The beauty and fashion industry is in the midst of a serious debate about just how far image manipulation (or airbrushing as we used to call it) should go. Well-known brands are aligning themselves to be the new champions of real beauty. We have one view from an industry leader in our latest ‘from the hip’ blog. Then Liz Tray, our copy editor, responds with a different view.
Led by the super-successful Dove campaigns, Vogue and Debenhams have taken a position on real beauty for real women. But where could this all end up and what are the views of a senior ad exec and a leading model booker? Former Leo Burnett creative director Malcolm Gaskin takes a look in an exclusive blog for Shopped…
Beauty is the eye of the retoucher, or so it seems. The ideal image of our idols is not au naturelle. It’s stretched, slimmed, smoothed, de-veined, nipped, tucked and tweaked, all the while using the super-est of models as subjects, plus the best photographers, hair and make-up. Striving for and then emulating perfection has caused a mighty storm amongst self-image punditry. Does the extra enhancement of fashion plates lead to anxiety and despair, consciously, or as a drip-drip subconscious erosion of self-esteem?
True, the vulnerable and those with a lack of self-body appreciation and perspective of how their image measures up to their peers will feel that they are being got at by the aesthetically lucky, and that retouching already fine specimens is doubly unfair and unsettling. However, in the real world, seeing perfect pics or pecs is just part of the lookist business, and magazine buyers can tell the difference between the model people in Vogue and the real people in Vauxhall.
When thumbing through the latest fashion style and beauty ads and spreads, they expect heightened reality: it’s part of the dream. Readers know that, since the dawn of image-making, enhancement has fed the imagination. When the artist John Constable wanted to depict an idyllic English country scene, he added to a featured stream a cottage, a tree, a rise in the land, a puffy white cloud and a haywain. All taken from somewhere else in the locality, none of which was in his line of sight. He embellished and idealised and the public loved it and still do, as the millions of tea towels, postcards and jigsaw puzzles sold prove.
All of these dark arts of the retoucher’s studio, used to enhance today’s magazines, and the Shoot and Shame pics of wobbly celebrities letting themselves and their bodies go, highlighting their inadequacies and blemishes, make great visual fodder. But is this ok?
SPEAKING TO THE BOOKER
Francesca Gaskin at Elite models told me that retouching is a business tool. Your high value model has just been on an 8-hour flight, so is looking puffier than the headshots on her agent’s site. She’s young, so her skin’s not flawless, the fabric is clingy but not in the right places and the 5-inch heels which are paying for the shoot would look better on slightly longer legs.
She comments that a live model is like a shop mannequin: there to show the clothes. The live model and the photographer’s work are designed to supply the mood. However, when it comes to quantities of online images, there’s minimal retouching. It’s too costly, and usually the picture size and quality doesn’t warrant it.
If you are looking for down to earth ‘real’ beauty a consumer will gravitate to the Debenhams or Dove pictorial approach. That’s their market, not high fashion vamped-up. For those who appreciate a photo booth view of fashion that’s fine but millions prefer the glossy version. Models really are not like people you see every day. They are taller, slimmer and do catch the eye. That’s their field of expertise.
People enhancement does perfect the more than perfect but, for fashion escapists, pixelated perfection is a must, not a sin.
AND FROM ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE, LIZ TRAY WRITES
There is a balance to be found here in the fashion industry’s dream-selling business. There has to be a sliver of reality maintained – women should be able to believe that they can look at least a little bit like the models on these glossy pages. It’s why retailers are starting to use differently proportioned women in their campaigns. The catwalk is a lost cause, however, as these women are quite literally chosen to be clothes hangers. Much of the time, when done well, it’s more of an art installation than a realistic depiction of what you might wear on a night out. One need only look at a classic McQueen catwalk show to see that this is true fantasy being sold. More often than not, his clothes were unwearable but you knew this – this was an art happening, not the next rail of clothes at Topshop.
Perhaps a middle ground can be found that allows people to find that balance, but certainly, given how much power they have, the organisations in charge – fashion houses, magazines, manufacturers, TV shows – could do worse than try a little harder to convey their messages and sales pitches to the general public in a more responsible way.