Isn’t reality hard enough to deduce without Photoshop? Don’t believe your lyin’ eyes. Every month or so, another expose crops up showing how some celebrity’s image on a cover shoot was Photoshopped. People get all jiggy about it, and fairly so, I think.  We are being lied to; seeing is no longer believing. A picture is now worth about a dozen words when we were taught it is worth a thousand.

My husband has a side business as a photographer for some magazines and for glamour shots. He uses Photoshop extensively, and not only for fashion shoots but for his artistic photography. I’ll admit I’ve been tempted to have him ‘fix” me. And he has –for my avatar, which originally included my son’s cheek against mine. But that’s where I draw the line (heh). I figure, “Why?” What’s the point of even using a photo then, as opposed to, say, a picture of Ingrid Bergman?

Photoshop, as you may already know, is a retouching program that uses a system of layers, each iteration subtly altering the original image, altering what we perceive as the truth. There is already the problem of everyone’s individual perceptions– of the fact that a photograph is already an altered image because it is unnaturally frozen in time in a way we never see with our naked eyes. There is a theory known in physics as “the observer effect,” which basically states that the very act of observing an object or a phenomenon alters that which is observed. How much more so with Photoshop!

Our life in the industrialized world is Photoshopped in so many ways. Our media ‘shops the news, filtering out the total picture and focusing selectively on the “reality” they want us to see–like the old movies we see on television without Letterbox. We miss the scope of the event.  (Remember those rallies in D.C. that Fox news Photoshopped? They used Barack Obama’s Inauguration stills and claimed they the anti-health care demonstration. They could just have easily used Photoshop to clone sections of any crowd.)  And the media also layers a variety of contexts onto the raw story, depending on the bias of the network or the corporation behind it.

On the simplest level, we Photoshop ourselves—or at least, women do. We take our middle-aged skin and hair and add layers of cosmetics or dyes. We layer our bodies with deception—push-up bras, waist cinchers and sheer stockings to make our legs appear smooth and even-toned. We cap our teeth, get face lifts and boob jobs and hair extensions. What you see is not what you get. Underneath their clothing, everyone is naked. Do they know they’re naked under their clothing or have they identified with their clothing as opposed to their nakedness?

Aside from the distortion that our Photoshop mania does to reality, it also has consequences to our perception of ourselves. Most teenage girls can’t tell if a model in a magazine has been Photoshopped. The perfection is unattainable, yet they see it and futilely strive for it, making themselves miserable.

The Photoshop Diet!

We Photoshop our personas with possessions. “I am an intellectual—see all my layers of books.” Or, “I am cultured—see my paintings and CD’s.” “I am a success—I have layered an abode with architecture. I am contemporary, or traditional, or eclectic.”  We begin to believe our own Photoshopping and forget our own essence. We pile on layers of artifice.  Seeing is not believing.

Since we no longer grow our own food, we see only the Photoshop versions. Not only literally—on the labels of the food we buy–but on the actual fruits and vegetables, coated with a waxy substance to enhance their appearance. Artificial colors and flavors are added routinely.  Food is genetically Photoshopped so that it looks beautiful, packs easily– and tastes neutral.

Being a meditator, I can also use the Photoshop metaphor—meditation is like reverse ‘shopping. Little by little, I try to gently peel away the layers of thought and fantasy from my mind until I have a blank slate. I used to employ the mental image of my thoughts floating away inside soap bubbles; now I might try imagining them de-layered one by one, ‘shop-style.

What could happen to our perception if we reversed all the Photoshopping in our minds—beyond the normal state of thought and below it? Above the many layers of our physiology we might find the level of the pre-programmed automaton in us. We walk, we eat, and we perform numerous other complex physical tasks without needing to consider the minute details of every little movement. The conditioned, automatic layer also includes our personality, the whole complex pattern of thoughts, emotions, and mannerisms that comprise the person we believe ourselves to be. Living in our personality, we react in our typical and idiosyncratic fashion to all the events of life. Our personality operates as a restrictive, deterministic program, reacting to sensory inputs while harboring an illusion of initiative and freedom. Yet all these necessary skills embodied in our trained and habitual behaviors serve us quite well at a functional level.

