Marie Claire in France has just produced its first issue to feature unaltered images of models. However, its editor, Christine Leiritz, says her readers will be hard pressed to find any differences from its usual use of Photoshopped images.
Photoshop makes it easier than ever to achieve image perfection. But with greater technological power comes greater responsibility. And campaigners for real-life, unaltered images of women in the media are gaining ground across the Europe, with politicians and activists calling for a fundamental change of culture
One of Photoshop’s CS5 new tools, Content Aware Fill, allows users to remove any part of an image and automatically fill in the background. The results have been hailed as one of the biggest evolutions in Photoshop’s 20-year development (see our review on page 73), and they offer photographers and retouchers yet another tool in their search for perfection.
Now, with a few clicks, they can remove a model’s unsightly blemishes and wrinkles, remodel a hair style and recolour, build eyelashes, alter the position of a pose (using the new Warp tools), and perform virtual plastic surgery with breast enhancements and digital liposuction. They can smooth and soften skin textures, remove and add objects, such as someone’s else’s superior derrière – in fact, they can do just about anything they want with their subjects.
What these technological advances offer isn’t fundamentally new – photographers have always manipulated their images – but there’s growing concern about how this perfecting gaze affects young women and their concept of real beauty. Recently, the whole fashion industry has come under attack, from the runways to the studios, with politicians in the UK, France, Germany and other countries calling for the use of more representative body types, and demanding designers and editors run unaltered shots of women.
Marie Claire in France took a bold step last month with an issue that contains no retouched images of models and actresses – on its editorial pages at least. Tagged “100% sans retouches”, the April issue was devised to counter Valérie Boyer’s comments. Boyer, a member of the French parliament, hit the headlines last year when she proposed draft legislation requiring all digitally altered photographs to bear a label. The move would affect all ad campaigns, in a bid, she says, to boost women’s confidence about their bodies, no matter their size.
What’s the difference?
Boyer’s campaign targets fashion magazines, but Christine Leiritz, Marie Clarie’s managing editor, believes this is unfair. “Women in this issue, unknown or famous, have agreed to show their unaltered selves,” she writes in the April issue. “Admire the results and judge for yourself. Is this issue of Marie Claire, while unique and exceptional, really different from the preceding ones? No. We’re not even sure that if we hadn’t added the tagline ‘unaltered images’ you would have perceived any change at all."
Leiritz is probably right, but unlike a 2009 experiment by French Elle – which featured six celebrities, on six different covers, without make-up or retouching – all of those photographed are still wearing make-up and who are sympathetically lit.
“There is a huge amount of pressure on our young girls,” says Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire. Swinson has been at the forefront of the Real Women Campaign for Body Confidence, calling for all airbrushed images to carry a “label telling people the extent to which the image has been altered”. Swinson adds that body image pressure – with its obsession with thinness, perfect skin and shiny hair – can lead to low self -esteem and eating disorders.
Susan Ringwood, chief executive at B-eat, a UK charity for people with eating disorders, agrees, and says she would welcome a label alerting people to the fact that an image has been retouched. “Photoshop retouching is the modern-day equivalent of make-up,” she says. “We don’t have a problem with images looking beautiful, but when the entire shape of a body is altered, we find this difficult to accept. When the body is made taller and thinner to the point that it becomes unrealistic and unhealthy, that’s where we would draw the line.
“We don’t have anything against improving an image to make it look good. We all know images are altered, but until we are shown what has been changed, we don’t know. The label could even be: ‘This photo has not been altered’.”
Ringwood and Swinson also have a problem with the models used by the leading fashion titles. “Magazines should be able to show more diversity and more variety in the models they use,” says Ringwood. “It would be healthier for everyone. One of the issues I have is when I hear ‘thin people are not real’. They are, and they should be seen in the magazines. But it shouldn’t be the only image we see. Let’s see people in their natural state. We shouldn’t ban slender people, but let’s not have a single body shape out there.”
Brigitte, Germany’s most popular fashion magazine, did just that earlier this year. It stopped using models, instead favouring real-life women, in a move orchestrated by editor-in-chief Andreas Lebert. “For years we’ve had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up, especially their thighs, and décolletage,” he said, announcing the change. “But this is disturbing and perverse, and what has it got to do with our real readers? Today’s models weigh around 23% less than normal women. The whole model industry is anorexic.”
Laurie Kuhrt, chairman of the UK-based Association of Model Agents, finds this insulting, not solely to the models, but also to anorexic teenagers. “We need to stop associating thin people with anorexics,” he tells BJP. “To do so is disgraceful. It’s insulting to the models and to anorexics, as this is a serious health issue.” Kuhrt believes the industry shouldn’t apologise for models’ forms and beauty. “Is it realistic to put a limit on model sizes? What limit should we put then? Models are usually taller and thinner. That’s why our scouts go find these Eastern European girls who have an unusual metabolism. Taller and thinner bodies show clothes to their greater advantages.
“Putting a label on retouched images is an absurd idea,” Kuhrt continues. “First, there’s no point in retouching the models we represent. An agent will send the model that fits the client’s needs – he wouldn’t be a good agent if he sent someone that needed to be retouched. If we had a label that said that this image had been retouched, readers would assume that the model doesn’t look like that. Plus, it’s a trivial issue for members of parliament.”
Ringwood disagrees. “We know fashion doesn’t [actually] cause eating disorders, but it has a powerful influence, especially on people that are trying to heal,” she argues. “They see these images of very thin girls and ask, ‘how can I be ill when these girls are accepted as being healthy?’.”
For Swinson, the issue is so serious that she believes it should be regulated – either voluntarily or by law. “The best way would be through self-regulation,” she says. “Legislation isn’t necessarily the best way, but it could ultimately be used if the industry refused. We need to change the culture of the media we consume and get the catwalks to pledge to change.”
But despite Boyer and Swinson’s good intentions, Marie Claire’s managing editor says the problem lies with society as a whole rather than with magazines. “The day when a obese woman will be allowed to use two seats in a plane with caring looks, the day when a 50-year-old woman bearing the marks of time will have the same chances at a job interview as a 20-year-old one, the day when we’ll be able to be ugly and shy and still receive the same care as an extroverted top model, the day
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