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Media literacy, or how to resist the influence of photo-shop

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Yesterday, Mar. 18, Huffington Post writer, Stacy Bettison, wrote a piece about seven take-away messages from recent photoshopping extremes by major companies and how to work against the insecurities that these alterations attempt to instill. With Target's retraction of a poorly photoshopped swimsuit model - to the extent that whole chunks of body parts were missing - has come a heightened realization of just how far companies will go to create the 'perfect' model.

In some ways, we can feel empowered to fight against the cult of photoshopping and there are even certain organizations that take a social responsibility perspective in helping to remove some offending images. For example, The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has dedicated efforts to becoming a "Media Watchdog" where the public is invited to write in about media in all forms that provides either negative or positive messages about body image.

One of their most recent successes involved a Change.org campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch's sizeist comments, which resulted in a direct meeting with the company and a revision of A&F's policies. Change.org has also has recently handled more petitions around photoshopping, body image, and weight bias, reflecting some of the growing concerns of the public.

The tide is changing in terms of what society will accept as people become more aware of and sensitized to this issue. However, for the individual, and especially for children and adolescents, we have to provide a way for them to see through the fantasy that is created for them in the media so that they can access the reality. This process is termed media literacy and it is absolutely critical in an age where children are bombarded with thousands of images and ads every day.

Perhaps the most critical part of media literacy is the ability to 'deconstruct' the ad or image. The Center for Media Literacy suggests asking these five questions when confronted by a piece of media:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently?
  4. What values, lifestyles, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Asking these questions allows the opportunity to process the image or ad at a deeper level rather than just allowing it to seep into your subconscious without reflection. NEDA also has a list of questions specific to body image for deconstructing a video or print ad, including how lighting and camera angle are being used. Most importantly they suggest:

  1. First making observations about the ad.
  2. Determining the purpose of the ad.
  3. Identifying the assumptions the ad makes and the message it is sending.

The culture of photoshopping and creating a false reality for ads and images is unlikely to change anytime in the near future, so it is imperative that we exercise media literacy and teach our children how to critically understand the media around them. By deconstructing ads and images on a conscious level, the power of that media is diminished so as to render it less destructive on their self-esteem and body image.

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