Monday, December 28, 2009

Doing things to women's bodies

In pictures I mean. We've had a bit of a debate in AA100 this year about the relationship between art and reality, focussing particularly on male artists' treatment of the female form. Nowadays that sort of concern focusses less on painters and more on photographers, and their ubiquitous use of Photoshop.

This was very well illustrated lately by Hacker Factor, who went into the technicalities of how you could tell when something had been Photoshopped, using an illustration from the Victoria's Secret catalogue highlighted by "Photoshop Disasters", in a post entitled "Body by Victoria". It's a very instructive read from the point of view of seeing how it's done.

It also raises important issues about what women are and what we are trying to make of them. Much of the Photoshopping was just tidying up (depending on what you think about nipples showing through clothes). But Hacker Factor demonstrates that they lightened her skin tone. The unanswered question is why.

It's also instructive to compare how the owners of the images react. Victoria's Secret reacted openly and fairly. Following the exposure by Photoshop Disasters and Hacker Factor, they revised the image. They left some of the Photoshopping in but it wasn't as bad as before. See also "Still A Secret".

That is in stark contrast to the behaviour of Ralph Lauren, when found by Photoshop Disasters to be indulging in similar behaviour - they slapped a DCMA take down notice on them. You can't see it there any more, but you can see in on Boingboing. So Ralph Lauren are saying they can make women look any way they want, regardless of the woman's real shape, colour, or anything else.

It's interesting that the Liberal Democrats' recent campaign on Real Women was derided in the usual quarters as meaningless. But when photographers and companies are routinely doing this kind of thing to women's bodies, there must be serious implications for gender and power issues. And those impications must be taken into account when studying those issues in book 1 of AA100. (And I note that a couple of weeks ago the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the Olay advertisement featuring Twiggy, which was one of the targets of the campaign, was indeed misleading.)

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