Body Wars: Attack of the Low Self Esteem

There are many things I don’t understand; why people chew with their mouths open, why women in body wax ads look deliriously happy whilst ripping the hair from their flesh, and why the Spice Girls split up (why, universe, WHY??). But mostly, I don’t understand why our inbuilt social navigator is incessant in reminding us we need to look aesthetically pleasing.

When it comes to my body, nothing is easy. Since I was a teenager my weight has fluctuated between sizes 10 and 14. In high school I punished myself for not having the body I thought a woman should have. I went through bouts of living off diet pills, exercising for hours on end, only allowing (or as I used to call it, “treating”) myself one meal a day, or starving myself completely. At one stage I managed to whittle myself down to a size 8 – and I still thought I was fat.

Statistics make it clear that the media is a major contributor towards our body images issues. This idea has been under the magnifying glass for a long time, but most recently because of the media storm surrounding a petition against the use of Photoshop in CLEO magazine. A 20-year-old student from Melbourne created the petition and managed to gather just over 21,200 signatures (so far). The initiator of the petition, Jessica Barlow, says:

“…Many of us didn’t know is that Cleo was altering the images of women to make them skinny and blemish free. The altered pictures make readers question their weight, appearance and self-worth…Studies now show that these damaging images can lead to eating disorders, dieting and depression… It’s time to put an end to the digitally enhanced, unrealistic beauty we see in the pages of magazines. Please sign my petition to Cleo Magazine editors calling on them to give us images of real girls in their magazines.”

Then, in this month’s issue of CLEO, editor Gemma Crisp responded with an in-depth six page feature outlining exactly what CLEO uses Photoshop for. It would be worth your while to pick it up and have a read, but the gist of it is: CLEO does not “change the body shape of any person photographed for the magazine; remove/airbrush natural lines, freckles or any other permanent features…unless specifically requested by the person photographed for the magazine.” It also says the petition is essentially accusing them of something they’re not doing.

Now, enough about them and more about me. While some women can link their insecurities to the media, mine have come directly from the people I love most. I was told my forehead was too high, my shoulders too broad, and that I looked like a boy with my hair up. I endured endless summers of overheating under my cloak of dark, long, thick hair which I refused to put in a ponytail out of the fear of not looking pretty. I have a vivid memory of a family member telling me that if I needed to buy clothes “that size,” then maybe I needed to exercise. I watched a loved one excessively diet and took note from a young age that she was happiest when she was thinnest. I’ve received more compliments for my ability to lose weight than for any of my academic or career achievements. I’ve cancelled catching up with friends, avoided going to parties, and faked illnesses to get out of social engagements more times than I care to admit, because I’ve been that ashamed of the way I look. I live in a constant state of war against my body, because does not measure up to the visual standards of others. And it is exhausting.

I’m not dismissing Barlow’s petition or the fact that Photoshop warps our self-perception. If I did, I would be rejecting the genuine experience of another woman, and ignoring basically every body image study ever (and I’m just not that kinda gal). And to Barlow’s credit, her petition has drawn attention to an important issue. But by putting all our energy into orchestrating a glossy witch hunt, are we missing the point?

Photoshop merely serves as a tool of distraction from the real issue; ourselves. We put ourselves down without even thinking. We comment on the weight/beauty/looks of friends and family as though it is our right to do so (or worse – we think we’re helping them). ‘Fat talk’ has become such an inherent part of our discourse that we don’t even notice when we’re doing it. When a friend tells me she’d do anything to lose a few kilos, I don’t bat an eyelid. After all, it’s just what we do. That, my friends, is not Photoshop. It is us inadvertently turning body-shaming into an acceptable prerequisite of womanhood. Yep, Photoshop is an issue, but maybe we should worry less about its presence in magazines, and worry more about our liberal use of it when it comes to airbrushing our attitudes.

I’ve said enough, now it’s your turn. What do you think? Is Photoshop the real problem?

