Fashionably Informed: Retouching and Photoshopping

Publish date:

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.

Related Stories