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Jun 10, 2010

(Re)touch Me in the Morning

I wasn't going to address this topic, which seems to be everywhere these days: the (arguably) excessive retouching of celebrity photos.

The outrage this issue generates seems strange to me, since retouching of one sort or another has been around since the advent of photography.  (Before computers, it was done primarily on the photographic negative.)

Speaking of photography, I just got a new camera and I love it.  It's the Canon S90, a dramatic upgrade from my Canon S1000, which I've enjoyed and used well for more than two (two, wowee!) years.  (It's the one we've used for all of Cathy's glamorous photo shoots.)

Here's a pic I took yesterday of my mother, a 100% unretouched eighty!

Here's Willy -- completely unlined at nearly two!

And here's my Vogue 9128 blouse, practically wrinkle free.

I just assume every celebrity photo I see has been retouched, but whether they are or they aren't, what difference does it make to me?

What I do notice is that this Is-she/isn't-she/OMG-look-how-much-she-is retouched argument nearly always seems to focus on a handful of female celebrities, some young, some not-so-young, who are then publicly ridiculed for the sin of having the very physical imperfections we're told to teach ourselves to embrace -- which is why we find retouching such an affront, I guess.   Do you follow my argument?

It's like Madonna, how dare she have her flab photographically excised when mine is right there where I left it, pouring over the top of my jeans.  I just deal with it, why can't Madonna (or Britney, or Demi, or _________.)?

It also reflects our culture's love/hatred of women and demand for everlasting female physical perfection even if it means surgery.  What's up with that?

When's the last time anyone's heart rate raced over a retouched photo of Tom Cruise?  Actors are our fantasy figures and we expect/want them to be glamorized, right?  I assume that when Tom gets up in the morning he looks just like I do -- maybe a little bit better.

So how about you, readers?  Are you offended by photoshopped photos of your favorite celebrities and/or models?  Do you delight in stumbling upon unretouched photos revealing in near microscopic detail every liver spot and cellulite dimple?  Do you secretly hope Demi Moore has 42" hips?

Have you ever been retouched and if not, would you be willing to submit to a spontaneous hard drive search right now?

Jump in, (crows) feet first!

This always makes me laugh...


  1. Your Mom is beautiful!

    Imagine if headlines were "wordshopped" in the way that photos are photoshopped. If they read that the BP spill was only a few thousand gallons. If a serious auto accident only seriously wounded instead of killing the passengers.

    It's dishonest. And the dishonesty continues a pattern of so-called perfection that we are held up to every day. This practice is skewing our sense of age - when you see an actress or celebrity who hasn't been Botoxed and liposuctioned beyond reason she looks even older than she is by comparison.

    As for the men, I see the same damage being done. I've seen many shows and movies where the Botox severely impedes the actor/actress' ability to show a simple emotion due to the rigidity of their face.

    Enough is enough. As someone famously said, even Cindy Crawford doesn't look like Cindy Crawford.

  2. Well, the problem isn't a little light retouching here and there. Women's bodies are erased in large chunks until they don't make anatomical sense anymore. Like a Ralph Lauren model's waist being several inches smaller than her HEAD. It's all over the place - Ann Taylor ads, every magazine cover, movie posters. It's outrageous because it's insidious. It creates a new standard of beauty based on fictional images.

    But yes, I have been known to take out a blemish or two on my photos! Am I hypocrite? Perhaps. :)

  3. Thanks for the French and Saunders clip. Hilarious! Is Dawn French really that voluptuous or is it a camera trick? And how about that photo of you in the pencil skirt? Nobody looks that good in a pencil skirt, it had to be photoshopped. Anyway, to be or not to be digitally altered, why even bother asking the question. Celebrity photos are about the image/brand, not the person.

  4. Have you seen the Ralph Lauren ad Gertie references? It's insane.

    I'm not skilled enough at Photoshop to know how to retouch... perhaps I need to learn.

    BTW, your Mom is just lovely.

  5. I've been photoshopped, and I was thankful! I have no problems erasing a few lines and spots.

    However, I had an older friend who had ALL her wrinkles photoshopped out of her picture, and it just looked weird.

    I think I'm fine with retouching and smoothing as long as the person still looks like himself/herself. I'm not a fan of completly changing body types (like the Britney(?) picture above. If the publisher doesn't want her body portrayed, they should find someone else to photograph.

