Recently at an event in Doha, I had the pleasure of being very up close with and photographing former Miss World and Bollywood diva Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Though I was never a fan of her, she still dazzled me with her persona, grace and poise with which she conducted herself throughout the event.
I took some photos of her and shared on social media. Since I am not a big believer of photoshopping and retouching the skin, I left her photo untouched, also because in my opinion, it didn’t need any fixing. She looked gorgeous in person and through my lens — as she is!
The images went viral among her fans and got a lot of love and attention and, to my dismay, some of them were photoshopped and retouched. The fact that the images were plagiarised and used without my permission didn’t bother one as much as what was done to those images. Her skin was retouched heavily to remove any lines or wrinkles and even her skin tone was changed to a few shades lighter!
And that infuriated me so much that I had no choice but to raise my voice on the consumption of this false and plastic standard of beauty. The fact that there was a NEED to smooth out her skin and to make it look fairer was mind boggling.
What has our criteria of beauty become? Are we not ready to see (let alone embrace) any imperfections anymore? What is this obsession with fairer skin? What kind of an environment are we creating for our kids, who will grow up seeing these false, unattainable standards of beauty? Aren’t we making them insecure about their body image? Are we raising a generation full of deluded youngsters who will never be happy with themselves unless they see themselves through an Instagram filter or fix themselves with a beauty app on their smart phones?
I had a chat with ace Pakistani photographer Mobeen Ansari, who is known for his portraiture and also the author of two books Dhadkan — Heartbeat of a Nation and White in the Flag. He told me how he loved the photos of Ashwariya Rai that I had taken and shared the same concerns about the abuse of photoshopping.
He said, “I have always believed that portraits are landscapes of people’s faces. Having said that, I have always been fascinated by texture, lines, and wrinkles, all of which form part of a person’s character. I have never understood why there is a need to get rid of all that as it makes everything flatter.”
Ansari continued: “Personally, I believe that this would compromise the portraiture aspect and make the person in the photo devoid of character. This kind of filtering is done a lot more today. I believe that we need to take a step back and let the natural beauty be celebrated to its fullest. Photography is a powerful tool and it has the potential to either send a message out that we can either embrace the details, or we can set artificial standards for beauty.”
Being a woman and a photographer, I cringe when I see images of people on Instagram with filters that fade the lines and wrinkles so much that I often find them almost looking like ghosts. We put a filter on while taking a selfie and we hide the reality behind that filter. Why? There are no marks, no lines and frankly NO SOUL in those pictures. But people not only think they look great in those ghastly pictures, they share it proudly on their social media! I question again…what is the criteria of beauty these days?
Makeup has been used for ages to enhance beauty and as long as it doesn’t make you look like someone else, I believe it adds to a women’s self-confidence and frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. However, what we don’t realise is that the beauty industry works on making people insecure about themselves. This, in turn, makes them buy more products in the hope that they would look like the ‘perfect flawless’ images these companies portray in their advertisements. The more insecure you are, the more products you will buy to look like someone on the cover or an advertisement which is in fact, excessively photoshopped and unachievable in real life.
The fashion/beauty industry has been undermining our criteria of beauty and the perfect body image for a long time; however it used to be only in either print media or TV/movies. But now in the age of social media, the problem has aggravated exponentially!
The new generation is growing up in this world of social media, where they end up seeing these altered images hundreds of times on their phones. And the fact that these images are not only of the fashion models anymore but of everyday people in their lives.
We need to realise that we are creating a fictitious world with these heavily manipulated images for our younger generation who will inevitably grow up with low self-esteem. They will never be happy with what they see in the mirror because they will be used to seeing themselves and others through these filters. How will they not grow up to be dissatisfied with their body and looks — of course they will be — we are conditioning them to be!
How wonderful would it be that instead of pushing these false beauty standards to our younger generation, we would focus on passing down the value of being a beautiful person inside out. To be able to look into our own souls and be happy with what we see in the mirror! Wouldn’t it be nice to see the laugh lines on our face and cherish the memories of the times that we laughed? Having said that, how about instead of just working on the exteriors of how we look on social media, we take care of our body and soul — by eating healthy, drinking lots of water, exercising, being mindful and doing good.
How I wish the person who edited my photo of Aishwarya Rai had reflected on his “act” of altering another photographer’s image, rather than focusing on photoshopping her skin texture and colour. He/she could have made a better decision of enhancing the real beauty of his/her own soul.
We need to think about it, before it’s too late.
Shehar Bano Rizvi is a blogger, writer and photographer with a passion to see and capture the soul of people through her lens. (www.diaryofaPMPmom.com , Instagram @thepmpmom)
OBSESSIVE, EXCESSIVE: The difference between the actual photograph, left, and the enhanced image.