Retouching. Would you ban it altogether?

by Aly Hazlewood on November 30, 2011

Today I came across an illuminating article in the Daily Mail online (yes, yes alright, it’s my guilty pleasure. I love to hate it.) Obviously I work in the industry and am all too aware of the level of retouching involved in every shoot that takes place. No-one is left un-retouched anymore. But even I get sucked in when I see perfect images of beauty plastered across fashion magazines. It’s hard not to. We are hard-wired to believe what we see with our eyes, our brains are very easily tricked.

So the next time you’re having a bad hair day / bad face day / fat day, just take a moment to remind yourself that you can’t possibly live up to these images of beauty BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT REAL! Far better to build up a robust sense of self and one’s place in the world than agonize over the size of one’s thighs / drooping eyelids / frizzy hair. Easier said than done I concede, but nonetheless,¬†absolutely imperative for a happy life.

Let’s just take a look at La Moss (who, I might add, I absolutely love. She has always been one of my favourite models for myriad reasons, and I think she’s looks amazing in the before picture, but this is just to illustrate my point…)

This is real-life Kate un-retouched, looking like a sexy 30-something woman. A few wrinkles, a few furrows, all normal stuff for a woman of her age.

This is Kate in a Spring 2011 Longchamp campaign. Perfect. Flawless. Eternally youthful. And I wonder, how many of us would actually like to see Kate in the Longchamp campaign looking exactly as she does in real life? Do we prefer her to appear supernaturally immaculate? Is there some part of us that takes a perverse pleasure in mentally comparing ourselves and endlessly falling short?

One of the first things that women (models not included) usually say to me when they sit in my make up chair is “Sorry Aly, you’ve got a right old job on your hands here!”. It never fails to amaze me that the very first thing a woman will do is put herself down. I think it’s almost built into our collective female psyche to self-flagellate. And dare I say it, I think we sort of enjoy it. If you were in charge of the world, would you ban retouching altogether?

I’d love to know what you think about this.

You can read the full Daily Mail article here.


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Freya November 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm

It’s such a tricky subject and one on which I definitely have conflicting views.
On the one hand I think the high level of retouching that’s used on models today is awful. Magazines are covered in these beautiful images which are then pushed in our faces everyday, as if it’s not hard enough being a female today without feeling constantly feeling second best to gorgeous models and celebs. I think it’s yet another factor which adds to every womans insecurity about her image. It just presents beauty to be something ‘natural’ and attainable, when really it’s made by a computer. On no level can this be healthy to self-confidence.
Buuuuut…I do think when you look at models there is some expectation of viewing a flawless, ‘perfect’ looking woman, as it’s the nature of what a model is, so a little retouching can be expected.
I think the issue is its over-use, as its not just used on models but everyone, which makes women (and men actually) feel they can’t attain normal levels of beauty which is just nonsense.
And the fact that you as a make-up artist with full knowledge of its going on can still get sucked in by re-touching just sums how powerful and effecting it can be on someones self-image.
Rant over!

Lucy November 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Fellow makeup artist here. I remember when I first starred doing makeup and retouching wasn’t nearly as common place as it is now. I have no issues with it. Back in the day they were painting over negatives to get the same results. Digital imaging just makes it easier so
I think sometimes it’s taken too far.

Bottom line is that magazines and campaigns are trying to get people to buy into an ideal. A fantasy land were everyone is eternally beautiful and rich. I see enough cellulite and bad skin at home I don’t want to see my favourite celebs looking like real humans. I do think that adverts should carry small print saying they’ve been retouched though. I think it would make people feel less hideous in comparison.

Claire99 November 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

This is so interesting – of course you know that some retouching takes place but I didn’t realise the extent … the girl in pic 5 has gone down 2 dress sizes or possibly more … I wonder if this is an image that was genuinely used in a magazine or campaign or if this is more to illustrate what can be done with photoshop? I am not normally in favour of banning or over-regulation – perhaps raising awareness will do the trick as consumers will begin to demand more “honesty” in images – it’s a difficult question!

Aly Hazlewood November 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I agree with Freya that it’s the chronic overuse of retouching that is most disturbing and unnecessary. Where will it end?

