Reality check: models are photoshopped to make them look fatter

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that magazine editors use Photoshop and other photo editing tools to try to make models and actresses look positively flawless, but these days they find themselves also adding pounds to photos of extremely skinny models to smooth out the appearance of bones and little body fat.

Former British Cosmo editor Jane Hardy wrote about this practice some time ago recounting her own experiences with photo editors. “I, too, have been part of the reverse retouching trend,” she wrote in a blog post on the British newspaper The Daily Mail. “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.”

I pity those poor editors. Perhaps the model never got the industry memo that you can be too thin.

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The issue of Photoshopping away thinness bubbled to the surface again this week in a Huffington Post column written by Lisa Wade, chair of the sociology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“The vast majority of the models who need reverse Photoshopping aren’t women who just happen to have that body type,” Wade wrote. “They are part of a social institution that demands extreme thinness, and they’re working hard on their bodies to be able to deliver it.”

She pointed to a photo of actress Cameron Diaz that was digitally altered to fill out her cheeks, level her sagging bust, widen her thighs, and remove a bony hip protrusion that made her look like a 13-year-old boy. The “after” shot looked like a healthy young woman, whereas the “before” photo showed someone who looked painfully thin.

Wade called for “calling out an industry that requires women to be unhealthy and then hides the harmful consequences.”

I think it’s high time we do that. After all, we’re not afraid to speak up about the clear distinction Elle magazine made when it featured a face shot of TV actress Mindy Kaling on its current cover along with full body shots of thinner TV actresses. Some bloggers and tweeters are calling Elle out for racism since Kaling is Indian and the other actresses are white; others have leveled “fat-ist” charges. Kaling—who I think looks gorgeous on the cover—has a healthy body size while the others are thin enough to have thigh gaps.

I’m not sure I feel the rage against Elle, since I happen to think Kaling’s cover is the most flattering and artistic. But I do think it’s a sad state of affairs when a high-fashion magazine can’t find a way to feature a full-figured woman’s body as a thing of beauty because we’ve become so accustomed to seeing only one body shape and size that’s manufactured by editing software.