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Loosing Faith: The Redbook Photoshop Incident

Digital technology has also lead to more controversial changes in the fashion industry. It is one of these unfortunate consequences that put Jezebel on the digital map.  (Johnson 2007)  The website was able to gain a great deal of media attention and a reputation off of a contest it held. The rules were simple. Readers were asked to find the most egregious use of Photoshop, and send in their submissions to the newly founded Jezebel. The results were, according to then editor in chief Anna Holmes, frightening (Johnson 2007).

The winner was a picture of singer Faith Hill from the cover of the July 2007 issue of Redbook magazine.  Previously, Redbook had gained negative attention from a cover with a doctored image of  Jennifer Aniston (Holmes 2007).  Although there were more famous stars in submissions for the contest, Holmes was struck the most with the picture of Faith Hill (Johnson  2007). For Holmes “the Hill image was perfect for Jezebel’s purposes, because you see what was done to the whole body ‘of a beautiful woman who is not 25 and starving herself.’”(Johnson 2007)

Jezebel posted an annotated guide to everything that was changed about Faith Hill’s picture.  Dozens of edits were made, from as large as editing in an arm to as minute as changing the shape of an earlobe (Tkacik 2007 b). The computer also took off several pounds, and whittled away at her figure to the point of changing her posture.  Jezebel’s frustration with the situation and their view of its inevitability is evident in their incendiary title for their article: “Here’s Our Winner! ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ In Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God”(Tkacik 2007 a) This type of egregious use of Photoshop is most common in magazines, as they have more time to edit each issue then other media (Reaves et al 2009: 59).

There are several reasons why this episode was seen as so troubling. One of the reasons was the  nature of the publication itself. (Holmes 2007) Redbook is a magazine intended for a more mature audience, one who should be able to dissect and criticize the imagaes they are given. (Holmes 2007) In a criticism written the day after the initial article was published, then editor-in-chief Holmes lamented “ that even in and on a women’s magazine meant for a more mature female audience (working moms, etc.) and featuring a more mature female celebrity (career-woman and mother-of-three Faith Hill) the lies and half-truths continue to be perpetuated”(2007). Even as a working mother of three, Faith Hill is not afforded anything less then perfection.

The problem lies in the standards that this sets, when editors use “ a little digital pixie dust” (Reaves et al 2009:56) Jean Kilbourne has spent over the lat 30 year studying the impact of advertising and media depictions of women. (Kilbourne 1999) She has released a series of videos explicating the topic called “Killing Us Softly”(Kilbourne 1999) In her third video, released in the early 2000’s Kilbourne  discusses the negative impact of the advent of digital image altering. While there were already impossible standards of beauty, the “image has become more flawlessly perfect in the ea of computer retouching” (Kilbourne 1999) Women are striving for an image that they cannot achieve because it is not real, but culture establishes that their only block is a lack of concerted effort. (Kibounre 1999)

The result of this digital retouching and unobtainable standards is a growth of low self esteem.  The impossible beauty standars thart “beauty equals goodness” can have a profound effect on formation of identity” (Reaves et al  2009: 58) A study of Canadian women by Dove indicates that “only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful” (Dove 2011)   This process begins as early, as a “girl’s inner beauty critic moves in by the time she is 14 years old and continues to erode her self- esteem as she ages” (Dove 2011)

All of this, according to Holmes, fits into the greater world of lies. ( 2007)  This incident embodies the full range of Jezebel’s tagline. It deals with a celebrity, on a fashion magazine, and emphasizes that there should be no airbrushing. As for the sexy, Holmes implores the reader to “look at the picture above, and tell us that Faith Hill is not fucking gorgeous and vibrant just the way God — not Photoshop — made her”( Holmes 2007)  As with much of the more serious content on Jezebel, it is meant to engage the viewer in a dialogue about the state of culture.  As an article about the incident on Vh1 said “The more you look at the touched up cover picture, the more you’ll wonder why we as a society like our celebs to look like straight-up aliens”(Vh1 2007) The Redbook incident embodies Jezebels’ critiques of the magazine industry.

Sources:

Dove. “Surprising Self-Esteem Statistics.” Dove Canada. Unilever, 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.dove.ca/en/Article/Surprising-Self-Esteem-Statistics.aspx&gt;.

Holmes, Anna. “Faith Hill’s €˜Redbook “Photoshop Chop”: Why We€™re Pissed.” Jezebel. 17 July 2007. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/279203/faith-hills-redbook-photoshop-chop-why-were-pissed&gt;.

Johnson, Steve. “Jezebel: A Few words with the editor [Chicago Edition].” The Chicago Tribune.25 July 2007: Web. <22 Mar. 2012 < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-07-25/features/0707230542_1_jezebel-gawker-media-celebrity&gt;

Killing Us Softly 3 Advertising’s Image of Women. Dir. Sut Jhally. Perf. Jean Kilbourne.Killing Us Softly 3 Advertising’s Image of Women. Media Education Foundation, 1999. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1993368502337678412&gt;

Reaves, Shiela, Jacqueline Bush Hitchon, Sung-Yeon Park, and Gi Woong Yun. “If Looks Could Kill: Digital Manipulation of Fashion Models.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 19.1 (2004): 56-71. Print.

Tkacik, Moe. “The Annotated Guide To Making Faith Hill ‘Hot’.” Jezebel. 16 July 2007. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/278978/the-annotated-guide-to-making-faith-hill-hot?tag=gossipdistortbynumbers&gt;.

Tkacik, Moe. “Here’s Our Winner! ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ In Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God.” Jezebel. 16 July 2007. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/278919/heres-our-winner-redbook-shatters-our-faith-in-well-not-publishing-but-maybe-god?tag=gossipphotoshopofhorrors&gt;.