After looking at actress Keira Knightley’s artful topless photo in Interview magazine, I experienced a little body image boost. Knightley chose to flaunt her underendowed, uneven breasts to make a point: Using Photoshop to edit celebrity bodies perpetuates the myth that beauty equals perfection.
She wants the world to see that she’s not perfect, and maybe women will feel a little better about their own imperfections.
As Knightley told the British newspaper The Times in an interview about the photo shoot, “I’ve had my body manipulated so many different times for so many different reasons, whether it’s paparazzi photographers or for film posters. That [shoot] was one of the ones where I said: ‘OK, I’m fine doing the topless shot so long as you don’t make them any bigger or retouch.’ Because it does feel important to say it really doesn’t matter what shape you are.”
Actually, in her field, it does. Knightley bucked the trend by not getting breast implants and publicly regretted allowing a 2006 movie poster for King Arthur to portray her with an enhanced bust. She’s beautiful and talented enough to get away with it.
She’s also setting an example of body acceptance.
Knightley joins other celebrities who have protested digital alterations to their images. Movie star Kate Winslet protested GQ magazine photos that trimmed her body to unrealistic thinness, and Brad Pitt hired a photographer known for exposing skin flaws for his W magazine cover.
The American Medical Association has taken a stand against digital body editing in ads since “such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents,” the organization states on its website.
That’s likely correct, but some psychologists have challenged the AMA’s assertion that “a large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.”
Eating disorder experts have pointed out that evidence is lacking to suggest that girls who look at a thinner Winslet or digitally enhanced Knightley are more prone toward anorexia and laxative abuse; they cite research suggesting that genetics — including heritable personality traits like perfectionism — play a far bigger role. Modeling the dieting behaviors of parents and friends does too.
But Photoshop has likely messed with our body image by giving us unrealistic expectations of a perfect figure that does not exist.
A 2012 British study found that women who viewed images of thin, rich women in magazines and ads were more likely to develop a negative perception about their own body. Another study published last year in the journal Body Image found that putting disclaimers on ads that featured Photoshopped models by stating that they were “digitally enhanced” didn’t prevent women from experiencing more dissatisfaction with their bodies after viewing them compared to a group who saw the photos without any disclaimer. On the other hand, a control group who viewed car ads, instead of models, experienced no negative impact on their body image during the study.
Decreased body image that results from viewing photos of ideal bodies can slightly increase the risk of depression and low self-esteem, according to a 2013 analysis from the University of Florida of 33 body image experiments.
I’m curious whether these studies would differ in their results if women were allowed to view untouched naked photos of celebrity bodies. That little lift I got from seeing Knightley? It came from me forgiving my love handles and belly flab from three pregnancies as I thought, heck, my breasts are better than hers.
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Deborah Kotz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.