At the next layer beyond that, some believe there can be found the sensitive energy, through which we can be aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body. At this level we already have some limited freedom from our pre-programmed personality: We can make real choices. The sensitive energy serves as the substantial basis for much of our inner work, as we collect, contain and transform it into our being.

Maybe we could find true consciousness in the next layer. This level of stillness and cognizance enables us to be both fully ourselves and fully in touch with the world beyond ourselves. Consciousness underlies and permeates everything everywhere. Like the air we breathe, we can open, through stillness, to this unbounded yet immediate vastness which makes us whole. When we feel ourselves to be fully present we might begin to touch consciousness. Uncovering layers and layers.

The layers beyond (or beneath) consciousness include creative energy and love. By emptying ourselves of ourselves, forgoing egoism, we may be able to surrender to something Divine. All these layers of reality and unreality impinge on the here and now. With limited vision, life seems flat. Photoshop makes it worse.

Leave a Comment

Please Login to comment
14 Comment threads
23 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
LiseLivesQuestiniazizyphusHITOwhatsthatsound Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Oy – don’t remind me Cher – (v. good post btw) 😉

All I know is that my domestic equivalent to Photoshop magic is : when I look in the mirror WITHOUT my reading glasses :

“A beauty” ! (I sez to myself) : “Ms. Thang” !
“A true work of art” ! ….singing : “I’m too sexy for my jeans” –

Then I put on my reading glasses.

EEEEEKKKK ! Who is that ????
You don’t live here, now, just git out of my bathroom !!


Wonderful post, Cher.

However, I’d say creativity and love are the ideals that we naturally Photoshop onto our consciousness.


Nicely put, Q – quite the poetess I’d say 😉


Hi Cher and Lise,

Since we did our “Three Graces Doing a Danse Macabre” yesterday, I added one final photograph at the bottom.

It really lets you know how lucky we all are.


Brilliant Cher and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In a few days I will be reaching what is loosely termed as “middle aged” that would be all well and good if I lived to be 100.

Often if and when I do go out, it has become such an effort to sit in front of a mirror to put on my make up and realize that what I used to do for myself, I now do for other people instead. I used to enjoy all that, now I don’t. Fulfilling others visual perceptions of me is no longer gratifying, the “bad girl” in me wants to go “au naturel” with my handbag full of pictures to show when I say, this was/is me.

Sorry, I’m in and out of a viral stupor and didn’t realize until I read all the comments that we had already chatted below on the thread. 😳


As one who has worked in Photoshop since it was released, I found your article interesting. It is very simple to create a visually compelling image without a single grain of truth in it, or to create a scene with many grains of truth surrounding one big lie. No, we can no longer believe our eyes when comes to photographic “evidence”. For that matter, even eye witness testimony can be called into question in the light of recent studies that show that we only see what we expect to see. Even the so-called double blind experiments, the holy grail of science, must wither when we examine them with the a new lens, one that includes the observer effect….so what is reality? Where exactly does it reside? Somewhere between what we hope, want, or expect to see and the events themselves, which will be interpreted uniquely by every viewer. SO, there is no objective reality.


And the truth shall set you free…or at least it’s supposed to.

I agree completely with your sentiments, Cher. It’s becoming a world of expectations of whatever the current “norms” are, with little attention to the respect and honor the newly classified “abnormal” should elicit.

Look into the mirror honestly: physically and spiritually, and deal with it. Whether that view prompts a change to be made, or a reassuring nod of appreciation that you are OK.

The community where I grew up was chock-full of bricked two story homes situated by the beach, with a couple of huge old style farmhouses, which were the first to have been built in the 1800s. The newer homes of my childhood were a couple of 60s contempo styled California-ish flat roofed homes directly off the beach…they were the oddities and reflected the latest styling values.

Over the last 40 years the community has been “shopped” with emphasis on bigger is better, so level the old house, put up a 3 story contemporary and make sure you have enough room for 4 cars to park in the driveway. It’s horrible. But it reflects the taste and cultural norms currently in play, with no regard or respect for the past.

We need to be careful what we “shop”. More emphasis on what is considered visual perfection for the moment is not the sign of a healthy society.


Would the “Balloon Boy” story also be considered a photo-shop moment?

It certainly should have embarrassed the corporate media!


