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Opinion: Is Photoshop a Villain?



The photo above shows me without makeup. Look how purple and shiny I am SOOL (Straight Out of Laptop).

I am at my cabin sitting at my laptop. I just showered, dried my hair, threw on a sweater and sat down to write this article. You will notice that I worked to get those light flares over my head and behind it. If you didn’t notice that, I invite you to notice it now. Take that, JJ Abrams.

I’m not in the habit of taking photos without makeup on my face. I don’t wear tons of it, but I am fond of concealer, mascara, blush, powder and lipstick. The Big 5. When I wear them, they change my appearance. Not drastically, but it does change. I like the change, and I don’t even really know what I’m doing with the makeup. In the hands of a trained makeup artist, the difference is really astonishing.

Now, do I loathe my appearance without makeup? No.
Do I think it’s the stuff of nightmares? No.
Do I think I look hideous? No.
Do I think that when I go to the grocery store without make up on, people run away in terror, screaming: “WHAT IS THAT THING?” No.

(At least if they do, they do it quietly.)

But…do I feel prettier with makeup on? Heck, yeah.

So, I wear it. I usually don’t wear so much that you can scrape it off with a putty knife, but it’s definitely on my face. It’s still me; it still looks like me, but the version of me I choose when I want to feel my best, because I look my best.


Makeup doesn’t change me…but it enhances what I’ve got. I don’t HAVE to wear it; I don’t always wear it; but when I do, I really like it. How much makeup I use, and if I use any at all, really depends on what I’m doing.

I view Photoshop much the same way I view makeup: sometimes I use a lot, sometimes I use a little…it all depends on what I’m doing. But Photoshop, like makeup, is about embracing and enhancing the beauty in and around us.

And I realize that in our Photoshop-happy world, we have become a wee bit heavy handed on that most wonderful digital tool. Sometimes, it’s necessary; sometimes it’s not. It all depends on the situation and the client.

But I want to share with you a fear of mine. It’s not a great fear, like my fear of grasshoppers and walking out of a public restroom with the toilet paper I used to line the seat clinging to the back of my pants, but it’s a fear nonetheless.

It’s the fear of losing perspective.


We jump on a new idea and we embrace it with open arms. And in our zeal, we push the pendulum. We aren’t content to push it just off center. We don’t give it a little nudge. Instead, we push that bad boy all the way to one side or the other. We figure if a little is good, A LOT is better.

We see it all through society, but because I am your guide through the murky waters of photography, we’ll apply it to a topic we all know well: Photoshop.

We photographers boarded the Photoshop train eagerly. “All Aboard for the Adobe Express!” Some of us even climbed on to the track to photograph clients. (Hey-ooooh. That JUST happened.) We marveled over what we could now do on a computer. Retouching that involved negatives and dry dyes and pencils and many hours of labor could now be achieved quickly through this wonderful new tool. So, not content to simply enhance beauty, we changed it. We over-manipulated it. Because we could. We pushed the pendulum far to the right.

And then, well-meaning folks looked around at the drastic manipulations and the false messages they were sending and said, “NO MORE PHOTOSHOP.” Women began making headlines with black and white images showing off their rolls and cellulite. We applauded the Photoshop-free face as being brave. Kate Winslet added a “No Photoshop” clause to her Loreal spokesperson contract…which is a wee bit ironic that a spokesperson for a makeup line is saying not to change her appearance in print advertisements, ‘cause, you know, that’s what makeup DOES, but I understand what she’s saying. Sort of.


The ranks have risen up to decry the evils of Photoshop, and with those cries, we pushed the pendulum back, all the way to the left.

In the meantime, the Center, that happy place between the extremes, is ignored. That wonderful area that embraces common sense and logic is disregarded. Cobwebs cling to its walls and there’s a layer of dust 6-inches deep over everything.

The only time that pendulum has been to the Center is when its on its way to either side.

We need to stop this.

Friends, we have to keep a calm head about us.

Branding Photoshop the Villain is as nonsensical as declaring Photoshop the Answer.

Photoshop is no more an enemy to women’s beauty and self-esteem than is makeup, or a curling iron, or pantyhose, or Spanx. In the right hands, it is a tool that, like makeup or a great hair cut, can make a woman look the way she thinks she looks on her very best day.

So, grab your mouse or stylus and retouch those images. Maybe you’ll use a heavy hand; maybe your client will barely be able to tell anything was done at all.

Or maybe, you’ll do exactly what’s needed to find yourself in the Happy Center.

P.S. I wore Spanx once. It was horrible. I felt like they were a serial killer and my torso was it’s victim. If that wasn’t bad enough, when I took them off later, it looked a lot like what happens when you pop open a can of biscuit dough. Stuff went spilling out everywhere. Never. Again.

About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. You can connect with her on Tumblr and Facebook. This article was also published here.

Image credits: Makeup photo by Maria Morri