Putting on the Pounds, in Photoshop: Airbrushed Deception Works Both Ways

It’s like real-live women don’t stand a chance. It seems when inches are not being shaved off in Photoshop, they’re being added on. Is it any wonder that our body ideals are skewed when the photographs we’re bombarded with on the regular are not actually photographs but are more like photo-hybrid painting things that create an unattainable concept of feminine beauty?

Leah Hardy, a former editor of Cosmopolitan, wrote an expose copping to what she called “reverse photoshopping.” With “reverse photoshopping,”  she and her cohorts would regularly hide the terrifying side effects of malnourishment in models and starlets with airbrushing. Sallow cheeks? Sunken eyes? Make that full cheeks and a sly twinkle. Protruding rib cage? Smooth that out and knock her breasts up a size while we’re at it. Don’t mess with the 22 inch waist or slender ankles, but for the love of all that is healthy, let’s add some meat to her derrière.

In Hardy’s own words —

“When editing Cosmopolitan magazine, I faced the dilemma of what to do with models who were, frankly, frighteningly thin. [One woman was] so frail that even the teeny dresses, designed for catwalk models, had to be pinned to fit her, but her body was covered with the dark downy hair that is the sure-fire giveaway of anorexia.

Naturally, thanks to the wonders of digital retouching, not a trace of any of these problems appeared on the pages of the magazine. At the time, when we pored over the raw images, creating the appearance of smooth flesh over protruding ribs, softening the look of collarbones that stuck out like coat hangers, adding curves to flat bottoms and cleavage to pigeon chests, we felt we were doing the right thing.

Our magazine was all about sexiness, glamour and curves. We knew our readers would be repelled by these grotesquely skinny women, and we also felt they were bad role models and it would be irresponsible to show them as they really were.”

Hardy goes on to explain the widely woven web that’s brought the fashion industry to this dangerous place — the teeny tiny sample sizes, the models purging between being cast and showing up on set, the extreme expense that would be caused by calling off a photoshoot simply because its subject arrived looking like she might be at Death’s door. Instead, Hardy admits she and her counterparts continue to go with the caustic flow, using models as sketches upon which they’ve drawn beauty ideals that simply don’t exist, neither for the women in the pictures, or the women looking at them.

Hardy’s editorial, while welcomed, seems to shirk responsibility on to the models for being too thin, or the cranking speed of the industry machine as the perpetrator of the illusion. Sociologist Lisa Wade described Hardy’s piece as “an exposé about the practice of Photoshopping models to hide the health and aesthetic costs of extreme thinness.” Only the practice doesn’t end with those who are dangerously thin. Even fit and healthy models and actresses get the treatment, muscles softened, bone structures removed, bodies distorted beyond their own recognition. Cameron Diaz has seen the hard-earned v-cuts removed from her hips, while Keira Knightly refused to allow studio publicity to enhance her bust line in promotional materials for 2008’s The Duchess after she found her body unrecognizable on posters for 2004’s King Arthur. Madonna’s famously toned arms and resulting vascularity were removed from photos in a 2010 Dolce & Gabbana campaign. The more these practices continue, the more we as a society genuinely lose sight of what the female body is meant to look like.

A couple of years ago I found myself underweight for the first time in my adult life. I’d gone overboard while trying to lose my 80 lbs of baby weight, and lost 100 lbs instead. For years I’d dreamed of attaining a size two, but when I arrived there, there was an unpleasant realization waiting for me: I looked terrifying as a size two. (It’s important to note that while “terrifying” properly describes a size two on my 5’7″, medium-boned frame, please don’t misconstrue my words to mean it’s not appropriate on you if that’s what your body type supports.) My appearance was alarming to almost everyone that knew me. No one was giving me compliments any more. One person expressed actual concern that I was going to die. Still, I remember being annoyed about my ribs. Like, if my stupid bones weren’t so sticky-outy then I would look fabulous and feminine. For once my arms and legs looked the way I’d always dreamed about, but it was like Sophie’s Choice of body parts — in order to have slender limbs, I had to look like Cruella de Vil everywhere else: Freakish, emaciated, and dangerous to puppies. Okay, not that last part, unless the puppies were afraid I was going to eat them. Ahem. I’ve totally gone astray.

