What Ashley Benson Gets Wrong About Beauty

ByAndrea Garcia-Vargas

On Wednesday, Pretty Little Liars actress Ashley Benson took to Instagram to express her disappointment with this photo of her and her three fellow actresses. 

Her caption

Saw this floating around....hope it's not the poster. Our faces in this were from 4 years ago.....and we all look ridiculous. Way too much photo shop. We all have flaws. No one looks like this. It's not attractive.

She followed that upload with a second one:

Ashley is not the first celebrity to publicly denounce Photoshop — the outcry against the software has now become almost ubiquitous. Earlier this week, the Huffington Post profiled a photo project by an East Carolina University student showing the "most effective makeup kit ever."

And just a few months before that, this GIF showing the huge difference between reality and computer manipulation went totally viral.

Thanks to to campaigns like these, we all know that the results that Photoshop delivers are fake. This kind of image manipulation has been going on for years, way before parents tried to pass a "self-esteem act" in 2011 that would force the magazine industry or ad campaigns to put a disclaimer that they were using Photoshop, way before an 8th grader petitioned Seventeen Magazine to use un-airbrushed pictures.

It's easy to think that as long as we know Photoshop is Photoshop — not reality — our body images issues will improve. As long as we keep pointing out where Photoshop happens and keep asking for more "real women," we can say to ourselves, "The problem's going to be solved!"

We'd be lying to ourselves.

For our generation, talking about the dangers of Photoshop is beating a dead horse. We've been bombarded with Photoshopped images of models since we were young and watched L'Oreal Kids Shampoo commercials between episodes of Dexter's Laboratory and SpongeBob. I know better than to pick up a copy of Cosmo and think the cover girl's skin is really that spotless, that her hourglass shape is really that neat and tucked. We all know better. Don't believe anything you see in the magazines is the mantra I repeat to myself before I pull back the glossy cover. 

Guess what? That doesn't stop me from wincing at the cellulite on my thighs. That doesn't stop me from pinching my love handles with dread. And oof — those pores I see in the mirror now still look huge. 

On a gut level, our real bodies still scare the crap out of us. 

My reaction to images of these models is a gut one, too. When I compare my own body to their false beauty, I feel disgusted. No surprise there — the American Medical Society has explicitly expressed that many of these manipulated images are harmful to body image. But Photoshop alone isn't to blame. The problem is much deeper. Our body image issues reside in our own bodies.

Remember that UN Women ad campaign that used popular Google search terms to highlight sexism? One woman has drawn on this idea to create her own crowdsourced poster campaign on Tumblr about body-shaming called "Bodies Aren't Ugly; Bullying Is." Anyone can submit a poster of themselves on her Facebook page

See some of the entries below.

And nope, this isn't just for fat people — skinny people, you're included, too!

Poster campaigns like this one aren't the solution to our unrealistic ideas of beauty either, but they take us several notches further than merely condemning Photoshopped models. They force us to confront our society's own ugly ideas and stereotypes about different kinds of bodies, ideas that we may have otherwise inadvertently absorbed. 

We bought into manipulated images when we were younger not only because we were "impressionable," but because we had soaked up negative associations with things that were actually normal: curves, bones, love handles, no thigh gaps. Fat jokes are painfully common when we're young, but skinny-shaming is just as real. A snaggle-tooth is gross. Curly hair is unsexy. 

We have a lot of unlearning to do. We know that the bodies on billboards aren't real, but we have a long way to go to accept our own bodies, which are. That's one leaf I'll take out Ashley Benson's book. We are all beautiful, as we are.