I’ve been having an interesting debate with someone on Twitter this morning (Charlotte Vere, founder of Women On; “an independent, non-partisan think tank that aims to transform the debate around women”), and wanted to share because, frankly, I cannot understand how my sparring partner is justifying her opinions anymore. 140 characters is limiting in this regard. While it produces some very appealing soundbites, you don’t get to explore complex matters in appropriate depth. So I’m reverting to the blog, and I invite my fellow debater to comment if she wishes.
It started like this, from her:
“Body confidence? Banning photoshop won’t help.”
I checked whether she was just being provocative because it seemed like an incredibly weird position to take, especially for a woman who supposedly “campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men”.
No, she meant it.
And so began the discussion.
Over the course of the morning, between my meetings, I’ve been responding to her defence of photoshopped images of female bodies and faces in the media. Her argument, it seems, is that women are responsible for our own body confidence, cosmetics and dieting are in no way a bad thing, and the media has no effect on any of these things. Images of ideal beauty have been around since the year dot, and worrying about your body is just a teen “time of life thing”.
To avoid overlaying my bewilderment to the source material, here are the original tweets:
Me: do you really believe that about photoshop or was that a provocative comment? I can’t tell.
Her: Yes, I do. Banning Photoshop is ridiculous and nothing to do with giving people ‘confidence’ in their bodies
Me: but what, then, do you believe is undermining their confidence in their bodies in the first place?
Her: ’twas ever thus. The solution is in education and building self esteem, not focussing on bodies in magazines. [cont] When I was in my teens, girls and boys obsessed about how they looked. There was no Photoshop then. It is a time of life.
Me: there were, however, idealised & ‘perfected’ posed images. Photoshop is the next step in that. Now the images are impossible. [cont] women have long aspired to an impossible goal. I’d argue for more diversity in female images in general for healthy self-esteem [cont] also the problem is not a teen problem. The diet/cosmetics industries wouldn’t be booming if so niche.
Her: They have always been impossible for us mere mortals. Always.
Me: that’s my point. Who is this immortal woman and why have we created her? She only serves to undermine real women.
Her: She only undermines real women who lack confidence and THAT is my point about body confidence. It is not about banning Photoshop! [cont] What’s wrong with cosmetics?! What’s wrong with dieting?! It is up to you if you chose to use/do either.
Me: firstly there’s nothing wrong with cosmetics. There is something wrong when women feel the *have* to hide their natural face
Her: Most women I see in the street clearly don’t feel that need!
Me: secondly, where do you think confidence comes from? It’s about our standing against society expectations and ideals. [cont.] and the media creates society’s expectations and ideals so should be held responsible for the consequences in confidence
Her: Nope. Confidence comes from managing our own expectations. You have to understand who you are and what makes you special. [cont] Again no. ‘The media’ as you call it is a hodge podge of different ideas and you can pick and choose which ones you embrace.
Me: no woman is an island. Our own expectations are also built through our interactions with society. [cont] women are told what society values (young, “beautiful”, flawless) & we aim for that to be valued too.
Her: Sure. Her interactions with her society, her family, her community … the list is endless. Banning Photoshop is not the answer! [cont] ’twas ever thus. Society might idolise one thing or another. Most people don’t waste time on trying to be that thing.
I later referred her to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, because I didn’t want to paraphrase such excellent proof of my argument. She replied “I am good thanks. Something tells me I would not agree.” A shame, I feel, surely we should spend more time reading things with which we disagree than those who already sing the songs we do?
Luckily someone else stepped in and joined my side of the debate, because I was running out of energy to continue. The upshot for me is that (and here she sets out her stall)…
Photoshop relies on our innate trust in the truth of photography (“the camera never lies”) and sells us a lie. If we see a cartoon, or hear something described, we know to question it (or some of us do anyway), but when we see an image it is sold as a truth – it certainly never has a big warning sticker that says “this photo has been subject to photoshopping. This woman doesn’t really look like this at all, she actually looks pretty much like you”.
Photoshopping is just part of the problem. If the images in our media better represented us as humans (rather than projecting an aspiration as if it is norm), I would be happier. And I genuinely believe we would all be more confident. We would however see a substantial drop in spend on cosmetics, fashion, cosmetic surgery, diets…. and I guess that would in turn hurt the advertising spend of these companies with, guess who, the media that use the aspirational images in the first place. Interesting that…