The point is, I couldn’t figure out why I looked so damn disgusting, as I stared in the mirror at my skeletal frame. Where were my curves? Why were my bones sticking out like thorns, threatening to injure anyone who might come near me? I didn’t look proportionate at all. Why, finally the size I wanted to be, did I not feel even remotely hot? Now I know. Now I know that what I was looking for in the mirror isn’t real. The size two version of myself that gets to keep my hips and breasts and creamy complexion is a figment of editors, like Leah Hardy’s imagination.

The Daily Mail’s Liz Jones described the problem we all face, and why it’s not as simple as just ignoring the images —

“I worked in the world of fashion, I put the head of a celebrity on a different body, I got rid of Heidi Klum’s crow’s feet, I plumped up Renee Zellweger’s shoulders. I even airbrushed myself for my editor’s photo. But still I believe in the reality of an image I see in a glossy magazine.”

So what can we do? For starters, we can keep talking about how unrealistic those images are. Below, a few before and afters that show you what’s being hidden from us.

  • Karlie Kloss 1 of 7

    Greg Kadel, who shot this photo of Karlie Kloss, responded to Numero Magazine's photoshopping of the top model as follows:

    "It was Greg's desire to represent Karlie as she naturally is ... slender, athletic and beautiful. That is why he released the images as he intended them to be seen by the public. He is shocked and dismayed that unbeknownst to him, Numéro took it upon themselves to airbrush over his original images. Greg stands by his original artwork and cannot stress enough that he not only was unaware of the magazine's retouching but also finds the airbrushing of Karlie unacceptable and unnecessary."

    Meanwhile, Jezebel's Jenna Sauer broke it down much more frankly -- 

    "One of the requirements for being a fashion model — at least, a straight-size fashion model such as make up the overwhelming majority of the industry — is to be very, very thin and very tall. Most models are at least 5'9" and measure 34"-24"-34" at most; Kloss is 5'11.5" and her measurements are given on her most recent composite cards as 32"-23"-33". To maintain this small size is something that different models face in different ways — but it is something they all must confront, a job requirement not quite like any other. This is not a comment on Kloss's health — of which we can know nothing, based on mere photographs — just an acknowledgement of the standards of the industry she works in.

    Images courtesy of Numero/Greg Kadel

  • Keira Knightly 2 of 7

    Keira in her natural state, and Keira as imagined by studio artists.


    Image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

  • Keira Can’t Catch a Break 3 of 7

    The slim actress finds her boobs enhanced time and time again, despite her protests and open dialogue about the enhancements. Chanel apparently felt she needed a little more mammary in this ad for their Mademoiselle fragrance.


    Image courtesy of Chanel

  • Madonna 4 of 7

    Dolce & Gabbana wiped away Madge's arm definition and years of hard work.


    Images courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana.

  • Kelly Ripa 5 of 7
  • Cameron Diaz 6 of 7

    According to The Telegraph, Cameron Diaz was treated to quite a makeover in the above images: 

    Face: Cheeks appear filled out
    Bust: Levelled
    Thighs: Wider in the picture on the right
    Hip: The bony definition has been smoothed away
    Stomach: A fuller, more natural look
    Arms: A bit more bulk in the arms and shoulders

  • Victoria Pendleton 7 of 7

    The Olympian wrote in Zest Magazine --

    "It still surprises me that we have such a narrow view of what makes women attractive. I've been photographed lots of times over the years, but one picture sticks in my mind. I wore a dress that exposed my whole back, and when I saw the photo on a screen at the shoot I thought 'Wow! My back looks muscly,' and I felt really proud. But when the picture was printed, my back was smooth and practically muscle free. They'd softened it all, and I was so disappointed because I'd put a lot of work into that! I guess, in their opinion, being muscly isn't that attractive in a woman. But surely if you take a picture of an athlete, you'd expect to see some muscle, wouldn't you?"


    Image courtesy of FHM

Article Posted 4 years Ago

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