Nikki Catsouras is a well-known and respected figure in the fashion photography world. Her work has been published in Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, GQ and many more. She is also an incredibly talented Photoshop artist who uses her skills for good by creating beautiful photos that help people feel better about themselves. In the past few weeks, however, Nikki has found herself at the center of an internet firestorm over some of her recent photos on Instagram. The debate centers around two images — one showing a young girl’s arm digitally overlaid onto another model’s body; and another showing a young boy’s legs extending out from behind a chair to show how old he really is. These are not only questionable photo manipulations but they are also extremely age inappropriate as well.
Why are these photos controversial?
The first photo in question shows a young girl’s arm digitally overlaid onto another model’s body. As with all Photoshop manipulations, some people are okay with this kind of thing because they believe that it is an artistic use of digital technology. Others, however, find it to be completely inappropriate because it is a gross, almost pedophilic exploitation of the model. Many people have called out Nikki Catsouras for being irresponsible for posting this image and for sending the message that girls are sexual objects simply by having their arms on display. The second image in question shows a young boy’s legs extending out from behind a chair to show how old he really is. Again, many people are upset over this photo because it is an extremely inappropriate use of a child’s image and because it is an even grosser exploitation of a child. This image is particularly gross because it shows a young boy lying on the ground, his legs positioned behind a chair to make it appear as though he is much older than he really is.
The Photoshopped Images
Both of these images are Photoshopped images. What that means is that they are not photographs of real people; they are computer-generated images. And like all computer-generated images, they can be edited and manipulated to look however the creator wants them to look. The arm image shows how it would look if the model’s arm was placed on the other woman’s body. This is not a particularly offensive or inappropriate thing to do. It may not be the best photo composition, but it is not wrong. In the second image, the boy’s legs extend out from behind a chair to show how old he really is. This, on the other hand, is an extremely inappropriate photo manipulation and it sends the wrong message about children and about age. It is not okay to exploit children in this way, and Photoshop is not an excuse for doing so.
Nikki Catsouras’ Response to Criticism
In response to the criticism, Catsouras posted two photos on Instagram defending her work as art. In one of these photos, she captioned it “What if your mom took your photo at age 7 and she’s now 62?” In this photo, the model’s mother’s arm is placed on the child’s body so that the child appears much older than she really is. Catsouras’ caption was meant to make the photo seem more artistic and less exploitative. However, many people still found this image to be disturbing. They found it to be an example of ageism, and they also found it to be extremely inappropriate for using a child’s image in this way. The same thing can be said about Catsouras’ other Instagram caption that responded to the criticism: “If you are ok with certain images, then it’s your responsibility to explore different ones.” This line of thinking misses the point. If a person is not okay with certain images, that person should be able to explore different ones that don’t include those images.
What we are seeing here is an example of the power that social media has to influence and affect people’s lifestyles and beliefs. In the past, people may have felt much safer with the status quo and with what was considered acceptable. But thanks to social media, people are now much more aware of their rights and of the changes that need to be made. More than ever before, people need to be aware of the kind of messages that they send and the kind of images that they share. Photoshopped images are often harmless, and many times they are even helpful. However, sometimes the best thing that we can do is to keep them to ourselves and to instead share and explore different kinds of photos.