Picture Perfect (3-5)
Family Tip Sheets
- alter: to change the way something looks
- product: something that a company advertises and sells
Students consider how digitally manipulated photos can affect the way people feel about their appearance, as well as help sell products.
After learning that photos can be transformed on the computer, students first discuss how photo alteration can be both creative and, at times, deceptive. They then watch a short video that shows the evolution of a makeup-free model into a digitally enhanced billboard ad. Finally, students work in groups to analyze the messages on two magazine covers featuring digitally altered photographs.
Students will be able to ...
- recognize that photos can be altered digitally, and consider the upsides and downsides of this practice.
- discuss how photo alteration can distort our perceptions and affect our self-image.
- analyze how advertising uses photo alteration to help sell products.
Materials and Preparation
- Review the Gender and Digital Life Teacher Backgrounder (Elementary School).
- Prepare to show students the Colorful Lemon Visual. If you are unable to project the visual for the class to see, print out hard copies for students.
- Preview the Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty’s video “Evolution" and prepare to show it to students.
- Copy the Magazine Magic Student Handout, one for each group of four or five students.
PROJECT the Colorful Lemon Visual for the class to see. Alternatively, you may print out the image for students.
TELL students to imagine that someone posted this photo online. Underneath the photo, the person typed: This is what happens when you put food coloring in a lemon!
ASK: What would make this photo “real”?
- If you could really put food coloring in a lemon and have it look like that
- If someone took the photo of a real lemon
ASK: What would make this photo “fake”?
- If someone changed it on the computer
- If it didn’t really look like that in the original photo
HAVE students vote on whether they think the photo is “real” or “fake.”
DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term alter.
EXPLAIN that this photo was altered, using computer programs. Lemons don’t look like that in real life, even if you put food coloring in them.
ASK: Even though the lemon in this photo isn’t real, what do you like about the image?
Guide students to recognize that this edited image is kind of magical. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could cut open a lemon and see a rainbow of colors inside?
POINT OUT that altering photos can be a fun and creative process. We can use computer programs to make places, people, and objects look like images that could exist only in our imaginations.
ASK: What do you think about the message under the photo, now that you know a computer program made the lemon look colorful?
Guide students to recognize that such a caption might trick people into believing something that’s not true.
ASK: What if the photo didn’t have anything written underneath it? Do you think it would still trick people?
Students should recognize that some people still might think the colorful lemon was real. They might even think that some lemons are naturally like that.
EXPLAIN that technology allows us to change photos in all sorts of ways. Altering a photo can be a fun and artistic activity. But it can also fool, or trick, people into believing things that aren’t true.
POINT OUT that images of people in magazines, on billboards, and in commercials are usually altered. They make people look different than they do in real life. This is because editors and advertisers want the images to look perfect.
TELL students that they are going to watch a video that shows how this happens.
SHOW students the Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty’s video “Evolution."
HAVE students share something that they remember seeing in the video – something that stood out to them.
- They put a lot of makeup on a model and styled her hair
- They used the computer to make the model’s face look different
- They made the model’s eyes bigger and her neck longer
ASK: Do you think that the picture on the billboard could fool, or trick, people into believing something that’s not true?
Draw comparisons between the photo of the lemon and the photo of the woman. Both images were changed on the computer. Neither the lemon nor the woman actually look like that in real life. The picture on the billboard could trick people into thinking that the woman really looks this way.
POINT OUT that it’s natural for people to compare themselves to others. Sometimes when we see another person – in real life or in a photo – we may think: “Do I look like that? Does that person look better than me? Do I want to look like that?” But photos in ads are often altered to look perfect. We might compare ourselves to people who look perfect in photos, but they may not look that way in real life.
DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term product.
ASK: How might making someone look “perfect” in an advertisement help sell a product?
Guide students to make the connection between admiring someone’s “perfect” appearance in a photo and being encouraged to buy products for self-improvement. People who feel unsure about their appearance might think they need to buy a certain product – makeup or hair products or clothes, for example – to look better.