    As for the unflattering "no makeup" or "cellulite" pictures you see in the tabloids etc., I'll admit I find it comforting to see that celebrities are human too. And shortly after I turned 40, I decided I wouldn't get stressed out if someone takes a photo of me that shows my age or my physical imperfections. Life is too short to be hating pictures of oneself. Especially when those pictures are usually capturing happy memories.


  6. I'm with Gertie; it's the insidiousness of the retouching that always gets me. Too many women now think they have to look just like what they see in the media to be "perfect" and "accepted", when in reality very few people can achieve those proportions *naturally*. When suddenly you're shaving 10-20lbs worth of flesh off of someone, or dramatically making them look about 30 years younger, I do take issue with that. Mostly because now we have a generation of neurotic females running around, obsessing over their appearance and freaked out about aging! Having suffered from anorexia for several years (thankfully, recovering at this point! yay!!!), I can attest that these retouched images did play a large part in how I perceived what was considered attractive and how I *should* look.

    That being said, I do understand the need to Photoshop images to make them a bit more polished and cohesive. I've been known to erase the occasional pimple or bruise (I'm a klutz, and my legs are usually covered in bruises! lol.), just so that people don't have to be subjected to it. ;) lol. But, I think the difference is that I'm not minimizing my muscular legs to make them smaller, or enlarging my nearly non-existent cleavage to make it up to society's standards. Zit and bruise aside, it's still *me* in the photo; not the imagined image.

    Ooops... sorry for the rant, Peter! It's just an issue I feel quite strongly about, even though I admire high fashion and graphic design quite a bit and can appreciate a certain amount of retouching from an artistic standpoint. However, I think in some ways, we've really taken this to an unrealistic extreme.

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  7. I actually did not know that photos were retouched that much until several years ago when Jamie Lee Curtis spoke out about this. I didn't look hard enough at most mag photos, or mags for women to notice.

    I do think that retouching photos to make women seem perfect creates an insidious influence on women to strive for an impossible perfection. For those of us without the inclination or bankroll to finance surgery or lipo, we can end up feeling completely devalued. The influence on young girls has been discussed quite thoroughly in the media, but nothing changes.

    Yes, this affects men too, if they are plugged into the media. So many guys pay little attention to fashion or style, so they can be influenced less.

  8. Hmm... I must admit the only use I have for tabloids is the candid shots of celebrities. Pretty much anyone can look awesome with a kickass photo-shoot, let alone a little retouching. And I am definitely guilty of erasing zits and whitening my teeth in photos, and there was the time I took out the dark bags under my sister-in-law's eyes in all her graduation photos... not to mention going crazy with the "soft glow" filter in photoshop ;). I think the problem arises when we don't realize HOW distorted the celebrity/fashion images are. (even I am surprised sometimes, and I'm pretty familiar with the wonder of digital image editing). Maybe we all need a "glam photoshoot" with digital retouching so we could compare the magazine images with our "enhanced" self rather than the in-the-mirror self? Or, better yet---how about a ratings system to tell us how digitally altered a photo has been. Level 1= basic colour/exposure correction. Level 2= minor blemishes removed. all the way up to level 5 where all resemblance to the original reality is strictly incidental. I'd say the Bridney and Madonna images are about a level 4 ;).

  9. I've been affected by all this. In high school I started modeling (nothing big I got a ton of offers for beer adds and cigarette adds which I couldn't/wouldn't do)and was faced with being too big. I was one of the smallest girls on my drill team but I was still too big to do a lot of the cool stuff. In college I go pro drill team and I'm told I need to lose more weight. I do and it gets me in pictures and upfront. The average woman is sized 10-14. Plus size modeling starts at size 6. Those tiny tiny models are made even tinier when they shave off their stomachs and rib cages and hips till there is almost nothing left. I think it is a huge problem and it is a big deal when you see famous people looking like real people. We should see more natural beauty. I don't care if someone photo shops off a few wrinkles, damaged skin, or pimples. I also don't mind seeing them. I still struggle with my weight because of how I think I should be and the image of what I want to be. I love fashion but I hate looking at models. I'll never be a tiny model wearing those beautiful clothes. Clothes that wouldn't even look good on a real person with curves or boobs or thighs. Those impossible bodies photo shopped to an even greater impossibility only make me depressed and hateful of myself. I'm not seeing anything good coming out of them.

  10. I have 2 girls that are 8 and 10 and I try very hard not to say or do things that undermine their self confidence. Not to say, I always treat them as perfect, we often talk about how everyone is different and everyone is good at some things and not so good at others. When I see images that have been grossly altered like the Ralph Lauren one, we sit down and discuss how unrealistic this is. I have yet to purchase anything Ralph Lauren since this whole flap happened and I plan to keep it that way.

