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January 24, 2014

The Ugly Truth About Fashion Magazines and Body Image-Photoshop Controversies

Fashion Magazine Covers Body Image Double Standard Photoshop Controversy Design CompositionFashion magazine critics claim they’re pushing for the industry to accept and feature beauty of all colors, shapes, and sizes. But why is it they don’t cry Photoshop foul when a pencil-thin model or celeb graces a magazine cover?

If it’s not a body image debate that’s abuzz in the fashion magazine world, it’s a Photoshop controversy that’s brewing. You can file Lena Dunham’s February Vogue spread under the latter, but unlike most photo-retouching controversies, this one failed to gain much steam.

It started when Jezebel, the popular feminist blog, offered $10,000 to the fashion magazine for the original images from “Girls” star Lena Dunham’s photo shoot.

Rather than discovering Dunham had been photoshopped to the extreme, the before-and-after photos posted on the site show only minor touch-ups—such as lifting the dress’s neckline, a tuck at the hip, smoothing a wrinkle, removing bags under the eyes—were made.

Many commenters on the blog were more offended by Jezebel’s “mean girl” attack on Dunham—criticizing her posture, pointing out wrinkles and other imperfections—than the use of Photoshop in basically making small enhancements to the photos that appeared in Vogue.

These days Photoshop has become a dirty word in the magazine industry. Once considered a helpful tool to make minor edits to avoid expensive reshoots, its use now is often assumed as a means of creating a deceptive image.

But, ironically, that controversy seems to bubble up when a fashion magazine steps out of its size-2 cover girl comfort zone and features a plus-sized celebrity.

In recent months, Elle magazine came under fire for “hiding” funny girl Melissa McCarthy under a baggy coat on one of its “Women in Hollywood” covers. And it was criticized again when Mindy Kaling—the Indian-American star of “The Mindy Project”—was featured in black and white on one of its “Women in Television” covers.

McCarthy and Kaling’s cover girl peers were featured wearing body-hugging clothing in full-color photos. Which led many to believe that magazine was subtly pushing a double-standard when it came to body size and ethnicity.

Both have publicly said they were pleased with their cover looks, but that didn’t stemmed the criticism. Even Lena Dunham said she felt her appearance in Vogue was an accurate reflection of her style. She told Slate, “I don’t understand why, Photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing.”

The truth is that isn’t a bad thing. But this rampant distrust of Photoshop and demand for equality and acceptance of all shapes, sizes, and colors of beauty has created an ugly response.

Since when does anyone—ANYONE—take a perfect photograph? Where is the demand for unretouched photos of Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Moss, and a hundred other skinny, model-perfect examples of beauty that are pushed upon us every month? When any one of them is featured closely cropped or covered up, where is the outrage that their bodies are being hidden?

The critics howl the loudest when a plus-sized star makes it on a fashion magazine cover, insisting that the industry still can’t accept more than one version of beauty. And just when Vogue seems to embrace the notion that it is in its pages, then some way, somehow Photoshop must be to blame.



About the Author

Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.