The issue of airbrushing, or photo-retouching in advertising and magazines, and the effect which this has on our body image has been around for a while now, but it would seem we're still a long way from becoming tired of talking about it.
This summer Debenhams (a leading British department store) have decided to use un-retouched photographs in their summer swimwear campaign, to prove that "real beauty" can sell just as well as photoshopped images. They've gone a step further though, in providing an example of how their images would look if they were retouched, and details of what this retouching would involve.
The pictures below show the before and after of an airbrushed image. The original "natural" shot, which is being used, is on the left, and the airbrushed shot on the right.
And this is exactly what was done to the "airbrushed" image.
As you can see, the retouched model has been given an unrealistically small waist, and even her arms, which you couldn't pick any faults with, have been slimmed. It is obvious when you see the difference in the pictures, and the techniques used, that the second figure is not real, and therefore unattainable. However, although we keep being told that 99% or more of images in adverts are retouched, but can anyone say that this is ever in the forefront of their mind when they're reading magazines? I personally will admit that looking at pictures of perfect models with skinny limbs and flat stomachs makes me envious, and wish I looked the same. In this respect I praise Debenhams for what they're trying to do to improve body image, although I still have a few problems with the campaign.
In the press release I was sent about this campaign, the very first line used the words "trial window." Trial. Debenhams have done other "trials" before, in using size 16 mannequins for window displays in January, and using a disabled model for promotional images of the Principles by Ben de Lisi range. These trials only took place in the Oxford Street store however, and not across the entire chain of Debenhams stores, and they were only short-term, as I presume this new un-airbrushed campaign will be. The combination of the short 'trial' time periods of these campaigns, coupled with the Oxford Street location makes Debenhams' supposed committment to encouraging positive body-image seem more like a publicity stunt than anything else.
The company apparently has a long-standing committment to minimal digital retouching in an effort to improve body-image, but what is "minimal"? I'm not trying to completely slam Debenhams here, I think they've got a good idea here, but it can be viewed as a bit half-hearted, with the "trials" and limited locations. If you're really committed to making a change, to helping improve the body-image of the average British woman shopping on the high street, then surely you should cut out all photo retouching completely, and keep those size 16 mannequins in the windows, all across the country. Infact, stick some size 12s in there too, and keep some of the size 8s in, to show that you can look good no matter what your size, and that it's ok to be whatever size you are.
This does bring me on to one more point though. Yes the non-airbrushed swimwear campaign is good, but even without retouching, the model they have used has a body which is not representative of the majority of British women. Maybe with images we know are airbrushed, it's possible to reconcile yourself to the fact that the body we see in the image is unattainable, but for many people, due to body shape etc, the unretouched body of the swimwear model is equally unattainable. Surely slapping it in peoples' faces that "Look! This model is naturally thin and gorgeous!" is not going to make people feel a whole lot better about themselves and their bodies either.
It's a difficult topic to dicuss, and I think it's clear that more time and thought needs to be put into trying to find new ways to tackle body-image problems and make advertising more representative of the average british woman. At least Debenhams, as a leading high-street retailer, are doing something, as most other retailers appear to be ignoring the issue completely, and even if their campaigns are short-lived, they do seem to be occurring quite regularly, so kudos to them for that.
What are your opinions? What do you think of the new Debenhams campaign? Is it enough? What do you think about airbrushing, do you mind it? Maybe you don't think airbrushed images and body image are at all related? Let me know, I'd love to hear your views.
Swimwear campaign and retouched photographs courtesy of Debenhams.