It is admirable, and perhaps even courageous, that Lorde broadcasted this to the masses. There is a lot of debate on the ethics of Photoshopping models and celebrities. A lot of people feel that it pushes unrealistic expectations of beauty in society and sets people up to feel insecure about having imperfections that even the rich and famous share with them.
I totally sympathize with this point of view, but there is another side to the argument that is easily lost on people who aren’t in creative and media fields. There are commercial and artistic forces at work that will never relent and, unless there is a major aesthetic shift in the industry, Photoshopping blemishes is here to stay.
Even if we ignore the whole psychology of glamour that makes it appealing to present and consume celebrities as physically perfect, there is the issue of eliminating distraction. In photography there are so many techniques used throughout the whole image-making process in the name of eliminating distraction and drawing attention to the heart of the subject. It’s why good photographers understand that background is everything — the less cluttered a background is the easier it is to understand the subject.
If there is any rule in portraiture that must almost always be heeded, it’s that the eyes must be in focus. Literally every other thing in a portrait can be soft and unfocused, but the eyes must be sharp. Indeed, throwing all else out of focus is a very frequently employed technique in portraiture. The eyes are the essence of a person and if everything else is blurry it makes parsing that essence much easier because our eyes are drawn to the elements of a picture that are sharpest.
That being said, when I “heal” blemishes and re-touch skin, it isn’t because I am trying to give the illusion of perfection or make us mere mortals envious. The number one reason is always because temporary pimples, bumps, and blemishes are not the essence of a person. If I might choose to keep even someone’s nose and ears soft, how do you think I feel about things as transient as zits?
There is no doubt about it. I have been photographing people and never noticed a pimple until looking at pictures on my computer afterwards in post. It’s not because my monitor is more HD than my eyes, but rather it’s because we naturally focus on a person’s most identifiable parts, the features that are most quintessentially human.
We overlook imperfections all the time in real life, but without the emotional connection of having that person before us, we are more likely to notice imperfections because we are then studying not a person but a thing, not a real life scene but an abstraction of one.
Photoshopping imperfections is not always about making someone appear perfect, it’s often a matter of being as faithful to what you saw as a photographer and human in the first place. And that is, I think, nothing but honest and noble.