Sometimes a picture is worth one word: Lies

BlogHer Original Post

“A good retoucher can basically make the person in the picture look better, enhance the way they look. They can do anything. They can open eyes wider, make them brighter, change the shape, contour the face a lot.”

-- Kate Betts, former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar and a former top fashion editor at Vogue

We live in a world of glossy images, more so now than at any point in history. Slick visuals assault us from all sides – advertising, movies, television, magazines, internet, iPods and now, our phones. The great majority of these images depict the unbelievably beautiful, the incredibly fit and the jaw-droppingly sexy. Inevitably, we mortals marinate in this environment and wonder, 'Why don't we look like that? Furthermore, why doesn't our lover?'

Can we call such manipulated images real? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Many thanks to Jezebel for reigniting this reality with her post on Redbook’s shameful retooling of an already-lovely Faith Hill for their July cover. Taking in the jarring before-after graphics, I could hear the whiney echo of 13-year-old me worrying about her thighs: “Wah! Cosmo says I’m FAT!” I’m pretty sure I could also hear the distant cackle of Dr. Frankenstein, who apparently now works for Hearst Corp.

You don’t need a fancy study (though there are plenty available) to state the obvious: Magazine covers, and their contents, have a resounding impact on how young girls (and some of us old-timers too) look at their own bodies. It was years before I realized that the “Thin Thighs in 30 Days!” mentality only made me feel ugly and out-of-sync. Still does. (I also found that National Geographic and BUST have no such effect.) The damage is costly, especially these days when young girls anxiously shed their girlhood as soon as possible, striving to resemble music video whores.

Even former supermodel, Christie Brinkley notes the resulting tweaks in body image:

“They compare themselves to the girl on the page. And the girl on the page nowadays has, you know, hips this narrow and the tops of their arms are literally this small …When I started modeling, retouching was hardly ever done. It was very expensive … (now it) is getting out of hand.”

No word yet on how Ms. Hill feels about her digital makeover but other celebs aren’t as quiet. Kate Winslet openly criticized British GQ’s cover shot of her when editors reduced the size of her legs by a third. Kate was bravely quoted: “The retouching is excessive. I do not look like that and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that.”

Then there’s last year’s “slimming” of Katie Couric in the promo photo for her new anchor position. The CBS marketing department easily took 30 pounds off Katie’s waist with a few clicks. (Meanwhile, I’m trying to accomplish this same goal in real life and, dadgum! It is taking much longer.) Couric gamely told the Daily News, "I liked the first picture better because there's more of me to love." Meanwhile, Jack Marshall, of ethics training and consulting firm Ethics Scoreboard, had his own take on the matter:

"News and entertainment are converging, and we have to decide what code of ethics we are going to follow. In the entertainment business, people wear wigs and...we're used to illusion. But in the news business, it’s very important that...what we're shown in a picture is true. An altered picture is the same as a lie."

Illusions, indeed. About ten years ago, my best friend, Lisa, worked for a Beverly Hills ad firm that created movie posters and video/DVD covers. I called her one day at work and asked her what she was doing. “I’m shaving Selena’s butt,” she replied. Evidently, movie-renters were deemed unready to handle J-Lo’s now world-famous derriere.

Who is perpetuating this idiocy? Are these image-lies being told at the behest of male editors with warped ideas of what grown women must look like? That pat theory is far too easy. Fashion magazines and women’s periodicals are largely run by women who make these decisions.

Indulge me while I bring this all home for a minute. My family recently had a formal portrait taken and I’d worn a lovely flower print blouse with sheer sleeves. Evidently, the final shot – I was told – made it appear that I had tattoos up and down both arms. I thought my new ‘Biker Heather’ image was hilarious but my stepmother paid to have it airbrushed into Something Respectable. Fine.

When I finally got a gander at the photograph, I was stunned. I am, evidently, grossly overweight. (Apparently, I am the last to know since my idiot smiling face appears utterly clueless.) A family member, while looking at the photo, kindly inquired, “So, are you going to try and lose weight then?”

would be less bothered by the photo except now every family member now has a fucking 11x14 print framed and displayed on their living room wall. Meanwhile, I fantasize about breaking into their homes and burning every copy. True confession: “When they airbrushed my arms, couldn’t they have swiped off some around the middle too?” I thought to myself. So now, I am double shamed by this ghastly photo as well as this unhealthy urge to photographically alter my unsightly bulges.

The reality of physical imperfection is usually greeted with all the enthusiasm of an uninvited flatulent guest. It takes someone truly heroic, someone much better than me, to stand up and refuse. Someone like Jamie Lee Curtis.

Four years ago, she approached the editors of More magazine which is geared toward women over 40, said the following: “Let’s take a picture of me in my underwear. No lighting, nothing. Just me. No makeup. No styling. No hair. No clothing. Pretty brutal lighting.” JLC’s lofty goal was simple: “That people would look at it and go like this, ‘Oh, I get it. She’s real. She’s just a person like me.'”

Reader reaction was overwhelming. More Editor Susan Crandell has said, “We got hundreds of letters from women saying ‘Thank You’ and they were saying ‘You look like me’ or ‘I look like you.’”

In the accompanying interview, Curtis – once known for a cinematically perfect form – happily confessed: “I don’t have great thighs. I have a soft, fatty little tummy. I don’t want the unsuspecting 40-year-old women of the world to think that I’ve got it going on. It’s such a fraud.” JLC goes on to blame magazine editors who perpetuate photo retouching, what she called a “digital diet.”

“The fraudulence really has to do with perpetuating something that isn’t real anymore.”

--Jamie Lee Curtis
Actress, Wife, Mother, Real Woman re: photo shoot retouching

What can we do? What we do best, of course. Set the blogosphere on FIRE with this, ladies.


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