P.S. We have Twitter! Follow BWA here: @breakwithaudrey and me here: @whatjanedid

Image: iamstarstruck.tumblr


  • Reply dj23249 Tuesday 4th June, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Unobtainable and unrealistic images but for ome reason we keep buying the magazines

  • Reply Brainwash Project in the Media « Brainwash Magazine Wednesday 17th April, 2013 at 9:44 am

    […] Body Wars: Attack of the low self-esteem […]

  • newbie
    Reply newbie Wednesday 12th December, 2012 at 1:57 am


  • Reply KellyH82 Sunday 11th November, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    great read

  • Reply Jane Monday 5th November, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Photoshop creates unrealistic images that a surprising number of people feed into. Many do not view magazine images critically and don’t take into account the hours of hair and makeup plus the editing of the final photo.

  • Reply Flutterly Monday 5th November, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Publication is always about image. It’s sad that we the real image is rare in most magazines.

  • Reply anatunkia Monday 5th November, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    i love seeing natural beauty now since it’s a rare sight with PS taking over most photos

  • Reply stephvel Sunday 4th November, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I am really not sure if is Magazines that have made me feel insecure but they may do. I have always had bad confidence since I was a child not sure what its stemed from

    • Jane Hollier
      Reply whatjanedid Sunday 4th November, 2012 at 8:23 am

      We seem to have insecurity built into us automatically, don’t we?

  • Reply yeri997 Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 9:59 pm


  • Reply yeri997 Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    i love it

  • Reply yeri997 Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 9:34 pm


  • Reply missmolly161 Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I don’t really see what harm it does to show real images in magazines?
    I know I wouldn’t feel better about having my image photoshopped before being posted in a magazine you can’t be proud of the image because its not 100% you in the picture, the moment your seen in person the difference will be noticed.

  • Reply MissChrisss Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    I’m thinking I should’ve picked up a copy of that cleo, sounds like it would’ve been an interesting read.

  • Trish_D
    Reply Trish_D Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I think young people especially have a difficult enough time just living their lives without completely unnecessary and unobtainable goals thrust upon them from outside their own environment. They have to learn to live in the real world, please don’t make it any more difficult for them with photos of mostly unobtainable bodies greeting them at every turn.

  • Reply Sietske Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I was saddened by your point of view. I think it’s awful that so many young women feel this way and that society feeds this unhealthy way of life. Everyone has their insecurities from time to time and I guess I’ve been really lucky that I’ve grown up in an environment that I’ve always been relatively comfortable with how I look. I hope one day there is less of a focus on fitting in with the mold of what society perceives to be beautiful and more focus on being beautiful for yourself and your own values above other’s opinions.

    • Jane Hollier
      Reply whatjanedid Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Thank you for your kind words!

  • Reply leckytomato Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 9:37 am

    believe in yourself.

  • Reply sonzie Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    i dont mind if it states it in the article.. photoshop being use.. warning!

  • Reply Zerotolove Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I don’t think some people realise what it means to edit in photoshop, or other programs. You can make people thinner, busts bigger etc. But using photoshop or another editing program doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a person skinnier/ more beautiful. A lot of editing has to do with lighting, skin tone, blemishes or faults in makeup, stray hairs from a hairstyle etc. People get so riled up when they hear that most images are ‘edited’, but to be truthful, most images do not come straight from the camera to print. Editing isn’t evil- people need to understand the difference between basic editing, and a complete over-haul. A photographer wont use an image that needs to be majorly edited- that takes a lot more time than people seem to realise. It is easier to take the shot from a more flattering angle, rather than to try and improve the shape of a model’s body in post-production. So before you shoot down any editing as ‘EVIL’, don’t forget that almost ALL shots are edited. Not necessarily in the way you think, too!

  • Reply foxoduck Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Photoshop is terrible!!

  • Reply Sparkles17 Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    You are brave, its a beautiful article and talking about it will helps a lot of young girls realise that what really matters is who we are not how we look.

    • Jane Hollier
      Reply whatjanedid Saturday 3rd November, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you, you’re lovely!

  • Discomilk
    Reply Discomilk Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 11:44 am

    great article, the petition sounds like a good idea.

  • Reply Whatthe Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 10:15 am

    She looks so healthy & fit. Great to see as other women can become inspired to be more healthy.

