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Fashionably Informed: Retouching and Photoshopping

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Welcome to College Fashion’s newest column, Fashionably Informed. As a CF reader, it’s clear that you love fashion. But have you ever wondered about the drama that goes on behind the scenes? To keep you up to speed, this column aims to inform you about important issues and controversies in the fashion industry.

Model retouching
An example of heavy retouching done to a model | Photo Credit

The first issue we are going to tackle is the use of photo retouching in magazines and fashion ads.

We have all seen advertisements or magazine covers that feature models and celebrities who look a little too perfect. You might also have seen some images where the model looks noticeably different – perhaps their skin color is lighter than normal, or they’re missing a few fingers, a la Kate Moss’s daughter in Vogue. Or maybe you’ve even found images where the model is missing a whole limb, like when Vogue China amputated a leg from model Doutzen Kroes.

While these examples highlight extreme cases of retouching, these days, it’s rarer to see an unretouched image than a retouched one – they’re that ubiquitous and that ingrained in the industry.

History of Retouching in Photography

Although more prevalent now than ever, retouching is not a new development in photography. Before the dawn of the digital age, retouching photographs was rather difficult and time-consuming, usually done using paint or airbrushes to physically change the photo.

With the emergence of the digital age, retouching and airbrushing photos has become incredibly easy. Now, there are many computer programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, that allow the user to retouch their photos. Due to the extensive use of Adobe Photoshop by magazines and advertisers, retouching is commonly referred to as “Photoshopping.”

Controversial Instances of Retouching in Fashion & Beauty

It’s no secret that retouching is used extensively in fashion and beauty advertisements. You can google “photoshop mistakes” and get millions of links. Perez Hilton’s fashion blog, Coco Perez, has a whole category devoted to the worst uses of retouching, called the Photoshop Awardz. It seems as if every image we see has been manipulated in some way.

While too many publications to count have been found guilty of egregious retouching, here are two recent controversial incidents involving Photoshop use:

Demi Lovato’s Cosmo Cover

Demi Lovato's photoshopped Cosmo cover

Demi Lovato has been very open about her battles with an eating disorder and cutting. She recently shared her struggles with Cosmopolitan magazine. According to Jezebel, the interview states:

“So much has happened, and I’m really glad it’s over,” she says, running her hand through her long hair. “It’s been tough. but I’m excited to be in a more healthy, positive place.”

Of course, she’s referring to her stay at a treatment center at the end of 2010, where she sought help for an eating disorder as well as cutting and where she was diagnosed as being bipolar.

As you can see, Demi hasn’t chosen to hide her eating disorder struggles. But in spite of the fact that the Cosmo interview contains Demi’s description of her struggle, her cover photo appears to be photoshopped. In particular, a couple of inches of her waistline have disappeared.

Taylor Swift’s CoverGirl Advertisement

Taylor Swift Banned Covergirl Ad
Taylor Swift’s banned CoverGirl ad | Photo Credit

Makeup commercials promise us clear skin, perfectly pink lips, and long lashes. The models and actresses used in these advertisements attribute their beautiful features to the miracle product. However, as you have probably noticed, the products commonly fail to live up to these claims.

Now, it’s often apparent that the beauty product isn’t the only reason for the model’s exceptional features. Retouching and Photoshopping are usually behind the model’s seemingly unrealistic beauty.

The overuse of retouching is exactly the reason for the discontinuation of Taylor Swift’s CoverGirl ad (pictured above). According to ABC News Consumer Reports, the ad was pulled after an investigation by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Business Bureaus. The director of this division, Andrea Levine, said,

“You can’t use a photograph to demonstrate how a cosmetic will look after it is applied to a woman’s face and then – in the mice type  - have a disclosure that says ‘okay, not really,’”

Andrea is referring to the fact that the advertisement had some fine print, which stated “lashes enhanced in post production.” The advertisement claimed CoverGirl’s NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara was what gave Taylor her lush lashes, however, even the company admitted to the use of “post production.”

These Incidents & the Controversy

These two incidents are clearly filled with contradictions and controversy. Despite Demi’s open interview about her struggle with her weight and body image, Cosmo still decided to shrink her waist for the cover. While Cosmo is promoting her recovery in the interview, their photoshopping targets one of Demi’s biggest insecurities.

In the case of Taylor Swift’s advertisement, the controversy is that Covergirl claims that their mascara will give us, the consumers, lashes similar to Taylor’s. However, in that very ad, they admit that this is a false claim. CoverGirl is not unique in this – many companies have been found guilty of similar misrepresentation. Can we trust makeup companies that actually rely on Photoshop to produce their promised results? 

What’s being done?

These incidents are just a few examples of the public outcry against retouching and photoshopping – the issue is so widespread that there are truly too many examples to list, and the problem seems to be growing.

