I’m Sorry, but Keira Knightley’s Topless Photo Does Not Count as a Win in the War Against Photoshop

I consider myself a somewhat fit person. I try to do yoga at least once a week. I bike to school. I force-feed myself smoothies (I’ve almost convinced myself that I like them). I also think I’m a fairly confident person. The mental image I hold of myself is, if anything, a little too gracious.

Damn girl, you’re looking fine today!

That being said, after unwillingly encountering photo after photo of perfectly photoshopped women day after day, sometimes I start feeling pretty freaking ugly.

This feeling of inadequacy, directly linked to viewing altered images, makes a lot of people wish there was a wider representation of body types in the media. We want to see people who look like us on TV and in magazines. And we want to see those people presented as attractive, not merely as comic relief or as a foil to the attractive characters.

That’s why Dove’s real beauty campaign has been so successful, even if they also happen to be the ones bringing you those incredibly sexist Axe commercials.

That might also be why a topless photo of actress Kiera Knightley received considerably more views recently [it was released in August] than it otherwise would have in light of her mentioning it in a recent interview condemning photoshop.

I’ve talked about the power of female nudity and discussed cultural beauty standards quite a bit in the past, so you would think that when I came across an article titled “Keira Knightley on posing topless on her own terms: ‘Women’s bodies are a battleground’” I would be excited that a movie star was sticking it to the (photoshopping) man.

Well I was excited, until I actually looked at the photo.

A cropped version of the original.

You see, I was expecting someone that looked flawed and vulnerable. Instead, I was greeted with a photo that looked like a sexy pin-up poster.

Don’t get my wrong, I really do appreciate that Knightley is using her recent topless photo to challenge the habit of photoshopping in Hollywood.

Something she has personally experienced.

The photo itself, however, reminded me of those people who “complain” that no one believes them when they say that they aren’t wearing makeup. It’s not an actual complaint, it’s just a reminder that they are so much better looking than you that they don’t even need it to look good.

In the same way, Knightley’s topless photo doesn’t really highlight a flaw, instead it highlights the way her “flaws” are not actually problematic. Yes, we now know that Keira Knightley does not have a porn star body. We also know, however, that she does have body of a runway model. Either way, her body type is something our culture decidedly favours.

Perhaps Tumblr user Pug Ugly N Cross Stitching explained it best:

“Keira [sic] Knightly poses topless, unphotoshopped to protest against air brushing.

Men everywhere share the article, because tits.”

The point shouldn’t be that Knightley is so attractive that people are going to gawk over her naked body, photoshopped or un-photoshopped. The point should be that we have unrealistic beauty standards.

When it comes to those standards, the issue has never just been about putting an end to photoshop. It’s been about challenging the way our culture only considers a small range of body-types beautiful.

Keira Knightley meets our cultural standards for beauty whether she is photoshopped or not. That is why I don’t consider her photo at all groundbreaking in the battle against photoshop. Don’t get me wrong, I respect that she refused to let her image be altered, but that doesn’t mean her photos can, in any way, represent the everywoman.

There are plenty of photos that do a great job of highlighting just how unrealistic celebrity beauty standards really are. Keira Knightley’s topless photo just isn’t one of them.

These photos Lorde shared, for example, are a much more effective protest.

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7 responses to “I’m Sorry, but Keira Knightley’s Topless Photo Does Not Count as a Win in the War Against Photoshop

  1. I was going to preface this by saying that I’m playing devil’s advocate but decided not to, because I really don’t agree with this post in its entirety.

    Now I will readily admit that as a male I am not speaking from a point of personal experience, but I find it hard to accept that just because Keira Knightley has “the body of a runway model” an untouched photograph of her topless can’t be a blow against the practices of airbrushing and photoshop.

    To target that particular descriptor of her to begin with, runway models are hardly the pinnacle of attractiveness that the fashion industry makes them out to be. Levelled against them is the same criticism that I’ve heard lobbied against Knightley, which is that they are “too skinny”. Furthermore, in the interview you link to she describes her breasts as being “so small” an additional mark against her when taking into account most standards of conventional beauty. Women in the comments section also took no small amount in the authenticity of them being different sizes, which is something most guys I know don’t even realize is normal.

    I’m not saying that she’s not attractive [she is, if not entirely my type], I’m saying that citing the photo shouldn’t be cast aside in the war against retouching simply because she’s good-looking. What would have been a true victory against that practice? Another question would be who exactly represents the everywoman? A topless photo of Tina Fey? Melissa McCarthy? Betty White? If the additional issue is the acceptance of all body types shouldn’t a picture of a thin-enough-to-see-her-ribs, small-breasted celebrity aid that?

    In general I view her firm stance against photoshopping her body to stand on its own merits, as it should regardless of her height, weight, bust size, etc. Just because she occupies a particular aesthetic niche shouldn’t bar her from being part of a shift in our cultural perspectives of beauty. It may not be the blow we wanted it to be, but it’s certainly a push in the right direction.

    If it turns out that I’m just trying to mansplain all this let me know, I’m open to both disagreement and criticism.

    • Mmm…I think you’re missing something, namely that even though kiera knightly isn’t super “sexy”, and doesn’t conform to the vision of womanhood that some people have, she still fits the vision that is expressed by 95% of the media that most (western) women see on a daily basis.

      So her words are important, yes, but seeing her unphotoshopped image isn’t nearly as powerful as seeing that of someone that doesn’t conform to that ideal.

      I mean, it’s great that she takes that stance, but there’s definitely a difference in scale/impact factor.

  2. Pingback: It’s My Birthday and I’ll Write What I Want To- | Culture War Reporters

  3. Evan is right. Most women feel that some part of their appearance doesn’t conform to the ideal. Someone had Keira’s boobs photoshopped to look bigger. Who cares if she’s not fighting for women who are overweight? She’s fighting against how elements of her appearance have been attacked. Skinny girls can feel bad about themselves, too.

    What you’re really saying is that she’s overall still appealing to look at, and so her stance against Photoshop is pointless.

    But isn’t the point that beauty shouldn’t be defined by one body type? By saying hers is the ideal, you’re just furthering the view that skinny = good.

    Maybe we should just allow her to have the body she has. She doesn’t have to be the everywoman. She’s just herself.

    • My argument isn’t that her body is the ideal, I’m saying she has one of the few body types we as a cultural have decided are worthy of being displayed in film. You will rarely, if ever, see an actress of an alternative body type appear in film without some sort of comment about her weight. That’s why I find it kind of exhausting to see her photo shared as if it is a big victory. I agree, I’m glad she is taking a stand against photoshop, but I’m just not sure it’s going to make that big of a difference when it comes to challenging beauty standards.

  4. I think it was great she did this, didn’t this come out around the same time as kim kardashians? That one was so photoshopped
    Anyways, I admire Keira because she has kept true to herself and loves her body enough to not do breast implants and fall into the big boob, thin waist big butt Hollywood craze she lives in. I can relate to Keira since I’m also petite and seeing her image really impacted me and has made me appreciate my body type.

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