Kit Steinkellner
January 07, 2015 4:30 pm

Did you think we were done with Photoshopping problems? Alas, alack, it seems we are NEVER done with the shenanigans of digital retouching, and the message it sends that an altered photograph is preferable to reality.

Now, the concept of Photoshopping “perfection” has made its way to YouTube with the help of the “Photoshop Surgeon,” a user whose video, “100 Year Old Lady Made Beautiful Again,” published in 2013, went viral this week, racking up over 7.5 million views.

While watching the process of time passing (or reversing) in rapid speed is utterly addictive, the problem with this video is the sentiment behind it. The title states “100 YEAR OLD lady made YOUNG and BEAUTIFUL again!” And the description? “Very, very old lady restored to her former youth and beauty.” Yikes. As we all know, beauty comes in all forms and at every age. And using Photoshop to further the idea that youth is exclusively what makes a woman beautiful is insulting and just bad news. 

Precision of language, please Jonas (as dystopian people are always saying in”The Giver”), this woman was not made BEAUTIFUL again, she was made YOUNG again, and if we’re going to conflate youth and beauty and say that they’re basically the same thing (which our culture does on the regular), then we’ve got a much bigger problem than some backwards-thinking YouTube video racking up a ton of views.

But wait, there’s more: The Photoshop Surgeon has been posting transformation videos that are pretty off-color for quite some time—clocking in about 26 million views overall. The most uncomfortable are the videos like “ANYONE could look like a SUPERMODEL with Photoshop” and “Big boned, plus sized, beautiful on the inside woman loses weight” in which the Surgeon slims down models digitally.

Why should we want to look like supermodels when we can just look like our awesome selves? What’s with this “beautiful on the inside” jargon, conflating beauty with something it should not be conflated with (this time, weight loss)? And as a side note, all these videos are set to creepy inspirational soft rock music that suggests we’re watching a touching journey of empowerment and self-discovery, when, you know, we’re not. 

Dig a little deeper down the YouTube hole, and you’ll find yourself on the Photoshop Surgeon’s website, and that’s where things get super-weird. The Photoshop Surgeon doesn’t just remove 80 years off of a stock photo of a women, this mystery character also offers services to customers, for a fee. For “radical” Photoshopping transformations like reverse aging and weight loss, it’ll cost you $40. There’s also what’s called “the golden ratio” where customers can be Photoshopped with the so-called “perfect proportions” for $25. It’s unclear if these transformations are posted to YouTube or if the Photoshop Surgeon’s videos are separate from the commissioned work.

Either way, the site promises more videos to come. While we can appreciate a little 2-minute digital magic as much as the next person, it’s concerning that web videos have joined magazines and ads in feeding into the Photoshopping, body-shaming cycle. And it’s even more concerning when they have the power to go viral.

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