MMA fighter and former former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey apologized to fans on Instagram for a photo she’d posted earlier this week in which her arms had been digitally retouched to look smaller. Rousey posted side by side pictures of the original and the altered version and wrote: “I have to make an apology to everyone - I was sent a picture to share on social for Fallon that was altered without me knowing to make my arms look smaller. I won't say by who - I know it was done with severely misplaced positive intentions - but this goes against everything I believe and I am extremely proud of every inch of my body. And I can assure you all it will never happen again. I could not be more appalled and hope you all forgive me🙏🏼” ESPN reported that a UFC spokesman said that it was not someone associated with Jimmy Fallon who did the retouching.
While Rousey has said she doesn’t want to be a role model—nor should we necessarily consider her one—in this case, she absolutely did the right thing. Magazines running Photoshopped images is bad enough, but fans expect a more intimate, personal and realistic take on celebrities when they’re the ones doing the posting. They’re looking for behind the scenes portraits of what their lives are really like, not the glamorized images or invasive paparazzi photos that were our only options pre-social media. Especially since savvy followers can often suss out what’s fake anyway, it really doesn’t behoove celebrities to rely on images that have been artificially “perfected.”
It’s especially important since Rousey has taken a stand around body image, so for her to let the altered photo stand would have been a slap in the face to those who’ve applauded her for not trying to conform to the conventional thin ideal. Last year, she told The New York Times that during her teen years, she became bulimic and wasn’t proud of her body. “I was afraid to show my big arms,” she admitted. But since then, she’s come out swinging to represent the strength, power and size that have helped make her successful. In that same article, she stated, “I swear to God, if anyone calls me fat one more time in my life, I'm going to kill them…If I can represent that body type of women that isn't represented so much in media, then I'd be happy to do that.” Her arms and a lot of the rest of her are on display on one of three different covers of the 2016 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Rousey’s message isn’t just for fans, though, but for those who insist on believing that thinner is better when it comes to women’s bodies, and that they are doing celebrities a favor by Photoshopping them. They’re not; they’re doing a disservice to them, especially when it’s done without their knowledge or consent. By making those assumptions, they’re contributing to harmful and unrealistic beauty standards and could even be hurting these stars’ brands if these deceptions come to light.
While Rousey recently told MMAjunkie that social media is less social and purely work-related for her, the Photoshop is a sign that she does care what her fans think, and doesn’t want to present a false image of herself. In that interview, Rousey said, “People on the Internet are mostly evil, and I don’t want to accept any of that negativity. I just use social media to put information out there, but I really don’t use it to receive it because people are really cruel with that access. I don’t want to allow them that access to me anymore because they really take it for granted, and they don’t look at you like a person. You’re an event to them. I don’t want to read people saying all the worst things they can imagine about me every single day. I just put what I have to put out there out there, and I don’t look at anything else.” Her reluctance to participate in what can be an incredibly vicious online arena makes it all the more remarkable that she took the time to issue this correction.
Rousey is one of several celebrities who’ve taken adamant stands against Photoshop. Last year, actress and singer Zendaya called out Modeliste magazine’s November issue for slimming her hips and torso, writing on Instagram, “These are the things that make women self conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.” Her statements caused the magazine to apologize and pull the issue from the stands.
Kate Winslet stipulated that in her contract with L'Oréal that her Lancôme ads not be retouched. Demi Lovato proudly posted a photo from her Allure cover shoot with the hashtag #nophotoshop. While part of me thinks it’s a little sad that we even have to have such a hashtag, that stars are using it is a positive sign. Meghan Trainor told the Daily Mail’s You magazine, “They won’t let me see photos before they are released. It kills me. I’ve asked about 100 times. One photo was altered so I looked tanned and I was angry because I love my snow-white skin – I rock it. There are a few covers coming out that I’m frightened about.” Lorde, like Rousey, posted dual images from the same concert, one retouched, one not, reminding fans that “flaws are ok.”
Obviously, social media users shouldn’t accept everything they see posted by celebrities at face value just because it seems more intimate and authentic. Anyone can be Photoshopped, whether it’s by their own design or not. After all, even Prince George’s image was altered by US Weekly when he was just nine months old. But we should applaud stars who don’t court retouching and actively fight back against it. It’s the ethical stance to take and, I would hope, smart business too.