The Unethical Side of Photoshop

I made a speech in my public speaking class last week about the horrors of Photoshop and thought it was worth sharing. So here's an edited, shortened version. 

We’re all aware that every image we see in an ad or on a magazine cover is edited in Photoshop but it’s still shocking to see it. She was beautiful before they edited the image…and now she doesn’t even look like a real person. The excessive use of Photoshop is unethical and needs to be addressed. While this is largely up to companies to change their design tactics, there is something that you and I can do as consumers.
The excessive use of Photoshop is unethical as it causes serious issues for many Americans, such as low self-esteem and eating disorders. While it’s completely acceptable to use Photoshop to change a background or remove a stray hair or even a pimple, it’s unethical to use it to alter a woman’s body or face. 

One of the most successful photographers of this century, Peter Lindbergh, lamented the use of Photoshop in an interview with a New York Times reporter. He said: “My feeling is that for years now it has taken a much too big part in how women are being visually defined today. Heartless retouching should not be the chosen tool to represent women in the beginning of this century.”

Young girls who grow up seeing these Photoshopped images too often succumb to eating disorders that destroy them physically and mentally. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 24 million people in the US suffered from eating disorders in 2003. That number can only be rising. In one study, 47% of girls in grades 5th through 12th said that magazine covers made them want to lose weight. Girls as young as 11 and 12 are influenced to want to change their bodies to fit these impossible and often false standards. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and claim countless lives every year, from starvation, suicide, or other related health problems.

The National Eating Disorders Association states that while there are many factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders, the cultural glorification of thinness plays a large role. We live in a society that celebrates being thin. You’ve all seen those commercials for dieting pills or drinks. Now I’m in no way saying that people shouldn’t strive to be healthy. But when editors use Photoshop on an image, they cut out the muscle as well as the fat to get the impossibly thin look they want. Girls aren’t growing up with images of women who are muscular and strong, but ones who are skinny and vapid.

Several companies are making changes to combat this issue, but the consumers can take action as well. Some magazines and companies have stopped using Photoshop and are promoting showing genuine realistic photos. 

Seventeen magazine took a pledge in August of 2012 to never use Photoshop to edit girls’ bodies or faces. A petition on that was started by a 14-year-old from Maine gained 84,000 signatures. Not only is this proof that one person can make a difference, but also it demonstrates that it is possible for a company to change. The girls in the magazine look more like your friends and classmates than the people you see in other magazines.

And Seventeen isn’t the only one. Aerie, American Eagle’s lingerie store, premiered a new ad campaign in the Spring of 2014. Their new slogan is “The Real You is Sexy” and they emphasize that they don’t Photoshop the bodies of the girls in their ads at all. Their bodies look realistic in their poses.

Consumers can make a difference by endorsing companies that aren’t overusing Photoshop and spreading awareness about this issue. By choosing to buy Seventeen magazine or choosing to buy your underwear at Aerie instead of a competitor, you’re funding their company. Other companies might change their design methods in an attempt to gain customers. I’ve grown up reading Seventeen magazine, but now I make sure that I buy every month’s issue. I also shop at Aerie more frequently than I used to. An even simpler way for consumers to help is to spread awareness. Talk about it with your friends or little siblings. Write about it on your blog. Sign a petition on or start one yourself!
By addressing this problem, we can promote a better ideal of beauty and decrease the number of people who suffer from eating disorders and other self-image related problems.  20% of people suffering from anorexia will die from the disorder or its complications, according to the ANAD. Eliminating the unethical use of Photoshop would actually lead less girls and women to die from eating disorders. It wouldn’t be able to save every girl but even if it saved one life, if it saved one girl from destroying herself emotionally and physically, it would be worth the change. 
The unethical use of Photoshop has spawned many problems, among them a near epidemic of eating disorders with over 8% of Americans suffering from them, but it’s not too late for change. If more companies followed Aerie and Seventeen’s example and stopped using Photoshop to alter people’s bodies and people stood up and shared what they knew, this could change.

I would like to ask you to do four things to help change this problem.
1. You can spread awareness about this issue. If you hear a friend compare himself or herself to a person in an ad or a magazine, speak up. Share what you know with your little siblings and cousins.

2. If you see a petition about the use of Photoshop like this one, sign it. [Show petition.] Petitions like the one Julia started can have real consequences like Seventeen magazine ending their use of Photoshop.

3. Buy from companies, like Aerie and Seventeen, that don’t overuse Photoshop when you can. Consider it putting your money where your mouth is.

4. And lastly, not to sound like some kind of motivational Oprah figure, don’t compare yourself to the images that you see. They aren’t real and comparing yourself to them can be psychologically damaging.

The use of Photoshop is an important issue that affects all Americans, regardless of their gender or race or religion. And you can do something about it. So please help me in saving our generation and future ones from ignorance about the manipulation we see every day.

Works Cited
Botelho, G. (2012, July 6). Seventeen magazine vows not to alter images, to 'celebrate every kind of beauty' CNN. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

Eating Disorders Statistics. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

Factors That May Contribute To Eating Disorders. Retrieved October 3, 2014 from

Krupnick, E. (2014, January 17). Aerie's Unretouched Ads 'Challenge Supermodel Standards' For Young Women. The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

Tim Piper. [Tim Piper]. (2006, Oct 6). Dove Evolution. Retrieved from

Wilson, E. (2009, May 9). Smile and Say ‘No Photoshop’. The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from

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