On her Facebook page, Karen posted a link to an article called "Supermodels Without Photoshop" asking whether women would feel better about their bodies if models appeared in magazines the way they really looked (even with the help of stylists, makeup artists, etc.) instead of in digitally-retouched images.
I thought about it. Maybe? In the 80s, well before Photoshop, I remember feeling about as intimidated by the images of Cindy Crawford and her cohorts, the original "Supermodels." And then Kate Moss with her prepubescent skinniness. I know there was some measure of photo retouching available even then, but nothing that could completely transform the way someone looked the way Photoshop does. Even if there was no photoshop, a professionally beautiful woman with access to stylists and perfect lighting, photographed hundreds of times to get that one perfect image, is still going to seem in a completely different league than a regular woman with a normal life. Especially when that normal woman compares herself to not one other woman, but to the whole pile of photographs, asking why she can't have hair like Celeb A and thighs like Celeb B and breasts like Celeb C but with the midsection of Celeb D. Especially when most women's romantic partners have access to an infinite number of pornographic images of Women E-XXX.
But I'm not so sure that the images themselves are the problem. After all, you only have to pick up any issue of Men's Health to see crazy, obviously Photoshopped images of guys with almost no body fat. Many men also spend a lot of time watching the athletic exploits of men with beautiful bodies. All athletes look great, because their bodies are perfect for what they do. Men don't seem to spend a lot of time agonizing over their bodies. They might feel a little sad if their pants don't fit or they start losing their hair, but they don't define themselves by their attractiveness. Look at an averaged mixed-gender group of people and the women typically look a lot better than the men but spend twice as much time complaining about how they look.
I think the real problem is unequal gender roles that send the message that women have an expiration date, and when we get too old and/or too ugly (and we all will eventually be too old), no one will be interested in us anymore, not just as sexual partners but as people. No one will want to hear what we have to say, let alone want to see us naked.
Why do we spend so much time focusing on media images when the problem is so much bigger than that? I think because the problem is so big and so depressing. It's a lot easier to spend our time grumbling that some entertainment writer called yet another gorgeous actress fat because she's carrying maybe seven more pounds than some other actress.