Digital Manipulation and Gender Bias
By: davidgolin

You have probably heard this question before “ Is digital manipulation ethical?”.

In our technologically advancing world, the topic of digital tinkering has become a growing conversation; Especially in terms of photo manipulation. While photo manipulation is by no means a new practice, computers now allow us to edit our photos within a few clicks of a mouse. And for the dedicated, a bit of free time and a few Youtube videos can lead to more than simply enhancing the hue and saturation of photos.

Before I go further, let us not cross the lines between Artistic Retouching and scrupulous photo manipulation.

By Ankamur
Artistic Retouch By Ankamur

Artistic retouches turn photos into works of Art. The main point of this practice is to push the boundaries of photo manipulation and create a new illusion with an artistic agenda. While other types of photo manipulation also do this, Artistic retouches are usually lot more obvious. They don’t call us to question whether or not the photo is real, but rather to enjoy an abstraction of reality. Usually a person can immediately spot the creatively retouched photo.

But what about the more masterfully, and not to mention subtly manipulated ones? This is where conflict arises. Unethical photo manipulation occurs when photos are altered with the means of selling false ideas or concepts.


Unfortunately this is a huge deal in the advertisement industry.We daily have to come to the grips with the fact that, “That burger” you see on the interstate sign, will not be the one you’re handed at the drive thru. And also that we will never look like “That lady or man” in the magazine. And why is this so? Because most images are manipulated to represent an ideal rather than reality. In this example, the ideals are the “perfect burger” rather than the standard burger, and the “ideal human” rather than your everyday Joe.

Photo "enhanced model"

In many cases, these alterations target our bodily insecurities. Weight, height, facial features, skin tone and the list goes on. A little nose job here, a pinch of belly tuck there, slimmer thighs for good measure, and suddenly you’re no longer looking at an enhanced photo. Now you’re viewing a photographic deception. Digital tricksters have been subtly enhancing numerous media right under our noses with the help of Photoshop and other image editing programs. And while this is nothing new, the methods by which they create these images are perfected daily. This practice has become so common that we may need to wonder if the images on our friend’s Facebook profiles have been tampered with.

However, beyond the question of whether or not photo retouching is ethical, my mind wonders to a more problematic portion of this debate. Often, when you hear of “foul play” in the photo-retouching realm, you are more than likely referred to the image of a woman. The interesting thing about the photo manipulation debate is that women are often caught in the center of it. In an article by Beauty Redefined, Computer Science Professor, Henry Farid, who specializes in digital forensics and photo manipulation weighs in on this digital trend:

“The more and more we use this editing, the higher and higher the bar goes. They’re creating things that are physically impossible,” he told ABC News in August 2009. “We’re seeing really radical digital plastic surgery. It’s moving towards the Barbie doll model of what a woman should look like — big breasts, tiny waist, ridiculously long legs, elongated neck. All the body fat is removed, all the wrinkles are removed, the skin is smoothed out.”

But wait!

Aren’t males manipulated as well?
Why of course!
But if this is true, why does it feel as though women get most of the slack for it? And better yet, why does it feel that we are disproportionately affected by it? In a recent study by Do Something.Org‘s they found that:

“Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.”

from integral-options.blogspot
from integral-options.blogspot

So the question becomes, why is this conversation of digital manipulation fall on the lines of gender? Maybe this is reflective of our society? Women have always been held to a higher visual standard of perfection. So maybe it’s only natural that females find themselves at the center of this visually scrutinizing debate. But does that make it right?

I think not.

If we want to speak about the ethics of digital manipulation, that is one thing. But maybe we should start off from a similar point of reference. Let’s talk about digital manipulation as a whole; Not just the female photo manipulation side of it.

Share your thoughts