However, there are people trying to fight the use of photoshop in the fashion and beauty industries. In fact, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm recently started a petition asking that Seventeen Magazine limit their use of retouching. In her petition, Julia writes:

“For the sake of all the struggling girls all over America, who read Seventeen and think these fake images are what they should be, I’m stepping up. I know how hurtful these photoshopped images can be. I’m a teenage girl, and I don’t like what I see. None of us do.”

This young woman’s powerful words have caused 83,784 people to sign her online petition. According to the New York Times, this outpouring of support led to a meeting between Seventeen editors and Julia. And just yesterday, it seems that Julia won a small victory in the fight against airbrushing. As ABC News reported, Seventeen has pledged to limit their use of airbrushing going forward:

In the August issue of the magazine, editor Ann Shoket included a letter and body peace treaty that states Seventeen will “never change girls’ body or face shapes,” and “celebrate every kind of beauty in our pages.”

The treaty also promises to include behind-the-scenes photos on the magazine’s Tumblr page to show what goes into a photo shoot. The entire staff signed the pact.

In response to Julia’s victory, a new petition has been created asking Teen Vogue to follow in Seventeen’s footsteps. While the fight against airbrushing and retouching is long from over, it appears that – at least for now – magazines are beginning to listen to what consumers want.

What do you think?

How do you feel about retouching and photoshopping in the fashion industry? Do you feel that the “fake” images affect you? Would you prefer magazines and advertisements to use more realistic images? Tell us your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted on on July 6, 2012 / Filed Under: Fashion News / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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43 Responses to “Fashionably Informed: Retouching and Photoshopping”

  1. 1
    July 6th, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I prefer seeing not overly retouched photographs. I can understand if you want to fix the lighting, change the color of a shirt, or remove a mole, but when it comes to drastically changing a persons figure, or misleading a consumer in make up ads, it becomes unfair portraying something that doesn’t really exist.

    I used to intern at Glamour in the design department and I saw people just take a photograph of a celebrity and do major work on them. Though, I understand their POV, it’s very distracting on the cover to see a celebrity with major muffin top, get better fitting clothing! ____ celebrity, really doesn’t look like what you see, and I think people are just starting to see how drastic of a slim down these celebrities are getting. Let’s show our natural bodies!

    Though a lot of the blame is put on magazines, more celebrities should refuse to have drastic photoshopping done. They have such a strong influence, and to stand up and voice out that their proud of their bodies no matter what size would make more of a difference than a magazine not photoshopping their models would.

  2. 2
    July 6th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Great article!

    I have always been interested in photoshoping and I know how to do it now. It’s so easy to make someone go from morning-hangover look to perfect. I think drawing attention to photoshopping won’t stop it but will draw attention to the fact that young women need to be aware of how makeup won’t hide every imperfection you have. Giving this issue attention might also help young girls who battle with their weight.

    Looking forward to more!

  3. 3
    July 6th, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Isn’t make-up the same thing? Why should we ban Photoshop when countless of women use make-up to make themselves look like something they’re not? (Who is naturally born with smokey eyes?)

    Women have used enhancing techniques for millions of years (corsets, make-up, foot-binding, etc.) At least Photoshop is done to a picture and not to a real person.

    I don’t think Photoshop is the problem, but lack of education is. We should teach young girls that not everything they see and hear is real.

  4. 4
    July 6th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Love this article–great information, and it helps us become more aware of such issues. Please continue writing articles like this!

  5. 5
    July 6th, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Great feature, keep up the awesome work CF!

  6. 6
    July 6th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    While I agree that changing a women’s body (making her look skinnier, taking birth marks off) is horrible, I do agree that young women and women should be better educated on this issue. I myself have learned not to be bothered by this anymore because I realize that these women on various magazine covers and commercials have been enhanced by computers to make themselves look better. While I agree that women should be thankful for how they look and not want to change themselves, people do do it, and no matter how much we fight for what we believe in, people will still continue to do it. These images can be hurtful, but people have to learn that real women do not look like this, no matter how hard you try, and there is nothing wrong with that. When women start embracing how they look (I know, easier said then done) then we will find that this issue will no longer be an issue to us. Thank you CollegeFashion for bringing this up, so that we can start to educate ourselves on this matter.

  7. 7
    July 6th, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Great article! I recommend watching the documentary “Miss Represented,” which talks about how the hypersexualized/ beautified portrayal of women in the media is damaging our self esteem and our success in leadership positions.

  8. 8
    July 6th, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Retouching and photoshopping is okay if you are not selling a product. For example, if you take a picture of yourself and you retouch it a little, it doesn’t matter. But when the retouching is used to create a false image of beauty and/or sell a product, it’s completely wrong. Personally, I’ve never felt affected by these fake images. But other people, especially teenagers and young girls can be affected by this type of publicity. Magazines, advertisements and any other promotion of beauty or fashion products should take this into account.
    Nice post! It’s a wonderful new column!

