Reverse-Retouching Models, And What It Hides


With all the fuss kicked up by the “revelation” that magazines often airbrush out models’ bones and add flesh to their bodies in post-production, it’s interesting and frankly kind of shocking to see images that haven’t had this so-called “reverse-retouching.”

Lest anyone were in danger of believing that we have entered a parallel fashion universe where plus-size models book editorial spreads, Anna Wintour and Michael Kors have made it so that every runway model maintains her 34″-24″-34″ physique by perfectly healthy means, and every model who needs treatment for an eating disorder gets it promptly with the support of her agency and clients — and, when necessary, takes a season or two off, returns to a healthy weight, and gets re-launched as a plus-size model — here comes just one reminder that the physical demands the modeling industry makes of its youngest workers are still extraordinarily strict.

These are some pictures from Bergdorf Goodman‘s website. They depict the 19-year-old model Inna Pilipenko in clothing from Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen’s brand The Row.

While it’s not possible to judge exactly how heavily Photoshopped these images are — and ordinarily, one would expect a department store’s online catalogue images to be very heavily Photoshopped indeed — it is interesting that in many of the shots — including the one above — a tiny pock-mark is visible above Pilipenko’s right eyebrow. It’s exactly the kind of mark of physical distinction that most retouchers would smooth out. Her sternum is also clearly visible, as are her shoulder blades in the pictures shot from behind. Evidence of those bones, and the sharp shadows they cast, are commonly removed or minimized in post-production. And they haven’t been in this case.

The issue here is not the model’s pock-mark or her weight. I find it vaguely insulting — not so much as a woman, but just as an individual with eyes who is familiar with how a human body actually looks — when companies Photoshop modelsinto absurd figurines. But the uncomfortable reality is that a large part of the reason that companies have come to rely so heavily on post-production image manipulation is that models’ bodies are extraordinarily thin. Without retouching, this thinness is readily apparent. We’ve become conditioned to expect perfected images of skinny, apparently boneless, smooth little girls in our magazines. In a certain way, we’ve come to rely on Photoshop to insulate us from the sharp reality of what maintaining an industry-approved fighting weight can do to a human body.

I have no knowledge of whether or not Pilipenko has any kind of eating disorder, and I am not suggesting that she might. In this interview from three years ago, she claimed to eat “all kinds of food (including McDonalds! Yeah-yeah, it’s true!)” But hers is a body type that continues to predominate on the runway and in magazines. Fashion’s preference for tiny sample-size models isn’t anything new, but in recent years the physical requirements of the job have disastrous effects on certain models’ health. As Coco Rocha — a model who herself was once told by an agent, “We don’t want you to be anorexic, we just want you to look it” — wrote earlier this year, “When designers, stylists or agents push children to take measures that lead to anorexia or other health problems in order to remain in the business, they are asking the public to ignore their moral conscience in favor of the art.” Photoshop is just one of the ways in which fashion brands can camouflage the realities of fashion, in order to make that choice a more blind one, for the consumer.

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