    At our house we don't go on diets, we have the "healthy eating plan." There are so many things flung at young girls, I don't need to be adding to it, whining about how fat I am or how I dislike my body.

    As you can tell, this does strike a cord with me and I don't like it.


  11. There's no truth in advertising. Magazines and advertising sell fantasy, not reality. There's definitely a disconnect between how celebrities look in "real life" and how they look in the glossy pages of magazines. I find retouching humourous and unrealistic. But it's a given that it happens. A lot.

    In my work, I have used Photoshop extensively to retouch many fashion photos. I also work my magic on pictures of myself. I whiten my teeth, remove a few blemishes and fix wrinkles and dark spots under my eyes. I don't see anything wrong with that. Why not put my (literal) best face forward?

  12. Andy Warhol said, "Everyone deserves great lighting." But the fashion and celebrity photos go WAY beyond that. They don't even look human much of the time.

  13. Thank you for your eloquent and candid comments, everyone.

    To clarify, I recognize that if I were a woman I might be more offended by the Madonna shots for example, which suggest that a 50-something year old woman can have the skin of a 3-month-old.

    The problem, I think, is that these images are everywhere; it's tough to shut them out. I don't own a TV and haven't been to a movie theater in years, but I see them online, in magazine, and in the street.

    I think the best we can do is have a conversation with our children (and ourselves) about just what is going on and how it affects us.

    Advertising and the synthetic, idealized images of celebrities and models that are part of it, are all around us. They aren't going anywhere.

  14. My husband wishes he could retouch my attitude with photoshop.

  15. To be honest, I feel worse looking at the un-retouched photos of beautiful people who are just as beautiful, if not more, without all the "help". You very rarely see someone who looks like hell volunteering to be a part of those "Oh, look at me being brave and posting my real face on the cover of a magazine" spreads....

  16. I didn't watch TV while on vacation last month and decided to try a no-TV life for a while upon my return. I cannot believe how my body self-image has improved in that time! Mind you, this was not the reason for my TV fast; it was a completely unexpected outcome. I consider myself a fairly strong and independent woman and yet I was apparently influenced by those images a great deal more than I knew. I do understand the notion that the entertainment business is about fantasy. But comparisons are inevitable, and falling short means we buy more products -- the real reason behind all of this. Our sense of well-being is the (other) casualty.

  17. I have to admit to some mild retouching on a photo my workplace put on the internet, but as I'd been up since 5.30am and worked over 12 hours (and it was on the Doctor Who website) I think I was allowed ;)

    My problem with the major retouching, such as removing whole swathes of flesh or completely reshaping it, is that it gives a completely unrealistic view of the female body. Young girls, from birth, can not escape society's fascination with slim, beautiful women. They're on every billboard, TV or cinema screen across the world and vastly outnumber the more realistic women in media. I know a few young girls, pre teens, who think that to be successful you have to be skinny and beautiful and are already dieting. At 11 and 12 years old! I find it scary that despite living in a world of normal people, it's the celebrity they look to for guidance on clothes, weight, beauty, etc.

  18. Am I offended by major re-touching? Yes. Because it sends the message that natural beauty isn't good enough. It's nearly impossible for any young girl to grow up feeling positive about herself when this is the crap shoved at her and no matter what her parents tell her she's still going to strive for that perceived perfection that the media spits out.

  19. Yes, Photoshop can take an image from simple and realistic to complete fantasy and anywhere in between. Adjusting images by varying degrees has existed all throughout history, and it is not going away. It's up to us as intelligent human beings to understand this and learn to deal with it appropriately.

    Yes, this practice can contribute to insecurities, but that isn't Photoshop's fault, or the fault of the advertisers that use it. Even if no picture was ever retouched again, the insecurities would still be there, manifesting themselves in different ways. Just walking down the street, you will see people that are thinner/heavier, shorter/taller, prettier/uglier than you are.

    Yes, this can have a negative effect on young people who don't know about this practice, but in the same way we teach them that there isn't a monster hiding under their bed and that fairy tales are just nice stories, we need to teach them this. We need to help them (and ourselves in some cases) find worthwhile role models that will inspire them to be the best that they can be, and be comfortable in their own skin.

    It's about time we stop pointing fingers and start taking a little responsibility here. While we can't change everything about the world overnight, we can change how we react to it and how we decide to let it influence us.

  20. I retouch photos of myself and my friends, but only if I really like them. Just small things like dark circles under the eyes and blemishes. Lately I've been too lazy though and haven't been doctoring my photos. Check out my blog,(almost) no retouching :) hehe.

