U.S. needs to stop retouching, embrace natural beauty

By Amanda Murphy

Since my first pimple when I was in fifth grade, I was always envious of the seemingly flawless skin of cosmetics models. I also fell for advertisements and was convinced the makeup would indeed give me the poreless photo finish it depicted. Even after seeing a variety of Photoshop-of-Horrors, it never occurred to me the same tools might be used in the cosmetics industry.

I always thought models had superhuman genes or were blessed by some divine figure. That was until last week, when Jezebel.com published a slideshow of before and after pictures of models submitted by high-end fashion and beauty retoucher M. Seth Jones.

The photographs showed that these women have freckles, sun damage, acne, scars and beauty marks. Their skin tone was uneven and showed blotchiness and redness. To sum it up, their skin was far from flawless. What I saw when I looked at the photographs was not that their skin was imperfect but it was human.

There is no doubt these women are beautiful. They were chosen to be in the industry for that reason. However, society obsesses about absolute perfection, even if that means erasing freckles and beauty marks—the flaws that helped make women like Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford iconic. It seems all advertisements, magazines, and catalogues present women with an unrealistic standard of beauty.

Instead of spending energy analyzing each facial and body flaw, women should put that effort into standing against the image of retouching. The secret is out, and we know what we look at is not real.

French politician Valerie Boyer is targeting cosmetic companies and saying the beauty industry’s retouched photos should come with a warning label. She has crusaded since Sept. 2009 to eliminate this misleading practice.

Catalogue and magazine retouching mistakes are leaked more frequently onto the Internet. They show where the photo editors change body shape, skin tone and sometimes, like in the case of Christina Hendricks, completely eliminate body parts from the pictures.

Perhaps the most famous Photoshopped woman is Madonna. From Louis Vuitton and Hard Candy ads to magazine spreads, she has been retouched in every possible way. Madonna is 51 years old and in great shape for her age. No one would expect someone who is 50, 40 or even 30 to not have some sort of wrinkle or line on their skin.

And yet the photographers who digitally edit her smooth away every wrinkle, line or hair with their magic wand. In most cases, especially the Vuitton ad, she resembles a doll or alien and not a 50-year-old woman.

Madonna is not the only older celebrity to befall this. Most women who grace the covers of beauty and fashion magazines are altered away any resemblance of age.

Jezebel.com posted a similar tragedy that happened when Faith Hill was on the cover of Redbook in July 2010. The editors removed every detail imagineable, any trace showing she is a beautiful older woman.

The mistakes make it more difficult to trust any form of advertising directed toward women. It makes me realize how much money and time I wasted shopping for those moisturizers and foundations that would give my skin the same effect.

Last year, unedited Playboy page proofs were released onto the Web. The shocking part wasn’t the nature of the photographs. It was that the original photographs were covered in arrows and notes, dissecting every flaw that needed fixing.

The photo editor went through every detail, from wayward hairs to nipples that weren’t the perfect size and shape. The saddest part is these women are gorgeous and were chosen by Playboy for their stellar figures. However, today it seems the message sent out is beautiful isn’t good enough.

In April 2010, French Elle came out with an issue titled “Celebrities without Makeup.” The issue took eight European celebrities, like Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau, and photographed them naturally. The women glowed and looked refreshingly real. The response many women had was positive and urged American magazines to do the same.

Although the popular U.S. magazines have yet to create a counterpart, the message was sent. In an increasingly perfection-obsessed world, women need to break down the barriers. Europe is doing it, and I hope the U.S. will catch up soon.