It’s no secret that the topic of retouching within the realm of fashion and entertainment has become a prominent focus of debate amongst vocal advocates against the practice. Well-known figures such as Lena Dunham have spoken out against photoshopping magazine covers numerous times. Despite the negative attention that retouching has received, however, it is still largely considered the norm within the industry. Casting an ominous light on the subject, Refinery29 recently caught up with an anonymous woman who has spent most of her career providing retouching expertise for a diverse array of brands – most noteworthy among these being Victoria’s Secret. Providing a disheartening look into the fashion industry, she outlines a deeply superficial process that puts women’s bodies through an arduous editing process. As a result, the version of the model that consumers (and young girls) see is an unrealistic ideal that is essentially unachievable.
You can read an excerpt from the conversation below and can head over to Refinery29 to read the full article.
2. Body “fixing” starts on set.
During her time with Victoria’s Secret, Sarah often worked on set, seeing all the alterations and special effects that took place long before the editing process.
“The first thing they do is they put in [hair] extensions,” says Sarah. “I don’t think I ever was on a shoot with a model that had real hair.” Next, they throw in “chicken cutlets” and other shaping pads to alter the model’s breast size and body shape. “If you hold up the bathing suit in your own hand, it’s so heavy because they have all this shit sewed into it.”
Perhaps the strangest — yet most obvious — addition is the bra. “They put a push-up bra under the bathing suit. And we retouch out the bra…a lot of [staffers] would complain because they even did it with strapless stuff. When you’re wearing a strapless bikini, in no way, shape, or form [can] you have cleavage. It’s physically impossible with the way gravity works.”
Victoria’s Secret wasn’t the only one who pulled this trick, Sarah adds; it was a routine practice. That’s why we’re used to seeing anti-gravity breasts everywhere, and why a swimsuit will never look the same on our bodies as it does on the model’s body. Because it’s barely her body anymore.
3. No one’s [insert any body part] looks like that.
Next comes the digital alteration: The bra gets taken out, and the nipples erased. Sarah was often asked to make breasts rounder, higher, perfectly symmetrical, and of course, larger (“they all have [size] A’s,” she says.)
Breasts are just one of many fixes. There are also subtle corrections we’d never notice or think would need correcting, simply because of what happens to a human body when photographed. “Everyone has blue hands and blue feet,” says Sarah. That’s just the way extremities show up in a picture. Furthermore, everyone’s armpits turn gray on camera. No matter how closely you shave, you’ll have a shadow, she says. And many of the models she worked with didn’t bother even shaving: “They come to these photo shoots and, like, they have their arms up in the classic beach pose, and they have, like, hairy armpits. They all have stubbly pubes — all the normal stuff [non-models have].”
Of course, the best “fix” here would be for brands to leave the stubble in, and for us to get used to seeing stubble. Sarah agrees wholeheartedly, but she points out that we’ve been so conditioned by these standard practices that, “collectively, we don’t even think about it.”
Another standard practice is “adding meat on their bones.” You might assume that retouchers make everyone skinnier, but in fact, “Models are thinner than you actually think they are, and we retouch them to look rounder.” Sarah routinely plumped up butts, hid protruding ribcages, and softened sharp hipbones under digital flesh. “We have to curve them out.”