Photo editing can bring dreams to reality, but also presents potential consequences

#RealMeKC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Good luck finding a photo of a celebrity that’s unfiltered. In fact, it’s so rare, that when an unedited photo of Khloe Kardashian accidentally got published recently, it made news!

And while there’s no way to delete the practice altogether, there is a way to edit why and how it’s used. 

Brown eyes or blue eyes? Curly or straight hair? Curvy or muscular? When it comes to photo editing, if you can dream it, you can do it. 

“You can change bone structure, you can add shadows, remove shadows, give them different hair. The possibilities are endless with photo retouching,” photo retoucher Natalie Bluhm said.  

It’s a practice that goes way, way back. In fact, photographs lost their innocence almost as soon as they came on the market in the late 1800s when people used to literally cut and paste by gluing two images together. 

But the introduction of Adobe Photoshop in 1990 changed everything, and not just photos.  

“I could go to a stock site, and I could find elements that I could bring into and shape it to make it look believable,” Bluhm said. 

While an excellent and necessary tool, photo editing programs like Photoshop have faced a lot of criticism. Bluhm retouches photos for Lauren Pusateri’s photography studio. 

“I think it’s important for people to know that what they’re looking at is the most beautified version of what it is,” she said. 

“It’s advertising… it’s selling a product.” 

Heavily edited models and celebrities in magazines, billboards and on Instagram can create unrealistic expectations for women and men, and especially teens. But Bluhm says if a photo goes unedited, you’d notice, and not in a good way. 

“You want the image to look as clean as possible- no distractions,” Bluhm said. 

“The lines on your neck, everyone has that, but once you get into cleaning up blemishes and maybe softening wrinkles, these lines look weird, so you always have to remove that. It’s something that stands out in an image once you’ve cleaned it up, if you don’t clean it up.” 

So, when do you stop cleaning it up? At what point does it become an ethical concern? 

Many celebrities like Zendaya, Lupita Nyong’o and Kerry Washington have taken a stand on certain magazines for dramatically altering their image, like smoothing out hair or making hips look smaller. 

In 2017, Seventeen magazine vowed to no longer alter images, after a 14-year-old girl launched a petition pushing editors to switch to real images of real women. 

Bluhm says she thinks the practice of editing photos is moving in a more positive direction. 

“I do feel like the work I do now isn’t as fake, so to speak. I think people are finally finding talent that is unique and diverse, and they want to keep it that way,” she said.

And while editing is fun, and a creative expression, Bluhm says it’s important to see both sides. 

“I like doing before and afters because I want people to see not only what I’m doing, but also like, this isn’t reality, and my job is to make it look real and believable,” she said.  

Although we can assume most celebrity images have been Photoshopped, you never really know for sure. And this false reality comes at a high cost, and potentially serious consequences.

On Thursday, our #RealMeKC series breaks down the impact of the ideal body image on eating disorders.

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