Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


In an airbrushed world, how do you define what's truly hot? Add to ...

Paul jumps in: “But I think you would try to find something close to that. I would be dishonest if I’m saying when you see a girl on a magazine and she’s very good-looking, you don’t wish there was someone like tha t... [But]I hope I would never put that kind of pressure on a girl.”

Alyssa: “Girls get ranked all the time.”

Ryan: “Absolutely.”

They are quick to recognize the contradiction, that the standard they are setting for themselves and for each other is fabricated by a computer. (As Ryan points out, Photoshopping an already beautiful person just “shows that perfection is unattainable.”) Comparing before-and-after photos, they still seem surprised at how much is altered – how it’s not just the wrinkles under the eye, but the tiny puff of skin on Faith Hill’s back, or the completely digital bodies used in a controversial H&M bikini ad campaign. (Says Paul: “Why do they even need to use real models any more?”)

In fact, Photoshopping has become so extreme in advertising that there have been recent calls to ban it altogether in Britain and the United States – an approach that the teenagers support. “The media doesn’t realize that we’re starting to understand that everything is fake,” says Karmen. “So when they make it more real, it drives us to that product.”

This month, after a survey found that the majority of readers agreed that airbrushing zits from photos was okay, but making someone look five pounds lighter was not, the fashion magazine Glamour vowed to tell its photographers that they cannot manipulate body size, even if a celebrity asks for it. And for Alyssa and her peers, it seems important to know whether Kourtney Kardashian, posing with her newborn baby, asked for her post-pregnancy stomach to be flattened for a magazine cover, or if Adele sought that thinner face in her March photo spread in Vogue.

“I want to know if she okayed that,” says Alyssa, as they compared pictures of Adele at the Grammy Awards to her Vogue shoot, stopping on the inside picture that shows her hands pressed against her face, strategically narrowing it.

Paul: “If I just saw these pictures, I wouldn’t know it’s her. The message is that this is more attractive than the way she actually looks.”

Shannen: “She’s a role model, being so proud of her body. It would just be a big letdown.”

The good news, they say, is they have the impression a tipping point is being reached. Even the guys are critical of Angelina Jolie, posing, now infamously, at the Oscars with her bony arms and her thin right leg jutting from a thigh-high slit in her skirt. And when they see Zooey Deschanel, stretched and airbrushed into anonymity in a recent lipstick ad, they jump into a game of catch-the-difference – longer nose, flatter face, bigger lips – and their judgment is quick: She looks “plastic,” says Allison, “like she has no life in her.”

It’s easy to see what’s wrong with this picture when you are being asked to look for it.

“I don’t think you should base your self-esteem on what other people say is beautiful,” says Shannen.

“Once you accept yourself, you can start figuring out what your perception of beauty is,” says Karmen.

Words to remember, especially when the next Victoria’s Secret runway show tells them otherwise.

Conflicted teens

A national study of 25,000 Canadian youth between the ages of 11 and 15, released this month, found that:

- In Grade 10, half of boys and girls believed their weight was just right.

- Nearly 40 per cent of Grade 10 girls felt they were too fat (significantly higher than the actual percentage that is overweight) compared to 26 per cent in Grade 6.

- For Grade 10 boys, 23 per cent thought they were too fat, but 24 per cent thought they were too thin.

- Twenty per cent of girls ranked their life satisfaction at or lower than five out of 10. (Among boys, 14 per cent said the same.) Ratings for life satisfaction fell with each grade, and were consistently poorer among girls.

(Source: The Health of Canada’s Young People: A mental health focus)

Results of a 2011 online British survey of 1,000 young women age 10 to 21

84 per cent understand what airbrushing means.

48 per cent said they are less trusting of companies that use obvious air-brushing in their ads.

84 per cent said Photoshopping of body shapes in ads was unacceptable.

61 per cent felt that even blemishes should not be airbrushed.

47 per cent said thin models make them want to diet or lose weight or feel more self-conscious (a percentage that peaked in mid-teens).

(Source: Credos, an advertising think tank in Great Britain)

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular