by Nick Millard

   Regarding the issue of shaping virtual identity, photo-enhancement is as much of a cultural phenomenon in the 21st century as social media and online gaming. Ever since the introduction of digital photo enhancement programs such as Adobe Photoshop, truthful identity as seen through virtual mediums is being questioned more than ever. This is not an assessment on the issue of female body image, but rather the negative implications that technology, specifically digital photo enhancement, has on the way cultural identity is shaped.

This trend of virtual self-enhancement is seen most heavily in female subjects. A simple Google search for “before and after Photoshopped celebrities” will show how much our eyes are fooled in pop-culture. Celebrities such as Beyoncé Knowles have caught much flak over the years for having a falsified image of themselves presented in online and physical media. Knowles has on multiple occasions been criticized for having her skin toned digitally lightened to appear as more universally wanted and “perfect.”


Beyonce Knowles’ skin tone changes on covers of different magazines


Before and After Beyonce Knowles cover photo

Men are not immune to negative effects of virtual enhancement, however it is not as visually present. In online media, advertising, and physical magazines, the public is more often exposed to the provocative, eye drawing images of women. Disregarding fitness magazines, which as designed for the niche audience, visual enhancements for men are much more minimal. Most commonly we see photos adjusted to mask aging in male celebrities. (I.e., George Clooney) The negative effects that are seen in cultural hegemony is most influenced by the way women are portrayed in media.


What used to be a luxury is now a tool available literally with the push of a button. With in the introduction of mobile phone auto enhancement and instant filters, similar changes have come to the everyday no-named Jane. Men and women alike now have the ability to visually alter their virtual identity to a relatively “perfect” version of themselves. However, some experts argue that true “cyborg-like” perfection will only come with using technology as a mass audience to break social objectification of the female form. For example, in the article The Little Girl from the 1981 LEGO Ad is All Grown Up, and She’s Got Something to Say, Lori Day uses the web to speak out against LEGO Corporation making their products gender based. Since the 1980s, LEGO has fallen into the idea that pink is for girls, and that their sets have to include ideas of social hegemony such as always having to look pretty through make-up.

This modern trend supports Donna Haraway’s elements of the Cyborg Theory. Technology creates a detached view of your virtual and real life presence. Perfecting your image unnaturally only reinforces the current cultural hegemony of the female image. The “perfect” woman as defined by the media is thin wasted, light skinned, and blemish free.  As suggested by Haraway, in order to shift cultural norms, one must take initiative to build up his/ her own self image and not fall into what media and society considers “perfect.” True feminism involves grasping the flaws of the human form, and judging perfect presence for themselves. The longer women let corporate media dictate cultural hegemony, the further away they move from reaching a cyborg level as defined by Donna Haraway.


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