Lena Dunham Photo Retouching Controversy: Enough with The Photoshop Shaming Already!

lenaFor argument’s sake, let’s say I’m an extremely attractive woman invited to be on the cover of Vogue. If you think for one second I wouldn’t want someone retouching my photo you’re out of your ever-loving mind.

Those red spots that tend to gather on my chin? Have at ’em, Vogue! That flap of skin hanging out of my dress near my armpit — my “armpit vagina” as Jennifer Lawrence would call it? Cover it up, please and thank you!

What I’m saying is, there comes a time when we all need to shut it with the Photoshop shaming and I’m hoping it starts with the most recent controversy surrounding Lena Dunham’s Vogue cover.

As you may or may not have heard, soon after images of the impending cover for the February issue were released online, Jezebel offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who would submit pictures of Dunham before they were retouched.

I’m not sure what the goal is there … to shame Vogue? A high-end magazine known for doing what magazines do, Photoshop all of their images? And why start offering pre-Photoshop bounties with Dunham? Because Jezebel is certain she’s the kind of gal who would need a butt-load of retouching? Can you imagine if someone offered a ransom for unflattering photos of you?

I regularly Photoshop photos of myself before posting them online BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE IT. You’ve done it too, haven’t you? It’s fun. And it doesn’t make me any less of a feminist. Quite frankly, the Dunham photos were beautifully retouched so Jezebel’s witch hunt amounts to what Juno writer Diablo Cody said on Twitter: “This is total mean-girl shit masquerading as feminism. I’m disgusted.”

In the interest of policing corporations that perpetuate the body shaming so many American women are subjected to, I think Jezebel got carried away and crossed the line into mean girl territory. And look, I get it. The site has done a lot to get the message out there that real women are beautiful; that media is doing more damage than good by Photoshopping and creating images of women that just aren’t real. But does anyone think Vogue wouldn’t retouch a photo that appears on any of its glossy pages, let alone the cover? Gisele gets the Photoshop treatment, people. And thanks in part to sites like Jezebel, we’re all aware of just how much retouching goes into the process. Which is why you could look at this “controversy” in an entirely different way.

Dunham makes her living off portraying a “real” girl. So just as Vogue’s brand is unrealistic beauty, Dunham’s brand is portraying the “real” girl we can all relate to. So for her to agree to pose for Vogue could be interpreted as “selling out” and a conflict of what she represents. Should we be shaming Dunham for agreeing to be on the cover of a magazine that we all know will retouch the photos of anyone who appears in its pages because that’s what Vogue is about? No. That’s ridiculous. Is that where we are as a society now? We shame people who we think are just a little bit too proud of being physically fit and if anyone dares put themselves out there as a champion for women they can’t get gussied up in the same way that actual models (and actual real life women) do? We should all just stop wearing make-up then, right? No more trips to the hair colorist, no more Spanx, no more Botox, no more of any of it because it’s just creating an unrealistic illusion, just like Photoshop.

I’m still trying to sort out who it is that’s doing the body shaming. Vogue for retouching Dunham (and every other model gracing its pages) or Jezebel for offering a disgusting bounty and then gleefully pointing out all the ways in which the photos were retouched which basically amounts to dissecting Dunham’s body?

Dunham responded to the controversy by telling Slate France the following:

I understand that for people there is a contradiction between what I do and being on the cover of Vogue; but frankly I really don’t know what the photoshopping situation is, I can’t look at myself really objectively in that way. I know that I felt really like Vogue supported me and wanted to put a depiction of me on the cover. I never felt bullied into anything; I felt really happy because they dressed me and styled me in a way that really reflects who I am. And I felt that was very lucky and that all the editors understood my persona, my creativity and who I am. I haven’t been keeping track of all the reactions, but I know some people have been very angry about the cover and that confuses me a little. I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing.

Bottom line, we all know anyone who appears in Vogue has been Photoshopped so if you purchase yourself a copy, you’re buying into the fantasy. Do I agree with shaving down someone’s jaw or elongating their limbs or slimming their waist into non-existence? No way! I also don’t buy Vogue. But if someone invited me to appear on the cover you can bet that I’d say yes and I’d definitely expect a little airbrushing here and there, maybe a little armpit vagina cover-up … Does that make me a traitor to the cause of fighting body shaming? Can I no longer consider myself a feminist? I don’t think so.

While I’m all about “real” beauty I certainly understand that magazines, from Vogue all the way down to Us Magazine, employ Photoshop to create unattainable illusions and it’s up to me to educate myself and my daughter on the reality of it all instead of allowing the media to frame unrealistic expectations of beauty and, as Jezebel did, attempt to create a controversy and end up becoming the controversy instead.

Showing your zits, moles, armpit vaginas and muffin tops to the world does not a feminist make. But if you that’s your thing, go on with your bad self, sister. Just don’t shame anyone else who makes different choices.


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