  9. 9
    July 6th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I don’t think there’s problem with retouching, photoshop, etc. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, everyone knows that a majority of photos in magazines have been digitally enhanced. Personally, I’ve never had low self-esteem because of the “perfect” girls I see in the magazines. I knew no one looked that perfect, so why would I expect myself to? And besides, if I’m about to pose for the cover of a magazine that millions will see, and i’ve just sprouted a monster zit on my face, um heck yeah my photographer better fix that!

  10. 10
    July 6th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I’m genuinely surprised by the amount of comments suggesting that photoshopping isn’t really a bad thing. While I would agree that adjusting lighting or color (other than skin tone) is fine, the use of photoshop by these magazines to perpetuate the idea that we aren’t good enough as-is is WRONG. Even if a product isn’t being sold, a message is always being sold.

    The idea that “everyone should know by now that these are fake” is a cop-out used by media conglomerates to justify their shameful tactics, and I do not approve. Messages get rooted deeply into our psyche, even when we think we’re “immune” to it. These magazines are NOT worth it! But then again, I never read magazines and hardly ever use makeup, so I’m one to talk.

  11. 11
    July 6th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Thats why I don’t read any of those magazines they portray the wrong message of perfection. I prefer to go to walk and see the real world is so much beautiful and trust me I have seen beautiful person that don’t need any kind of photoshop to look really pretty :)

  12. 12
    July 6th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    All these people saying photoshopping isn’t that bad makes me sick. Girls aren’t stupid; we know these photos have been edited. But it still hurts thinking “why can’t I be perfect like that?” Photoshopping makes people expect way too much of not only themselves, but others. It needs to stop.

  13. 13
    July 6th, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Is is ironic that the as being displayed at the end of this post is one for retouching photos? Is that on purpose? I also agree that retouching is not that bad. People know about it, and should not expect themselves to look like the people in the magazines.

  14. 14
    July 6th, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    @Jessica You’re one of few; many females, regardless of whether or not they know most photos in magazines altered, still feel compelled to achieve the standard set by the photos. Some do not realise just how much the photos are altered.

  15. 15
    July 6th, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Jennifer – It’s totally weird and completely unintentional! The Google ad there is served based on “relevant content,” so it gets keywords from the page and displays ads that it thinks will be relevant based on those words. Definitely not something we approved or sold ourselves – will look into getting it removed.

  16. 16
    July 6th, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I really wish that information like this was around when I was a teenager so that I wouldn’t have spend so many years comparing myself to actresses and models on the covers of magazines. Now that I’m 20, I’m working on reversing the damage all the compulsive comparing did, and articles like this really do help. It’s almost all fake!
    I think that photoshop will be used forever because it creates images that sell products. A magazine can state that the cover girl will be spilling all her beauty secrets and, if her undereye circles and pimples weren’t photoshopped out, no one would buy because they would see that she is a normal human being, flaws and all. I do think that photoshop can cause problems, but it’s now very well known that everyone and everything in photographs is photoshopped. As long as articles such as this are around and widely available, the body image issues caused by editing should hopefully be limited.

  17. 17
    July 6th, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    The wording in Seventeen’s response was very clever. They can continue to airbrush, just not certain parts of the models.

  18. 18
    July 6th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2010/unattainable-beauty.html

    I’ve come to despise retouching. It’s given us such a warped view of what people actually look like, what we’re expected to look like, etc. It’s truly awful.

  19. 19
    July 6th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Good article! I wanna see more of these photos. It’s entertaining and disturbing. Light touch-ups are not bad (e.g. lighting) but changing the natural shape of a person is not right. Yes, educating girls is important. However, they are still bombarded with fake images in the media. It would be ideal to get rid of them especially since young, oblivious girls see those pictures. They don’t realize it’s fake and accept it as the norm. Even college girls sometimes forget photos have been retouched and the images reach their minds and become normalized.

  20. 20
    July 6th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone! I can’t wait to write more “Fashionably Informed” articles! I think it’s important to get a conversation started about important issues, like this one. And you girls are doing exactly that!

    Photoshopped images affect many girls and women, including myself. Like many of you said, education is key. Women should be aware of what goes on in the fashion and beauty industries.

    @Jackie I have actually seen “Miss Representation” (thanks to my roommate). I highly suggest everyone watch that documentary, especially if you liked this article!

    @Anne I noticed the wording as well! I hope that this is just the first step in their commitment. Hopefully, they are working toward banning the use of photoshop and airbrushing altogether!

    Thank you all again! Your comments have made my day!

