How does Photoshop Affect Women’s Personal Body Image?

I have worked in retail for over two years and I have recently come across Aerie’s #AERIEREAL campaign. This made me wonder after seeing this campaign, if any other companies are promoting body positivity like they are, I found that Aerie supports other organizations such as Bright Pink and NEDA. Aerie seems to be putting significant amounts of effort into helping the way customers view themselves. The fact that women feel inferior to models in stores and magazines has been going on for too long and should be obsolete. Photoshop can and does affect how Women feel about their bodies by making them think there is a perfect body type that must be achieved.

It is not a new idea that Photoshop promotes unrealistic standards for women, but what we do not often hear about, is what people will do if they feel strongly enough about their looks. In an article from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, it mentions how magazines and television put pressure on women to look a certain way. It says, “The pressure to attain the “perfect body” has women now spending millions of dollars a year on unnecessary plastic surgery and harming their bodies by becoming anorexic or bulimic.” Growing up seeing all these beautiful, Photoshopped women in images can cause people to feel anxious and insecure about the bodies they were given.

Advertising for stores and fashion shows is one of the largest areas that influence women’s perceptions of themselves. Every day, we look at marketing in stores, social media, and websites that show women with clear skin and perfect bodies. Images like this are what makes girls feel like they must look like models or have perfect features that even photoshopped women do not have. In an article from Pennsylvania State, it talks about Photoshop’s effect on advertising and different companies that do or do not use it in their marketing. The article uses Victoria’s Secret as an example of a company that shows how the look of models after being photoshopped can become a reality, in reference to their fashion shows. This may seem like a positive advertising tactic, but the intense diets and restrictions that the models go through defeat its purpose. As it gets closer to the well-known Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the models do not consume solid food and only protein shakes, then twelve hours before the show they seize to drink completely. This extreme diet is the real life equivalent to what photoshop makes the models look like.

Image for post
Image for post
Image found here

In the images above, is a comparison of what a model on the runway looks like before (left) and after (right) Photoshop. It is clear in these images that the model has been altered in the second photo. Victoria’s Secret hires professionals to edit their models hiding scars and birthmarks, making them look tanner, as well as adding muscle. The article then compares the frequent photoshopper with a company that does quite the opposite. Aerie has been known for their quality bras, fuzzy sweaters, and everything soft enough to be pajamas. The company’s main goal is to empower women by advertising that they do not photoshop or airbrush any of their models.

Image for post
Image for post
Image found here

The Pennsylvania State article talks about how Aerie focuses on embracing natural beauty and loving the bodies that we were given. Victoria’s Secret and Aerie are obviously different in many ways, but what is most important is that one promotes extreme diets and exercise, while the other supports empowerment and self-love. In a TED Talk given by Jean Kilbourne, she talks about how for years adds have been objectifying women through Photoshop. She showed advertisements with women that have been made to look thinner, taller, and sexier. All from companies like Calvin Klein, DIESEL, Chanel, and many more that portray women as sexual objects just to sell a product. Jean also shared how not only are companies photoshopping women, but also children to attract a younger market. She mentioned that children can recognize name brand adds as young as six months old. What this means for us is that if something is not done now about the issues with Photoshop, then the future of our children is at stake for their self-image.

Some countries have even considered passing laws to regulate the negative effects that it has on women. Showing young girls what models look like after being photoshopped does more than make them look pretty, it changes their perception of how they should look. Girls are growing up thinking that they must change themselves to look a certain way, which affects their well-being by causing them to have anxiety, lack of confidence, and feel insecure.

It might seem like a positive thing to make females look beautiful in advertisements to help the sales of their product, despite these issues, it can be worth it to use Photoshopping for the sake of profits. However, when a company uses Photoshop to alter the appearance of women, there should be a disclosure for the changes that have been made. By doing this, it would help young girls and women all over the world understand the difference between a real person and an advertisement. An article in the Wiley Online Library about “The ironic impact of advertising disclosure of body-image retouching brand attitudes”, uses L’Oréal as an example because of a marketing issues that they had in 2011. Two adds of theirs were banned for having misleading images that made photoshopped skin look like it was the foundation’s doing. This is the type of thing that concerns many for the future of young children who will grow up surrounded by falsity and an altered personal body image.

Quitting Photoshop can actually help advertisers, because people would acknowledge that they are trying to make a change, which can lead to better sales. The article on L’Oréal also mentions the types of advertising we see and our opinions towards this, it states, “The more the model depicted in an advertisement is round and resembles the average women, the more positive certain types of product evaluations are”. Research has been done proving that if an advertisement has women with curves and imperfections, then the consumer is more likely to have a positive view on that company, making them more likely to shop there. Nowadays, more and more people are preferring to shop at stores that have good values and a mission statement that they agree with. This means that there is a chance that those people will find somewhere else to take their business, rather than somewhere that photoshops.

The use of photoshop seems to have more negatives than it does positives, and in the long run, it can cause things like anxiety and low self-esteem. Retouching can cause women to feel the need to change themselves which could lead to anything from getting a tan to spending thousands of dollars on plastic surgeries. There is a great difference between companies that photoshop while forcing their models to do extreme dieting an exercising, while others promote embracing imperfections and empowering women. Retouching has been controversial for a long time, which has brought up talk of laws and banns on it. The UK has banned adds in the past for having unethical images, and there is no saying that it will not happen again. We are finally starting to understand the importance of natural beauty and how it affects our well-being and how we raise our children to see themselves in the future. Hopefully, in the future, we learn from our mistakes of misleading the public and maybe companies can join in on the movement by not retouching women to unrealistic standards.

Works Cited

Aerie Real Campaign. American Eagle, 2 Aug. 2018,

“The Dangerous Ways Adds See Women.” YouTube, 8 May 2014,

Djoukoue, Armelle. “Keep It Real Challenge: Photoshop’s Impacy on Body Image.” UMKC Women’s Center, U of Missouri-Kansas City, 29 June 2012,

“Photoshop in Advertising.” Word Press- Penn State, 22 Oct. 2015,

Semaan, Rania W., et al. “How Well Will This Brand Work? The Ironic Impact of Advertising Disclosure of Body‐Image Retouching on Brand Attitudes.” Psychology & Marketing, 2018. Wiley Online Library, Accessed 13 Dec. 2018. Excerpt originally published in Psychology & Marketing, vol. 35, 2018, pp. 766–77.

Shanina also appears to have given herself a perkier derrière in one of her images. Dailymail,

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store