. And along with this development is a very large group of people who are insisting that the use of Photoshop encourages unhealthy body ideals.
These are the same groups of people who believe that ‘real’ people — whatever those are — are not stick-thin models, but people who have more flesh on their bones and are not afraid to leave their photos un-retouched. But what’s lost in the midst of these arguments is that Photoshop is not the one encouraging poor body images; it’s merely a tool that we’ve used to create our own ideas of beauty.
What’s more worrying, to me, is how people are saying that women on the slimmer end of the spectrum are not ‘real’ women — because like it or not, we come in all sizes, and saying that some are more ‘real’ than others is not exactly promoting a good body image.
The time Photoshop got linked to a good body image
It’s hard being Photoshop. It really, truly is.
After all the backlash it got for supposedly “promoting” poor body ideals, it was later also accused of what Jezebel called “reverse-retouching” — where photos of models were edited so that protruding ribs and bones were erased from sight.
This time, the argument was that such images hid the real problems of anorexia and bulimia that were rampant amongst models and young girls. And while I can’t argue with that — out of sight, out of mind, after all — I don’t agree that Photoshop is the one promoting our standards of beauty today.
The times celebrities took matters into their own hands
Perhaps sick of all the hate they were getting from members of the public, celebrities began using social media to talk about their opinions on the use of Photoshop. Most acknowledged the presence and influence of the imaging software, while urging fans and followers not to be deceived by what they saw.
Given the nature and reach of Photoshop today, it’s probably almost impossible for the brand to stay clear of controversy. That said, a lot of the hate for Photoshop is misplaced; the software was created exactly for the purposes of digital imaging, and to criticise it for doing what it was meant to is much too unfair.
After all, think about what Photoshop has given to us in its 25 years of existence:
For all the negatives that Photoshop has been (wrongly) linked to, we can’t deny that it has contributed a significant amount to the film, arts and creative industries. And while I personally don’t see a need for photographs of people to be heavily edited, I do appreciate the occasional airbrushing of a stray strand of hair, or the removal of that odd, accidental photobomber that ruined the only shot I have of the Eiffel Tower.
And this is why, for all the hate that Photoshop has got, I’d like to stand by it and welcome it with (digitally-enhanced) open arms.