Modern photography is the woman’s Panopticon

A pimple here, a dark circle there. I would never dream of getting plastic surgery, but I have doctored a few physical flaws for the sake of a photo…

A pimple here, a dark circle there.

I would never dream of getting plastic surgery, but I have doctored a few physical flaws for the sake of a photo album.

How could I not? After digitally correcting my red-eye with a single mouse click, I practically feel obligated to fix more, because it’s so easy.

So what if, in 20 years, my children never know how haggard I sometimes looked in my 30s?

But the question I am forced to ask, of course, as I slowly delete myself to a better me is: How far do I go?

Some people who may be asking themselves that same question are the buyers of Hewlett Packard’s Photosmart digital cameras.

For $500, they have bought the option of snapping their way a more perfect body — a skinnier body, I should say; or, more precisely, to owning the memory of a skinnier body.

HP’s slimming feature, which it calls an “artistic effect” can “trim you down a size or two” by automatically pinching objects in the viewfinder. No more post-doctoring on your PC. And no more diets.

“Digital camera offers instant eating disorder!” cries the headline at www.feministing.com.

But, girlfriends, isn’t this just our point-and-shoot catching up with professional photography?

Photoshop software already has a “slimming effect” that professionals and hobby photographers have used for years to knock an extra 15 pounds off an actress or blushing bride.

And airbrushing has been helping models and Hollywood types appear cellulite- and wrinkle-free for an eternity.

What this affordable slimming camera does is put some of that control over how the world sees us in our own humble hands. It democratizes doctoring.

And all that really means is that there are fewer excuses now for slobs like you and me not to look like supermodels.

With new visual technologies being introduced every day, there is much discussion happening about the concept of modern society as a “participatory Panopticon.”

The Panopticon, you may recall, was a prison building designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century.

The intent of his design was to encourage prisoners to internalize surveillance; to police themselves. This was achieved mainly by making sure they felt they were being watched by someone whom they could not see — whether that person was actually there or not.

The “participatory Panopticon” is the more recent idea that instead of a piece of architecture imprisoning us, we imprison each other through surveillance alone, using panoptic technologies.

These include, not only hidden surveillance cameras in banks and at stoplights, but also widespread amateur videomaking and picturetaking, a phenomenon that has ballooned in recent years thanks to camera capabilities on cellphones.

There is also “sousveillance.” This is when we observe ourselves or direct the technology at ourselves, as through webcams.

There is a growing movement that celebrates sousveillance as a reaction to the hierarchical technologies employed by police and governments — Big Brother — and which actually uses The Man’s own technologies to catch him behaving badly.

Even so, I would argue that the prevalence of both sousveillance and surveillance means that Bentham’s Panopticon is on its way to ultimate efficiency, being that it works pretty well at keeping lots of people honest without the prison walls.

We use our little recording devices to watch ourselves and to let other people watch us be good citizens – backpacking through Europe, smiling broadly at graduation, shaking the prime minister’s hand.

Furthermore, they keep us beautiful or else tortured and guilty for not being disciplined enough to be beautiful, which makes us spend $500 on a camera with a slimming device.

A good friend of mine suggested I should be appalled that HP disregards the “ethical issues” involved in putting such a “disgusting” option on its cameras.

“What ethical issues?” I asked, innocently.

I don’t see how any company can be faulted for giving women what they want.

At www.feministing.com, more than one woman wrote the website to defend the camera.

One, in fact, said she was ecstatic at finally being able to send home pictures of herself looking her real weight, rather than 10 pounds heavier, weight she insisted all other cameras put on her.

I have no doubt it will be a hot seller.

People will claim the slimming option just came with the camera, that they never use it.

But they will.

And in this world of airbrushing and anorexic supermodels, and video cameras in police cars that nail you for making a rolling stop, does it really hurt?

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.

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