    Speaking of photoshop – Rebecca Gibney must request it all the time – except on the Women’s Weekly cover a little while ago where she really did look more her age. In one mag I read she claimed to never touch the stuff and in another mag I read she was proud of using it!

  • Reply T1NA Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 9:51 am

    i’m still having issues, even though i know that realistically it’s more important to be healthy than just thin

  • Reply amanda6393 Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 8:37 am

    As long as you’re healthy and happy, who really cares?

  • make up magic
    Reply make up magic Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Now knowing what good photoshopping achieves , i can never take any picture of any person seriously. It used to put me down as i thought why dont i look that good or why isnt my skin that clear, but now i realise that the image is probably just touched up. This whole photo shi\opping stuff needs to end.

  • Reply dj23249 Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Lara looks fantastic

  • bubsarella
    Reply bubsarella Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Photoshop & media outlets are definitely partly to blame for our OBC (obsessive body consciousness) – we’ve been bombarded with images of the so-called perfect body (size 8, tall & tanned) for so long, so naturally this is what we feel we must be, in order to be beautiful & desirable.
    Only in recent years has this begun to change thanks to the health & fitness revolution…It’s time to take back control of what we each believe “sexy” is & get some mind, body & spirit harmony happening with ourselves! 🙂

  • newbie
    Reply newbie Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 12:11 am


  • Reply ragdollbaby Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    What the? I would swear I had written that second paragraph?!

  • Fashionista8P
    Reply Fashionista8P Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    we should never compare ourselves to anyone else let alone people in a magazine

  • Reply cindyhu_1234 Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    lara looks amazing! great article!

  • Reply AmberB Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I love the Cleo cover – Lara looks healthy and hot!

  • Reply yslyenom Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Just be yourself, everyone has something that’s special about them.

  • DearMonet
    Reply DearMonet Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    No, Photoshop is a great tool!! I use it daily in my graphics work. As humans, even since Ancient Egypt, we have always idealized the human body! People need to lighten up!!!

  • sommy7
    Reply sommy7 Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Some magazines make an impression on women on how they should look and feel, others promote healthy lifestyles, I prefer the latter

  • hayley_shortie_22
    Reply hayley_shortie_22 Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    the media deff creates an unrealistic view of how we should look which is sad

  • Reply MsKimo Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    I just want to say:

    You are not your clothing size, or those stretch marks, nor that attention-seeking pimple, you are a beautiful person with lot to offer. Embrace your body, after all, without it you wouldn’t be you.

  • Reply maggielyly Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Well I agree that Photoshop can make many people feel bad about themselves but at the end of the day we should all love ourselves because we are all beautiful!

  • Reply jenniqua Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I love that photo of Lara on the cover of Cleo, because she does look like a “real woman” with real curves. I think photoshop is a huge problem and can be blamed for a lot of body issues. Wake up world, and teach girls to cherish their body, not punish it.

    • spunkx
      Reply spunkx Thursday 1st November, 2012 at 11:28 am

      I agree, it was a great issue too, loved the feature of image editing.

  • Reply KatP Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 11:22 am

    While there is still a problem with photoshop/media and models there has been a massive movement towards a healthy and physically fit lifestyle.

    Women in australia are much more educated than ever before and are looking towards exercise and consumption of healthy food (eg addition of more protein).

    Not many women around me are dieting by starvation to get a specific size but are toning up! Think squat for that perfect arse or light weights to get rid of those chicken wings.

    Everyone has different shaped bodies and to judge yourself by a size is ridiculous! Is your ‘extra’ weight caused by unhealthy eating, stress, lack of exercise or laziness?

    Women who are still judging themselves on being a size 14 or a size 6 are most likely under educated and the media should continue on a path towards a healthy lifestyle. If you dont know the benefits of exercise there are a million articles, just google it.

    Love who you are, be happy, live a healthy lifestyle and exercise for at least 30 mins a day. How can you go wrong with that?

  • Reply BellaB Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 11:18 am

    So sad you feel this way. It took me a long time but I’m okay with my body now – and I never felt this bad about it.

  • Reply vikki18 Wednesday 31st October, 2012 at 10:22 am


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