To Photoshop or Not To Photoshop

This week the students in the Debate-Ed programme discussed banning the use of Photoshop. This is a controversial and often emotional topic due to concerns that Photoshop may encourage extreme dieting and unrealistic perceptions of beauty.

Teddy.jpg   Teddy_PHOTOSHOPPED.jpg

Perceptions of Beauty and Extreme Dieting

There are many reasons why one might want to ban Photoshop. One reason is that it encourages people to believe that physical flaws are not okay and should be hidden. Photoshop is often used to hide perceived imperfections and to make the model seem younger, fitter and thinner. This suggests that there is something wrong with a model or celebrity being ‘imperfect’. This creates a very unrealistic image of beauty, particularly as some of the alterations can be subtle and it will not always be easy for the audience to recognise that they are looking at an altered image. For instance, if Photoshop has been used to remove acne and to make the model’s hair look shinier and healthier. This is particularly damaging when you consider why the model’s skin and hair may be in poor condition. It could well be that the reason for this is that the model does not get sufficient nutrients because they are very thin. By removing these imperfections, the images suggest that it is achievable to an extreme body type without there being any other health consequences.

It is important for a team arguing to ban Photoshop to explain not just why they think it promotes an unrealistic image of beauty, but how this behaviour harms society. A good proposition team would need to explain that people naturally want to aspire to their culture’s perception of beauty. When that standard of beauty is one that is very difficult or impossible to achieve with a healthy diet and exercise, this can motivate people to turn to extreme dieting and plastic surgery in order to try and obtain the ‘ideal’ body type.

Photoshop as Art

Some argue that Photoshop is could be seen as art. For instance, artists such as Picasso have often painted or drawn people in very unrealistic ways in order to create an interesting and engaging image. Photoshop could be used in the same way to create an impossible picture.

However, one of the issues with this is that Photoshopped images are rarely presented as an impossible image. They are often presented to the public as realistic images. The public is shown a woman in a bikini in much the same way as they would be shown a regular woman to be going swimming. There is nothing to indicate that the image has been altered or is meant to show an idealised view of beauty.


An argument often raised when discussing banning Photoshop is that does not create an unrealistic view of beauty as people know it is fake and realise that is not possible to look like the models they see in magazines. Whether or not this is true often depends on the audience you are considering. For instance, very young people will probably not know that an image has been altered. Older people may well realise that an image has been altered and that even if the image has not been altered, the model is unlikely to look like that naturally and that make-up, lighting and clothing will have helped to present an idealised image.

An interesting suggestion is whether or not warning labels should be put on images that have been altered. This would then improve the knowledge base of the audience in terms of what they are viewing and hopefully help to establish what is and is not realistic.

What If There Was No Photoshop?

When considering banning something in a debate, it is always worth considering whether this ban would cause additional problems. For instance, it is possible that if we banned Photoshop that this would not be enough to change the current perception of beauty. People might still feel they have to be thin in order to be considered beautiful, particularly as there are many things that reinforce this standard of beauty within western culture regardless of the use of Photoshop.

If people are still trying to reach these unrealistic images of beauty and cannot use Photoshop, they might instead turn to anorexia, bulimia and plastic surgery to attempt to achieve this. This could potentially be worse than Photoshop as it results in physical damage to people’s health. However, it is also possible to argue that people who were likely to develop eating disorders or resort to plastic surgery would have done this even if they had access to Photoshop – particularly as this can only impact on their photographed image, not how they look in real life.