  21. 21
    July 7th, 2012 at 12:09 am

    In response to all who do not believe that PhotoShopping is wrong, I am definitely a victim of the hurt that airbrushing can cause. I literally only read teen vogue and seventeen magazines to learn about fashion during my teens, and I truly had no idea the amount of retouching that was done. I wasn’t stupid; I was just completely uneducated on this topic. Despite being considered “tiny” by a lot of people, I couldn’t help but compare myself to these perfect models in the magazines. I developed eating disorders that lasted for years as well as body dysmorphic disorder that I am struggling to overcome to this day. I’m not blaming my issues entirely on airbrushed images, but they definitely were a major contributing factor.
    Thanks for this article, I really appreciate your willingness to educate about this issue, and I can’t wait to read more! :)

  22. 22
    July 7th, 2012 at 7:28 am

    @Erica: ‘I can understand if you want to fix the lighting, change the color of a shirt, or remove a mole’ Removing birth marks? Why? They are not something to be ashamed of. As far as I understood, everyone has them. Removing them is like slimming and changing figures in photos. Photoshop makes people look like polished mannequins.

  23. 23
    July 7th, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I really like informative articles like these. Photoshop is great if it’s helping with lighting or something, or background editing but when its done on a model I just feel like cheated lol. Like they’re trying to sell me something thats not true.

  24. 24
    July 7th, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I am so excited to see the addition of this new and important column. Photoshopping was an excellent issue to open with and I’m looking forward to future articles. One idea for a very of-the-moment piece is the issue of fast fashion and its impact on society, the environment, and the economy as most recently pointed out in the newsworthy book “Overdressed” by Elizabeth Cline. Keep up the great writing.

  25. 25
    July 7th, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for this great article,photoshop to some extent is ok but the way it is done nowadays is unbelievable, there is so much pressure building around us and it does harm us and our society. We should definitely get rid of this,educate ourselves well enough to make out the huge difference between reality and imaginery world.

  26. 26
    July 7th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for this article, and all the comments are so interesting! And to me, one of the most weirdo Photoshop adjustments is the changing of skintone – why are we whitewashing Beyonce? That’s a terrible message to send.

    I’m also reminded of a quote from Tina Fey’s book, where she says that feminists do the best Photoshopping because they leave a little meat on the bones.

  27. 27
    July 8th, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I’d also be interested in a similar article on the prevalence of whitewashing, in particular, the disturbing practice of lightening darker-skinned celebrities in advertising and photo shoots. I’ve seen it happen with pictures of Beyonce, Rihanna, Frieda Pinto, Naya Rivera…it’s really sick and disgusting and all too prevalent.

  28. 28
    July 8th, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks again for all the comments! I also appreciate all of the suggestions for future topics. Everyone has such great ideas. Please keep them coming!

  29. 29
    July 9th, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Thanks for the great article! I absolutely love reading about the controversies in the fashion industry. Fascinating!

  30. 30
    July 16th, 2012 at 5:56 am

    As a young teenager, I feel that even though I know these images are fake, I still have them stuck in my head when I look in the mirror. I’m pretty slim and I consider myself to be a pretty girl, but I still look in the mirror and imagine the teeth straighter or the under eye circles gone or the chest bigger or a flawless, smooth bikini stomach. I feel ashamed to admit it, because as I’m told constantly, I have nothing to worry about. If these magazines can make me feel insecure, I can’t imagine what photoshopped images can make girls feel that aren’t blessed with a slim body or a pretty face. It’s all so stupid; I would like to point out that it shows the insecurities of many celebrities if they let people alter their image. Yes, they may not have given consent, but they will still see themselves photoshopped but most don’t seem to do anything about it. They either want themselves to look impossibly pretty because they aren’t comfortable with their real bodies, or they simply don’t care what the images do to thousands of young girls and women – or both.

  31. 31
    July 16th, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! I do love fashion but I hate how the fashion industry screws with our minds all the time – you have to do this or that to be beautiful, if you are over 90 lbs you are too fat, those sort of things. In the past I’ve read posts and thought, well the outfit ideas are nice, but that photo is so so photoshopped and I wish collegefashion would call attention to these things more.

    That’s the difference between makeup and photoshopping. Everyone knows that no one is born with a natural smokey eye and so girls don’t feel bad if they don’t look like that. But photoshopped pictures are hiding everywhere these days and often we don’t realize it; then girls feel like they have to measure up to these impossible standards of beauty which the real-life models don’t even match themselves. And the problem is, even if some people realize the negative effects of this sort of media on women’s self-image, the fashion/cosmetics/beauty industry is not going to want to change. They make women feel bad about their bodies, women buy their products, they make money.

    But the cycle needs to change. I assume that you guys don’t take your own photos, but maybe when finding pictures for the articles you could try to use those that look more realistic? As much as I enjoy your general fashion/beauty articles, I hope that collegefashion will publish more articles like these that draw attention to the way we see our bodies and the way we see fashion.

    Everything counts when it comes to fighting the media so I’m glad collegefashion is doing their part :) Thank you

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