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February 21, 2017
Friday, November 11, 2016

Do not doctor it up!

Justin Bieber seen in a selfie.
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By Liliana Palermo
For the Herald

Thinner, smoother, better: in the era of retouching, that’s what girls have to be

There was a time when changing the appearance of a woman in a photograph would take hours and hours of expert, painstaking work by hand. Techniques in the darkroom allowed 20th-century photo editors to “dodge” or “burn”: over- or under-expose images in order to remove “flaws”, such as fine lines or rippling pockets of fat. Retouching required specialist equipment – paints, gelatine, brushes.

Towards the end of the century, Photoshop transformed the way image manipulation was conducted, but nonetheless it still required time and skill from trained professionals, and the software was expensive.

Now, thanks to the rapid rate at which software has developed, anyone can retouch a photograph of themselves in a matter of seconds (1). Powerful phone apps have, to an extent (2), democratised photography, in that people can experiment creatively with the images they produce without forking out money (3) for expensive equipment or spending hours hunched over a magnifier. The history of the medium tells us that photographic images have been doctored (4) since its very inception. It is nothing new. But still, there is a dark side to the way retouching is used, especially when it’s on women’s bodies. Young women know all about image manipulation – they do it to themselves these days. But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to its toxic effects.

The debate surrounding the west’s skewed (5), stereotyped female body ideals trundles on, as it always has. In Britain the Women’s Equality party, in collaboration with the models Rosie Nelson and Jada Sezer, is taking the fashion industry to task (6) over its continuing fetishisation (7) of underweight, prepubescent figures. Their work is to be applauded. But this is about so much more than the fashion industry now.

Some phones now even do the work for you. In June, Instagram user Mel Wells blasted Samsung for automatically doctoring her selfies using its “beauty” setting. Forget the glamorous magazine offices of New York, Paris and London for a moment. Images of female perfection are being created by teenagers in the front room.

Last year the psychiatrist Dr Pippa Hugo warned that photo retouching by teenage girls was becoming the new normal (8). As many as nine out of 10 teenage girls in some schools would doctor themselves to appear thinner, she claimed – with disturbing psychological consequences.

“It would be more unusual for girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to upload a completely undoctored (4) picture to Instagram”, a user told me, describing the practice as an “open secret”. Everyone does it, in other words, but no one admits to it.

The result is huge damage to the confidence of young women. Because now, not only are they comparing themselves with the models and actresses in magazines and on their screens, but with their peers – and, perhaps most distressingly (9), with themselves.

Some who grew up in a different time will dismiss this issue as pure and simple (10) narcissism, but such an analysis fails to grasp the psychological complexities of the problem. Those of us who know what it is like to grow up in a culture with a value system that places your body above all else will know just how much energy this preoccupation expends.

Of course there is an element of narcissism in selfie culture, even if it is one largely rooted in insecurity – where the likes and the compliments appear to add value to your existence as a young woman in a society obsessed with female bodily perfection. Humans have always been narcissists – they just didn’t have the technology to facilitate it. And everyone else wasn’t doing it too, egging you on (11), making you feel worthless if you didn’t participate.

Now it is worse than ever. These girls sit on their devices, entranced by a universe in which they feel as though they matter, and they are increasingly unreachable.

Many of them put Victoria’s Secret models as their phone backgrounds as “thinspiration” (12). Whiteley tells me one teenage girl described the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show as “hell every year” because of the impact of the coverage and social media discussion on her self-esteem.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that this is a toxic development in the adolescent experience of young women. It’s unbelievably easy to doctor a photo. I do it to a photo of myself taken in the garden last month, and in under five minutes I am slimmer, browner, better.

I wouldn’t be a product of my environment if I didn’t think the “after” image trumped the “before”. The difference is, I would never post it claiming to truth; lots of younger girls would.

Adapted from a story by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The Guardian

 

“in a matter of seconds” (1)
A quite transparent expression for Spanish-speakers, “in a matter of seconds” means “happening very quickly,” as in In a matter of seconds, the building was in flames.

“to an / some extent” (2)
This means “to some degree, partly” I can help you to some extent, the rest will depend on your effort.”

“fork out” (3)
To fork out money means to pay (usually unwillingly.) The phrasal verb is used in combination with the amount of money) I’m not forking out $100 for a ticket to see that band. I can watch them online.