This is such a good article, Cher. We live in a world of such technical wizardry that authenticity seems to be bleeding out of our society to the point where we may never even notice it when it’s gone. Think about what movies are able to do now. It’s mind blowing. Then go back to the stunts that Chaplin and Keaton used to pull. There is one of Buster Keaton on the front of a locomotive that stands out for me. No blue backgrounds, no stunt doubles. The risks those guys took was amazing! As was the art they were able to create.
We can see where all this is going, too. Virtual reality devices that enable our spouses to “look like” Jessica Alba or Johnny Depp. We’ve come full circle perhaps. 500 years ago it was a rare occasion to even look at ones image in a mirror, and now we’ve become so obsessed we are moving toward “mirrors” that only show us exactly what we want to see (Mirror Mirror on the wall, make me the fairest of them all!)
It reminds me of those old radio ads for Buick. The only thing missing is YOU!


Electronic “Photoshopping” has been done since the early days of the ironically named “Hell” machines of the 80s, then to become Hell/Linotype. Less and less skill is required to do passable alterations with every new version of Photoshop. Even to a 22 year veteran of print advertising like myself, it is troubling.


Prior to microsoft and adobe gobling up software companies to push their vision of the future, photoshopping, if I may call it that, was called “air brush out” and air brushing negatives was a high paid, high skill profession. So whatever you want to call it, years ago it didn’t take software. Of course the problem today is that for what it costs to buy the photoshop software, one person could retouch 1 photo with an airbrush. But with the software one person can retouch thousands of photos much more cheaply and nobody will know.


Heard about photoshop years ago, don’t have it and I think that it might have been cruel to Mac users. So many places I go to, hate Mac.

KQµårk 死神

Fantastic insightful piece Cher. It was an utter joy reading it. You bring up so many good points and express them far beyond my capacity. I think the layers you mentioned talking about in photoshop is brilliant metaphor to relate the complexities of modern society.

One of the biggest way people photoshop ourselves is how we present ourselves to the blog world. I’m sure many bloggers present a facade to the world that is unrecognizable to people who know them in real life. I always think how can you hate people even right wing trolls when you really don’t know them. I’ve said many times I’ve encountered far many more conservatives since moving down South. Some of them are still my good friends. In person the vast majority of them are not the evil people many of us including me sometimes stereotype. But get them in the battle arena in the blog world and a totally different person comes out. This depersonalization is probably a big factor in this country remaining divided even though we need to work together the most dangling on the precipice of the this country’s future.


I really like this article, Cher.

It’s thought-provoking and thoughtful.

I think the ACORN non-scandal is the most recent photo-shopped story that has been proven false, yet the MSM failed to mention that fact, and by the time the non-scandal broke, it was already too late in dooming ACORN’s reputation.

I think maybe the Van Jones debacle is another example perpetuated by Glenn Beck.

Would you also consider the misquotes by some pundits and politicians as a form of photo-shopping?

For example, Sarah Palin misquoting President Obama’s speech at the Nuclear Summit?

Or McConnell misleading the public about finance reform and previously HCR?


Hi Cher – very informative and kind of scary!

I have yet to recover from the “photo” of John Kerry with Jane Fonda – totally photoshopped since the original photographer had the negative that was “Fondaless”.

The capacity for deception became evident to me one time when I was testifying against some very prominent clergymen who had obstructed a women’s clinic entrance in violation of a federal court order. The video (their side’s) had been altered to the point WE had to get a video expert to testify about incompatible something-or-others. One of the men went to federal prison for that. But it was heavy lifting on our part!

I will say that my first STILL camera photoshop experience was also scary awful – do you remember the famous photo of OJ supposedly wearing the Bruno Magli (sp?) shoes? It secured his civil conviction. Well, it was phony. There was no such photo. It was done in a photo studio by someone I know who’d done the “makeover” who was SO proud of falsifying the evidence he had it displayed, and it frankly scared me that someone would do that to the point I said nothing. It was months after the verdict in civil court, I could not prove it, and I had no idea whom to tell. I was and am horrified at it all.

If photographic “evidence” cannot any longer be trusted, then whatever we admit in court must itself be on trial. It’s one thing to smooth skin tones and improve hair – it’s quite another to “prove” one thing or another in court – or the court of public opinion – with phony, doctored materials.

Brave, new world…