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Have your say: How can we portray real models (and less Photoshop) in fashion? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

There was a time when we thought the purpose of Photoshop was superimposing mustaches on pictures of our friends. Turns out it also removes crow’s feet, saggy jowls and cellulite.

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Viral video of a Photoshop makeover that enlarged the eyes, lengthened the legs and flattened the stomach of a female model has led to renewed calls to end misleading, unrealistic portrayals of the female body in the media. When already-thin celebrities can shed inconvenient anatomical traits like arm flab and even rounded hips, our society’s already intimidating beauty standards move even further out of reach.

There is hope. Canadian clothing outlet Jacob ran a “Photoshop-free” ad campaign in fall of 2011 with model Coco Rocha, and this year, British magazine Verily launched a “Photoshop-free” issue. Last year, an eighth-grader’s 81,000-signature petition convinced U.S. teen magazine Seventeen to formally commit to not altering models’ face or body shapes with Photoshop, and to represent a wider range of body types.

But airbrushing techniques are still widely practised and defended in the fashion industry. In response to that recent viral Photoshop video, a Victoria’s Secret model argued that “selling a story … creating this fantasy” is what her industry is about, “not selling reality.”

No one is advocating a shift like the one satirically offered by photographer Danny Evans’ “Celebrity Make Under” project, transposing famous faces like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus onto “normal” bodies with gaudy clothing and 1980s haircuts. But do industries that profit from the quest for aesthetic perfection carry some responsibility for keeping it (somewhat) real? Or is it up to each of us to be critical media consumers and foster healthy body-image awareness among the young people in our lives?

This week’s question: How do we stop magazines and other media from artificially altering bodies into unrealistic ideals?

THE EXPERTS

Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts in Ottawa

“We can educate young people about how our standards of perfection are influenced by these artificial images. Help them detect the techniques used to communicate the advertiser’s message, and empower them to vote with their dollars by supporting publishers and advertisers that choose not to use photo-manipulated images.”

Coco Rocha, fashion model from Richmond, B.C.

“Photoshop is just a 21st-century artists’ tool used in the creation of modern fashion photography. Instead of vilifying the computer program, we should ask why some are creating an aesthetic that reduces a woman to an inhuman size. Surely fashion should enhance and beautify the natural human form, not re-design it.”

Dr. Carla Rice, Canada research chair in Care, Gender, and Relationships at the University of Guelph

“We can start by not buying or bringing such media into our homes, and together target the cultural institutions that proliferate such practices. This means identifying and outing the culprits, starting campaigns like those initiated by petition site Change.org or satirical project AboutFace, and boycotting products and services whose ads use hyper-perfected images.”

Beth Malcolm, director of Girls’ Fund at the Canadian Women’s Foundation

“It is difficult to shelter girls from all the negative images so it’s important that they are encouraged by their parents and teachers to think critically about what they see and hear in the media. Adults need to nurture resilience in girls and model the traits and behaviours that will help girls build confidence.”

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