ARRANGE students in groups of four or five. Make sure each group contains a mix of girls and boys.
DISTRIBUTE the Magazine Magic Student Handout, one for each group.
ALLOW students 10 minutes to analyze the magazine covers and answer the questions on the handout.
INVITE a representative from each group to report its findings to the class. You may use the following sample responses to guide the discussion.
For Self Magazine/Kelly Clarkson:
ASK: What kind of message does this magazine cover send about how girls should look?
This cover sends the message that girls should put a lot of effort into losing weight, having perfect skin, and looking their best at all times. Students may be interested in knowing that this particular magazine cover was controversial. When this magazine issue came out, some people were upset with how much Self magazine digitally slimmed Clarkson’s waist, arms, and face.
ASK: What kinds of products do you think this magazine will advertise?
Students should deduce that most of the ads will be for products that make you look thin and perfect: diet products, hair- and skin-care products, makeup, and clothes.
ASK: How might a girl feel about herself after looking at this magazine?
Students should understand that seeing a lot of photos, articles, and ads like these could make girls uneasy about their own looks. They might feel they are too fat, that their skin and hair are not perfect enough, or that they need nicer clothes. They might feel that they need to buy products to make themselves look better.
For Men’s Fitness/Andy Roddick:
ASK: What kind of message does this cover send about how boys should look?
Students should recognize that this cover sends the message that boys need to be lean and muscular. They should have styled hair and tanned skin. Students may be interested in knowing that Andy Roddick commented that the magazine made his arms look much bigger and digitally erased a birthmark on his arm.
ASK: What kinds of products do you think this magazine will advertise?
Students should deduce that most of the ads will be for products that make you look lean, muscular, and perfect: diet products, fitness equipment, and hair-care products.
ASK: How might a boy feel about himself after looking at this magazine?
Students should understand that seeing a lot of photos, articles, and ads like these could make boys feel insecure about their own looks. They might feel they are too fat or too skinny, that they don’t have big enough muscles, or that their skin and hair are not perfect enough. They might feel that they need to buy products to help improve their appearance.
You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.
ASK: What does it mean to alter a photo?
Altering a photo means changing the way it looks. Computer programs allow us to fix, edit, and touch up photos in all sorts of ways.
On the positive side, technology allows us to edit photos so that they look like things that might exist only in our imaginations. But if people compare themselves to altered photos of celebrities and models, which are unrealistic, they might feel bad about how they look.
Students should recognize that magazines and advertisers alter images of people to improve their appearance. Consumers who see such flawless images of people may want to take steps towards looking just like them. They might buy products that promise to make them more attractive.
Read aloud the first three paragraphs of The New York Times article “A Real Girl, 14, Takes a Stand Against the Flawless Faces in Magazines." Explain that Julia believes altered photos can make girls feel bad about the way they look. She also believes they give boys the wrong idea about how girls are supposed to look. So Julia started an online petition called “Seventeen Magazine: Give Girls Images of Real Girls!” for people to sign. In it, she asks Seventeen Magazine to promise to always include some real photos – ones that are not altered.
Ask volunteers to say whether or not they would sign Julia’s petition, and explain the reasons for their decision. Then engage students in a discussion of how Julia stood up for what she believed, and how the Internet gives people the chance to share important messages with others across the world.
Have students imagine a magazine filled with real, unaltered photographs of people who look like those they see every day in the real world. These people would come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Everyone would look different, and no one would look perfect.
Students should design the cover of their magazine, either on paper or using an online tool such as Glogster. What would the headlines be? What image(s) would be on the cover? Encourage students to reflect on how they might feel about their own appearance after reading that kind of magazine.
Alignment with Standards
- grade 3: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, RF.4a, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
- grade 4: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
- grade 5: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
NETS•S: 1a-c, 2a-b, 2d, 3a-d, 4a-d, 5a-d, 6a-b, 6d