But the question that interests me most is whether we as women secretly ‘enjoy’ comparing ourselves to perfect images. I think there is a certain ‘emotional pay off’ to it. Unconsciously, human beings tend to look for continual reinforcement of deeply held ideas or beliefs that they are not quite ‘good enough’ in some way. And this obsession modern women have (myself included) with fashion and celebrity magazines feeds right into that search for reinforcement perfectly.

I think it’s basically very unhealthy.

Nikki MakeUp November 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Very interesting article and topic.. I’m sure that they’ll be many conflicting views on this one but the way is see it is if that retouching were to be banned altogether, the world would still expect to see flawless images and therefore it would limit the amount of models that could continue working in this industry. For example; several times I have shot with a great beauty model. As so many beauty models are, she’s almost flawless but has two clear moles on her face. There is no way she would be booked on the big beauty campaigns that sh gets if retouching was banned.
I think we all realise how retouched images are today and to some extent, because of articles like this that have made us so aware of that fact, we no longer feels quite so inadequate, we just quell our insecurities somewhat in the knowledge that “she probably isn’t quite so flawless in real life!”
It has become our way of life and what we’ve come to expect from the media to see these polished, perfected images.

Lucy November 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I Do think we enjoy it Aly. Women perpetuate the cycle of inequality generally and I think this feeds right into it. I don’t actually buy magazines, I prefer blogs etc. Shocking I know :p one of the reasons I stopped buying them was because of the increasingly horrendous pictures of female celebrities on holiday at a bad angle with no retouching and claims that they’ve let themselves go next to a heavily retouched photo of what they “used” to look like. The whole industry is one of lies and vanity which is probably why, having worked in it I find it easy to distance myself from comparisons. You take that unreachable “goal” away from women however and a lot of the fun stuff goes with it. The next beauty treatment, the diet chats with friends, the new wonder cream etc. So as damaging as it can be to compare yourself with those images, for most women I believe the pay off of the above is entirely worth it.

Nadira V Persaud November 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Thanks for this, I may have to direct clients to this before I make them up!
I do think the issue is in the hands of the retouchers themselves as well as the demand from the public and media for perfection. x

Sharon November 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I use articles like this, the original in the DM and similar youtube videos to explain to my ten year old daughter that the images she sees in adverts and mags are not real. I don’t want her to think she is anything but beautiful just the way she is but like you said, it does seem ingrained in our collective psyche.

I wouldn’t ban retouching altogether but perhaps images could come with some sort of disclaimer?

Kate November 30, 2011 at 10:14 pm

A couple things come up for me as I read this. One, is how women, if not globally than certainly in our western society, are objectified from a very early age. We then internalise a message about ourselves somewhere along the line, which continues into our adult lives, affecting our behaviour and our relationships, albeit, largely out of awareness. Working in mental health, I have seen women endlessly compare themselves to others, putting themselves in the “less than” position and more often then not, the emotional pay off for them, is that it stops them from facing their own reality and asking the question “how am I now objectifying myself?” Like you say Aly, looking to fashion/celeb mags reinforces these deeply held beliefs we have about ourselves and as humans, we are always seeking meaning, orienting ourselves and trying to find our place in the world. When we try and find our place in a world that is built on an illusion of retouching, well, it’s pretty much a non starter. But its not all existential angst, beauty can be a really fun and important part of our female identity and I think, like some people have said, when people are aware of the realities of such images, then they can take what they want from them and leave the rest!

Peace out! Love your blog!

rebecca doney December 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm

I always say you’ve either got it or you haven’t. The line on our face are part of our character. us as humans are always glutton for punishment. We should try and look at the good things about us and not focus on the bad. we are as young as we feel. Thanks aly for your wonderful blog. it’s always good to remind ourselves that no one is perfect. :)

Thelma Carole Edwards December 12, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I personally feel that touching up photography is a misleading tactic. The general public would love to look like this, but it is not the reality. Truth in advertising will help the public sort out the difference between fantasy and reality.

Thelma Carole Edwards December 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I do not like the idea of touching up photos. Truth in advertising should be a must. When you do touchup photography it misleads people, who really believe that people look perfect. An impossiblity.

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