Fighting against an altered reality

Airbrush, Photoshop, Facetune. Ever since modeling became a serious profession, models have struggled with body image, societal pressures and, eventually, photo edits. 

Since the invention of Photoshop in 1990, celebrities and the public have been subjected to a flurry of highly edited photos.

Models, and even regular people with a social media account, can alter their personal photos with greater ease than ever before. Photo editing programs fill the App Store, and platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have created countless face-altering “filters.” Some of the filters are comedic, while others may inadvertently promote unrealistic beauty ideals. 

Amid these pressures, a new wave of body inclusivity has arisen in popular culture and media. Actress Jameela Jamil openly promotes body positivity. She has publicly rejected any major edits of her photos and advertisements, posting online that “they airbrushed me to death.” 

Jamil also founded I Weigh, an Instagram account that encourages people to value their attributes and achievements, rather than focusing solely on their weight.

Other celebrities and companies have similar ideals, such as retail store American Eagle, whose campaigns have been free of Photoshop since 2017. 

Junior Alyssa Attride is a model and lead makeup artist for Infinite Appeal, an on-campus modeling organization.

Once she began college, Attride started to experiment with makeup and worked on “surreal” looks. 

Once she began working with models, Attride realized “that I absolutely love, love, loved it.”  

While Attride said modeling increases her self confidence, she acknowledges certain unrealistic body standards.

“Right now, what’s super trendy is being ‘racially ambiguous,’ which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, per se, but it is definitely detrimental to people with darker skin tones,” Attride said. “It definitely favors people on the lighter end of the spectrum.”

Otherwise, Attride believes that Atlanta fosters an accepting culture.

“Atlanta is a blossoming city, especially in terms of modeling, fashion and [other] stuff,” Attride said. “In the modeling scene here, you do tend to see a really big spectrum of people. [Atlanta is] a lot more accepting.”

Sophomore Xiwen Zhang agrees with her. Zhang grew up in China and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. She began to focus on modeling in college once her friends asked her to model for them. 

Zhang grew up in a culture with rigid body ideals, and as “an Asian girl with a more curvy body,” this led her to struggle with her self-esteem. 

“How I was raised is, women are supposed to have flawless skin,” Zhang said. “You’re supposed to be lean and skinny. That’s the Asian standard, and specific features they’re looking for are, let’s say, bigger eyes, higher nose, smaller lips and a smaller jaw.”

She said her parents pressured her about her body, and this was partially due to expectations to find a husband. Once she started school at Georgia State, Zhang was introduced to different ideals.

“I have found more diversity in college, so I’ve seen different types of bodies all around me,” Zhang said. “That made me more comfortable in my [own] skin because I have purposefully tried different things to change my body to match people’s standards, but … eventually, I found my own beauty standard, and that’s when I embraced my body more.”

Zhang has also found a supportive community in Infinite Appeal, and members “really helped me to love myself and who I am.”

Freshman Josef Sasser is a photographer and model for the same organization. Sasser is strictly against major edits of his photos, whether he’s in front of or behind the camera. He believes that these edits take away the integrity of the photograph.

“If you see a beautiful model on the magazine, and they edited the picture, at that point, the picture’s no longer yours, and it’s no longer the model,” Sasser said.

After modeling for a coworker, Sasser saw that she had significantly increased the size of his eyes. 

“It made me not want her to promote it,” Sasser said. “I wanted to support my friend, but I didn’t repost the picture. It’s a weird thing to know that your face is different after someone edited it.”

As a photographer, Sasser likes taking close portraits, the kind “where you can see the souls in their eyes.”

For some models, though, this intimacy with the camera can be daunting.

Zhang recalled a photoshoot she did with The Glamatory, a makeup brand. She was asked to wear little to no makeup, and the shots were close-up. 

“I’m not used to taking pictures close up to my face, my skin and features,” Zhang said. “Seeing how my face looked close up was very interesting to me, and it was very uncomfortable at first. I’m thinking, ‘What is the camera going to capture? The acne scars I have from back in high school?’ [The photographer] wanted raw beauty, and that stood out to me.”

Attride appreciates the natural look and believes that major edits and apps like Facetune negatively impact other’s self-image. 

“I think it can be detrimental to younger people who follow people who are Facetuning so heavily because, after that, they’re going to have these really weird ideas of what they ‘should’ look like,” Attride said. 

While Zhang works internally for body acceptance, she believes the younger generation, especially in Atlanta, is more accepting than ever. 

“I do think, yes, there’s more people promoting body positivity, and more curvy women standing out being more confident with their body,” Zhang said. “Coming to college and coming to a campus where everyone is more open-minded and body positive … That kind of made me break out of my shell and be like, ‘I should love my body as it is.’”

Attride agrees that our society is becoming more accepting, referencing spokespersons and artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo. 

“You’re starting to see not only a bunch of people with different skin tones but also a lot of people with different body types,” Attride said. “I think it’s really important to feel represented, and that’s what’s really important to me, that we can give the representation to kids who are growing up right now.”