Yesterday this tweet was posted by the music artist Lorde in which she herself didn't see the necessity in her photo being retouched and preferred to show a separate, unedited image along with her statement that, "Flaws are ok." It inspired me to shed some light on what this epidemic of retouching, i.e. "Photoshopping" is really all about. In the extremely competitive world of photography, photographers are doing everything they can to make their images stand out from their competition. By retouching their images, photographers are not trying to make any sort of statement about facial blemishes, weight or other human "flaws". They are not saying, "Lorde's face is ugly, I need to retouch it for the sake of society.". In fact, photographers aren't retouching her or anyone else for the sake of their subjects at all. Photographers retouch their images so that they can market them to as many media outlets as possible. Those media outlets demand very high quality, "flawless" photos for their publication standards.
Every photographer wants the reputation of having the best images. I, we, they, all want a reputation for our work to be heralded as the best, so to photo-editing software we turn. It isn't because we necessarily want the people we photograph to be flawless, it's our photography we want to be flawless. As if we magically have some sort of talent that makes whoever and whatever we shoot come out looking better than real life. Well, photo editing software does that. There are even programs, apps and even some cameras now that have face recognition software that can automatically retouch someone's face to flawless perfection. Although the results usually aren't even human-looking and in fact quite often look ridicules. That too will change as technology becomes more intelligent.
In addition to every photographer's desire for their work to be regarded as the best and therefore hopefully acquire more jobs, there's also the notion that a celebrity being photographed might disapprove of images in which they look, well like they really do. We've all heard the whining demands in the media of certain celebrities who require their photographs to be retouched to so-called perfection before being published in any magazine or on the web. We certainly see that practice being over-endugled on most mainstream magazine covers. In this case, Lorde has preferred the unedited image, but that's seldom the case. Magazines are also in competition with each other to have the 'best looking' celebrity covers and photo editorials. So the standard practice has become for most photographers that any un-retouched photograph submitted for publication will be an automatic rejection...and usually is.
So to clarify the reason behind all of the photo retouching going on in today's media, it's not that anyone feels that someone's flaws are to be erased for the sake of societies' approval, it's simply a matter of marketing and competition. You as a consumer are more likely to select an apple with the most pristine and flawless appearance in the produce section. Ergo, the same theory applies in the magazine section. Every media company is just trying to climb above their competition by presenting the most-polished and flawless products. So much so, that "flawless" has become the new "normal".