“images that have been doctored” “undoctored” (4)
When you “doctor” or “doctor up” something, you alter or modify them for a specific end, the purpose usually being to improve, to make it favourable. In this sense, you can use the verb with objects like photographs, food, as in I doctored the eggs up with a little oregano. When you doctor up evidence, documents or liquor, for instance, the intention is to deceive, as in The corrupt lawyer doctored up part of the evidence.

“skewed” (5)
If something is skewed, it is distorted or biased in shape or effect. If facts or information are skewed, they are not accurate because they have been affected by something. These last-minute changes have skewed the company's results. The extended informal use of the word point to “conforming to a specific concept or attitude” The television show is skewed to the young teenager.  

“taking fashion industry to task” (6)
This idiomatic expression means to scold or criticize.  It was pretty uncomfortable to be taken to task by the boss in front of everyone, even when the mistake had such terrible consequences.  The origin is related to the meaning of “task,” which is “job,” and if someone takes you to task, they’re letting you know you did a bad job. If you take someone to task, you’re making sure that they are not getting away with their actions.

“fetishisation” (7)
This noun refers to the notion of turning something into a fetish – a strong and unusual need or desire for something, in a way that one is excessively or irrationally devoted to it.

“normal” (8)
As a noun, “normal” means a state regarded as the norm, the standard, and, as such, it appears in phrases like “return to normal,” “back to normal,” “above normal.”

“most distressingly” (9)
When “most” is not denoting superlative degree of an adjective, it plays the role of “intensifier,” to emphasize a particular quality, as synonymous with “very,” “to a very great degree” That was a most impressive piece of writing / He was most persuasive.  “Distressingly,” on the other hand, means painfully, sorrowfully, worryingly.

Saliendo de “pure and simple” (10)
This idiomatic expression, which usually comes after a full idea, means “without any further complication, elaboration or explanation.” I told you what to do and you must do it, pure and simple.  In other contexts, following a noun, the meaning is “there is only one thing involved or worth mentioning or considering and there’s nothing else.” The motive was vengeance, pure and simple.

“egging you on” (11)
“To egg a person on” is to encourage, urge or dare them to continue doing something, usually something unwise. He wouldn’t have tried that dangerous move if you hadn’t egged him on.  The peculiar note on etymology is that the origin is not “egg” but a word that means “edge” in the original Old Norse language, thus making clear the notion of “inciting unwisely.”

“thinspiration” (12)
See “Shareware” below.

 

Shareware

Photographs and other material, like songs, quotes or sayings intended to provide inspiration to stay thin result in “thinspiration” – the blending of two words: “thin” and “inspiration.” If what you need is encouragement for proper exercise and diet in order to stay fit , you might then choose images of active, strong, and fit women – or other such elements – that will be your “fitsporation” (fit + inspiration), or “fitspo,” for short. These two concepts – captured in these sadly frequent “portmanteaus” – carry with them the negative idea that this is used by people with eating disorders.

Besides these two, one finds several “portmanteaus” in the language,” that is to say, a word which is made up of parts of two words to produce a meaning which is the combination of both. The difference between portmanteaus and compounds is that the words in a compound remain complete, as in starfish, railroad, bookstore, afterlife, underclothes. In portmanteaus, the original words get truncated.

There are several of these units that have been in the language for a while now, like brunch, smog, motel, moped.

The business lexicon is replete with them. Take brands like Microsoft (microcomputer + software), Velcro (velours – velvet + crochet – hook), Amtrack (America + track). Oxbridge for the UK’s two oldest universities, those of Oxford and Cambridge, is widely used. And in politics, take the one portmanteau that has been in the news for months now, Brexit (Britain and exit – from the EU.)

Business is actually the field in which new coinages appear almost daily. Notice, for example, permalance (permanent freelance), advertainment (advertising as entertainment), advertorial (a blurred distinction between advertising and editorial), infotainment (information about entertainment or itself intended to entertain), and infomercial (informational commercial).

Even the public will readily use these units to refer to, say, famous couples like Bennifer, (film stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and TomKat (Tom Cruiseand Katie Holmes) as a way to allude to an essence of who they are within the same name.

A very new field which is in constant change, computing is probably the largest corpus of new coinages, where you’ll find the familiar emoticon, (emotion and icon), email (electronic and mail), listicle (list and article), malware (malicious and software), netiquette (Internet and etiquette), modem (modulator and demodulator), webinar (World Wide Web and seminar), blog (web and blog).

And you, the reader, or “netizen,” – in other words, citizen of the Internet – play a very important part in the selection, for if a portmanteau survives, it is because people like them and use them. Which are your favourite ones?

 

@lilipalermo
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