I thought Professor Sheehan’s lecture was fascinating because the material it covered is so pertinent in our society today. Although admittedly some of the content about the lengths to which people go to change their looks through cosmetic plastic surgery is rather disturbing and a bit frightening, the implications of this trend for digital and social media are widespread. The results of plastic surgery are present in the bodies and faces of some celebrities, but I think even more interesting is the digital wizardry that changes women’s bodies in photographs. The clinical aspect of digital manipulation is something that I had never considered before. Photographs are “doctored.” The symbols for retouching tools are often band aids. In this age of digitalization, even physical changes can be made digital. Despite the reams of evidence that photographs are easily doctored, many people still look at photographs as models of an ideal figure. The warped standards of beauty that people in our society are exposed to on magazine covers and billboards play a large role in the self confidence of many individuals, even those who understand on an intellectual level that these images are not real.
I wonder if our society is moving towards more and more digital manipulation or if being “natural” will push the digital media industry in the future. There has been some backlash in recent years against magazines that use Photoshop extensively on their cover models, especially after the original photographs have been posted online and side-by-side comparisons reveal the extent to which the women’s bodies were changed. However, although public outcry against digital manipulation has increased, private use of digital alteration software has become dramatically more accessible. There are apps and Instagram filters and other tools that can be used on a selfie or other image as soon as it is taken. Social media platforms are filled with images that are meant to seem “real” but are in fact altered to make the subjects seem more attractive. Just as plastic surgery became more widespread and filtered down from the celebrity world into the realm of more “ordinary” individuals, digital alterations are now available to the masses, and they are exponentially cheaper than physical surgeries.
Digital manipulation is not permanent, but its presence and the results it can produce provide a window into the standards of beauty in our society. However, because digital editing creates images of women that are not present in nature, the standard we have created is one that is virtually impossible to achieve. Digital software has allowed us to overcome the limitations of creating ideal forms in other mediums because photographs look “real” and are often regarded as accurate, more so than sketches or paintings. This lecture made me think about the digital influences on our culture and what is (and/or can be) considered “natural” when it comes to female figures. I am worried about what the continued prevalence of digital editing will do to the already somewhat warped perceptions our culture has about beauty and natural looks, but this tool’s evolution and usage is fascinating to study and discuss.