British magazine Healthy came under fire this week for retouching cover model Kamilla Wladyka to look larger. Wladyka looks strikingly thinner in photos on the Fashion Spot. Ex British Cosmo editor Leah Hardy addresses the practice of retouching models to look bigger — what she calls “reverse retouching” — in an essay for the Daily Mail today. This is not uncommon in the fashion industry. Any art director or retoucher will tell you that often they have to Photoshop the girls to look bigger. The editors of Self and British Vogue admit this. Also:
Robin Derrick, creative director of Vogue, has admitted: ‘I spent the first ten years of my career making girls look thinner -and the last ten making them look larger.’
Here’s what Hardy went through:
I have taken anguished calls from a fashion editor who has put together this finely orchestrated production, only to find that the model they picked six weeks ago for her luscious curves and gleaming skin, is now an anorexic waif with jutting bones and acne.
Or she might pitch up covered in mysterious bruises (many models have a baffling penchant for horrible boyfriends), or smelling of drink and hung over, as many models live on coffee and vodka just to stay slim.
And it’s not just models that cause problems. I remember one shoot we did with a singer, a member of a famous girl band, who was clearly in the grip of an eating disorder.
Not only was she so frail that even the weeny dresses, designed for catwalk models, had to be pinned to fit her, but her body was covered with the dark downy hair that is the sure-fire giveaway of anorexia.
Naturally, thanks to the wonders of digital retouching, not a trace of any of these problems appeared on the pages of the magazine. At the time, when we pored over the raw images, creating the appearance of smooth flesh over protruding ribs, softening the look of collarbones that stuck out like coat hangers, adding curves to flat bottoms and cleavage to pigeon chests, we felt we were doing the right thing.
The right thing may have been to also have a call with the model’s agency about her health. Editors and art directors don’t want to have to Photoshop girls bigger. Often they hire girls who look healthy and fit in their Polaroids but then show up looking like completely different, much thinner people. But for every editor that wants a model who is thin but also fit, with has breasts and a butt, there exist just as many if not more potential clients out there who would rather that girl have no flesh on her bones at all. A good body, one art director for fashion ads told us, can be seen as distracting from the clothes. It’s sad what those girls feel they have to do with themselves to keep up. At the same time, this art director says, it’s easier to retouch a girl who has a distracting bulge of flesh than distracting protruding bones.
So how much flack does the Healthy editor deserve? Shoots are carefully orchestrated affairs with clothes that have to be returned on a timeline and photographers and makeup artists and hairdressers that are booked for a certain day. Retouching to extremes is such common practice nowadays that editors use it as a crutch to save time, money, and energy they’d spend on rebooking models. While they can’t do anything about all the other people rewarding these models for becoming so frail, maybe they should just start rebooking girls to make a statement about it. Plenty of magazine editors are calling for fuller figures now.