Fashion magazines have long featured photos of digitally altered bodies trimmed of every extra ounce. Waists are nipped, legs slimmed and hips smoothed to make models examples of unattainable, ultrathin perfection. Recently, though, the scale is tipping in the other direction, with equally deleterious effects: The fashion industry is retouching images to make women look bigger — though only in the “right” places.
With “reverse retouching,” flesh is added to small breasts, flat butts, skeletal arms and gaunt faces. The goal is to make underweight models look healthier and more voluptuous — because lush figures are thought to sell certain products better than too-skinny ones. But by hiring super-skinny models instead of healthy-weight ones, the industry selectively controls which body parts get fattened up, and continues its legacy of projecting unrealistic images.
“It creates an aspirational ideal that is literally impossible to achieve,” says Lesley Kinzel, associate editor at xoJane.com, an online women’s magazine. “We can all know intellectually that these images represent a fantasy that we can never make real for ourselves. That said, just because we know it’s a fantasy does not mean it has no power to affect us and our expectations of our own appearances.”
Instead of faking it, Kinzel urges magazines to include photos of real women — imperfections and all — in their pages. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see women who look like us in mainstream imagery,” she says. “The fantasy can be fun, but I believe it’s ultimately destructive when we have nothing to balance it with.”