  21. As everyone knows who reads my blog I don't retouch (no one could retouch that badly!). It's just laziness, and not caring that much anymore, thank God. I know it must be hard on younger women, but I have two things to say in defense: When I was a teen in the 80s, we obsessed just as much about beauty and weight, and there wasn't any photoshop then. Also, we like to look at beauty, right? When you look at portraits from the days before photography, people were enhanced with brush and paint as well.

  22. This is the first time I've heard a POV like yours on the issue of re-touching. It's not at all (not for me, anyway) about the person being re-touched and photoshopped into oblivion - it's about the impressionable minds that see these images and don't understand that the image isn't reality, but something attainable that they should strive for. Perhaps older women should know better, but teenagers and even younger girls may not know that these photos are re-touched. They're conditioned to want a body that even the person they're looking at doesn't have.

    I think it's a little ridiculous, anyway. Jezebel has some posts about crazy re-touching and the person is always beautiful before-hand, but for some reason it's necessary that all evidence of their ribcage removed.

    "what difference does it make to me?"
    I hate to go there but, well, you're a guy, so probably none.

  23. It irritates the crap out of me. I see young women starving themselves to get the figure that they see in magazines. Recently I saw a documentary about young women undergoing labia surgery so that they have vaginas that look like the ones in magazines. The editors of the magazines showed how they retouch the vaginas of their models so there were no 'hanging bits'. Women think they look abnormal, so they have the 'abnormal' bits cut off. As a women in my late forties I have to accept that I am aging. I take care of myself and am in pretty good shape, but I have 47 year old skin and I live in a harsh climate. Remember that famous interview with Jamie Lee Curtis where she posed without makeup? She's still a beautiful woman. I totally agree about having a conversation about self worth with our children and I agree that we have to take responsibility for this ourselves. Thank you, Peter, for a thought provoking post and thank you all commenters for some really interesting reading.

  24. I think many of your readers have summed things up nicely. I have no problem with some light retouching here and there, it's the massive shaving off 10-20lbs or huge chunks of a woman's body to give the illusion of a "perfect" body that I find insane. Yes, it's up to parents and other mentors/peers to talk to girls about these issues, but frankly, so long as these images are still in the media, there will be girls and women that practically kill themselves trying to live up to something that doesn't exist. I know it's personally taken me years to come to peace with my body and my flaws and this coming from someone who is a naturally confident and happy person. I can't imagine what these images to do the pysche of a young girl. :(

  25. A little tinkering here and there with Photoshop is permissible...I do it for a living. It's the equivalent of hair coloring and spanx. But I agree with everyone else though, it's the excessive use of digital editing that offensive. It's not just using the liquify tool to shed pounds, but blurs to airbrush skin, repositioning noses, touching up hairlines, recoloring eyes, adjusting skin color and the myriad of other ways images are edited that the average person doesn't see that cause images to take on an unnatural or surreal quality that when compared with unedited version, one is almost aghast with the contrast.

    There's nothing wrong with a few humps, bumps and lumps and Madonna looks as she should for a near 50 year old woman...perfectly fine. It's the effort to still look 21 and to ask the public to buy into it as authentic that offends the sensibilities.

    I was painfully thin growing up and there wasn't much acceptance at that extreme either. One of the great joys in my life is being comfortable in my own skin.

  26. Funneh you should ask. Before I even had Photoshop I figured out how to whiten my teeth. I was much younger and more comfortable posting my picture back then.

    Now that I not only have Photoshop, but enough training and experience to be a pretty decent photomontage/counterfeit artist, I hardly bother. I mainly color correct or hide the mess in the background of some photos but that's about it.

    (I do graphic arts insanity with a zilion layers and whatnot but those works are pretty abstract and not about making plastic perfect people pictures.)


    OMG looking younger than one's age does run in your family!


    (and shanks for the fuzzy buns picture. Willy is a cutey.)

  27. Oh, you do know about Photoshop Disasters, right?

  28. Oh goodness! That video clip had me laughing out loud! Just what I needed, thanks :-)

  29. I hate the whole message behind the heavy photoshop, that women cannot be beautiful on their own. That beauty is inherently artificial, made by clothes, photographers and photoshop to confirm a beauty standard that has nothing to do with real living beings. That smacks of disrespect to all women out there and that makes me furious. I do not believe the ad photos anyway, but I want products sold to me by people, not artificial puppets in a grotesque theater of plastic.


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