Impossibly Beautiful

Blue Gal emailed me the link to this (non-embeddable, grumble) video op-ed at the New York Times by filmmaker Jesse Epstein about photo retouching, in which she interviews two retouchers, one of whom informs her that he once created a cover image by piecing four different women together at his client's request, and one of whom admits "the whole process itself is destructive to the world, effectively."

It's really great; if you can't view the video, I've transcribed it below and included some relevant images.

Text: The New York Times Opinion Contributors. Sex, Lies and Photoshop: Why magazines should let readers know if images have been retouched. March 10, 2009. Jesse Epstein, the [female] director of "Wet Dreams and False Images," "The Guarantee," and "34x25x36," is producing a feature film on body image.

Epstein/Voiceover: In France, public health officials and psychiatrists have been meeting to try to establish laws that would make it illegal to promote negative body image and eating disorders. They want to want to ban websites, censor media, and, in particular, one of the measures is to force magazines to disclose the extent to which their images have been retouched. How many images that we see on a daily basis have been altered?

Ken Harris, Photo Retoucher: Every picture has been worked on, some twenty, thirty rounds of going back and forth between the retouchers and the client and the agency. They are perfected to death. Just look, you know, you should just look through the magazines and consider it, and all that—all that is there to alter your mind, alter your conception of what physical beauty is, and what the possibility of attaining it is, and what the means of attaining it are. There are the evened-out freckles; there are her real freckles.

What you're looking for as a retoucher is a broom, something that covers your tracks, some way of obscuring where you've been. You know, and the first thing is, people take out is bloodshot eyes. That's the last thing I take out—the last thing I'd, like, just wipe, because that just makes it look retouched. You know, so you just stay away from them, you stay away from those obvious markers that show, you know, that you've been there.

Look, she looks way too heavy, I mean, has way too, like, powerful, like she looks way too athletic, you know?

She's supposed to look like, you know, she's wearing—look at the dress; what's that dress about? It's not, you know, it's just—she's not wearing job clothes, here, you know? She's not playing soccer. It's supposed to be in this feminine dress.

Domenic Demasi, Photo Retoucher: This was a cover for Lucky magazine that we did, where it was four images to make one image. They preferred her over this model, and we went ahead and pieced together a new girl, as a result, out of all of those.

Shorter leg. Longer leg.

Epstein/Voiceover: So, if not even the models themselves can really measure up to their own images, what does this mean?

Demasi: This has caused a problem. This is an issue in the world. It's not like I can sit here and say, "Well, you know, well, then if everybody who's affected by this, they're—they're, you know, they're just weak and they're bound to have social and mental problems." That's not the case. I'm aware that this is something that, you know, is at ground level where, you know, people are seeing this and they're growing up with these being their icons and their images.

Text: According to a 2002 New York Times article about body-conscious athletes, boys as young as 10 are "bulking up with steroids."

Epstein/Voiceover: So even the retoucher thinks this is a problem.

Harris: I mean, there is, there is, there is blame to be assessed here; I'm not sure onto whom, but the whole process itself is, is, is destructive to the world, effectively.

Text: 70 percent of girls report that images of models in magazines influence their definition of a perfect female body. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Epstein/Voiceover: A University of Missouri study found that looking at women's magazines from one to three minutes had a negative impact on women's self-esteem. So imagine what happens if we're bombarded by these images every day.

When we're looking at a painting, it's easy to think of it as a work of art, as something abstract, something constructed. With a picture, it's harder to tell what's been done to it. With all the effort that goes into making these images look the way they do, they're also fantasies; they're also works of art. Whatever's being advertised to us—a cream or a soap or a stretch-mark potion or a diet pill—will never actually make anyone perfect. Because perfect beauty can only be achieved with an airbrush.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens in France, and whether or not these laws go through. But, if magazines are not going to disclose the extent to which the images have been retouched, I'd say, at least put the retoucher's name in the credits.

I dare one magazine just to publish an entire issue without any retouching.

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