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Heroin Chic and the Power of Photo Imagery Manipulation

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Within the realm of digital photography there is a lot of room for cheating. Sometimes it is all right to manipulate photographs and sometimes it is not. In the area of marketing and advertisement, most, if not all companies remodel product photos to make them more saleable. The question is how much is too much and what are the implications to the individual as well as to society?

Obviously, sex sells. We all know that. But when we manipulate to our perception of what other people want, we begin to define what they want through our manipulation. It is kind of like me standing up and saying day in and day out that I like warm beer. At some point I will find someone who will agree with me — then another and another, until I gain enough momentum that you feel you have to agree with me because your perception is that everyone else does.

Think about the phrases and trends that have twisted our culture over the last 40 years. “Blondes have more fun” made our culture feel that other hair colors were inferior. The Heroin chic craze has generated more eating disorders than botulism ever could.

That being said, what is the problem with manipulation for the sake selling of things? I found a good example of the kind of subtle manipulation that can be done to tweak your thinking without you ever realizing it. It is this kind of manipulation that can be the most detrimental. It is a form of subliminal mind shrink.

The Girl Power site shows a picture of a fourteen year old girl standing in a shirt and blue jeans. The site then uses Photoshop manipulation to create a magazine cover of the girl to sell the magazine.

This is the same kind of manipulation that is done in every magazine, every brochure, and every product packaging label around the world. To view the process, open the page, select the magazine cover on the left, and click on the “Unveil the Fraud” button on the page.

A few things struck me. The first was that the girl looked fine to me in the original picture. It wasn’t that she was sixty-five and had been lying in the sun for the last 40 years. She was fourteen. She did not need to be “fixed up.” Second was how many things had been manipulated — her eyes, lips, breasts, waist, nose, jawbone, and shirt color. Finally, and most disturbingly, was the fact that I understood why they would make all these changes. If I had been in their shoes, I would have probably approved the changes myself.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in using a package such as Photoshop to manipulate photos. I do it all the time. Where I have a problem is when you try to sell something that is fabrication as something that is real. It distorts the collective mentality of society in general and usually not for the good.

This is no different than a major manufacturer of soft drinks buying time in the latest action movie to insert messages like “Buy my product now” every hundredth frame. You see the finished picture and you are not aware of the changes that have been made. On a subliminal level, you find the changes appealing. This changes your tastes.

Suddenly blondes have more fun and you feel the urge to purge.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • You make good points here, but your title leaves me wondering: what heroin chic? I see none of the signs of that particular illness in the photo retouching demo, (although maybe it’s buried somewhere in the Girl Power site, beyond the reach of my dial-up connection).

  • T. Michael Testi

    Heroin chic is more of an analogy of how deeply, we as a society can let ourselves be pulled into fads if we do not question what they really means to our well being. The idea that a certain group of advertisers were not only able to sell products based on emaciated women who looked like heroin addicts, but also got a segment of society to want to emulate the look to the detriment of their own health is testament to what inadvertent mind shifting ideas through media can have on society.

    I do not think that any of this should be controlled from an outside authority, what I do think is that people should see it for what it is and not be sucked into it. But happens all the time. It is usually foisted upon the teen/young adult segments until it becomes a part of the day.

  • I am pleased to tell you this article is being featured in the Culture Focus today, October 4th.

    Diana Hartman
    Culture Editor

  • Thank you so much Diana. Not so much for my self but for the fact that I feel it is a topic that I think needs to be recognized and the awareness that can be generated will be the most significant movement against it.

    It is the same discussion that is going on in the fashion world about the 0 size models. It was announced today that Gaultier is going with size 20 models. While that to me is also on the extreme; I think that a 10 or 12 would moderate to a more “average” size I think that these topics have gotten the discussion moving.

  • Heroin Chic

    Oh shut it! Heroin chic is one of the greatest looks ever! Those kate moss’s photos are simply beautiful. Maybe you should start worrying about overweight instead of underweight, it is a greater issue many times over…anyway, it is people’s bodies and they have the right to follow the looks they want to acquire.