Too much RETOUCH?

Retouch is a thorny issue. Many would love to see it banished forever, as it’s seen as responsible for the impossible standards we are all expected to spend our lives striving to attain. It’s seen as misleading and immoral.

I totally get that, especially when you see particularly awful images in which the model/celeb is clearly wearing three sets of false eyelashes to sell us mascara, or the ‘leaked’ before and after pictures, such as this one, in which Jennifer Lawrence looks 100% hot stuff on the left, and 100% hot stuff on the right….


But I’m afraid I can’t take such a solid stance in opposition. I hate bad retouch, I hate dishonest retouch…However I refuse to see retouch as the devil incarnate.

When is Retouch Acceptable?

I remember going to an Avedon (if you don’t know this classic photographer, then please do check him it out!) exhibition, and seeing a sheet of negatives on which he had annotated small aspects of the picture he’d like altered: a shadow lightened here, a crease smoothed over there, a jawline defined there. Retouch can be likened to an artist’s finishing brushstrokes, ensuring the vision he or she had for the image can be realised. Because let’s not forget that an inspiring fashion shoot must have an element of unreality, of beauty and even of unattainability.

It’s why, on a shoot, make up transforms us models to another era or world, combinations of clothes enhance or conceal certain aspects of our personality, and why we move as a character the photographer wants us to become.

So OK: The J-Law picture above. She’s clearly been slimmed down, and that’s what people don’t like: it’s seen as fraudulent. We’re meant to look like these people, even though THEY don’t look like the images?

Just focusing on that image for a sec, I can tell you as an experienced model that that is the WORST angle to be photographed in, and the worst place to be cropped. Cropping at the largest point of her leg, half-way through her buttock hasn’t helped matters. Also, certain lights such as a sidelight can give a really great effect on the skin but it can also enlarge the proportions of the body a bit. I did a side-lit shoot last Thursday wearing a bra and a skirt, and was feeling pretty toned and lithe. I did the same ‘hands in hair’ pose as Jennifer is doing there and I literally looked…


Plus can anyone other than razor-jawed Natasha Poly get away with an up-the-nose angle like that? I’d need a bit of help, that’s for sure!

Bearing in mind that the camera can add weight and this angle isn’t the most flattering, Jennifer is probably somewhere in the middle of these two ‘before and after’ images. If we didn’t have the back up of some retouch, models would never feel free to move around, trying out shapes and expressions and getting caught up in the moment. We’d be far too worried about unflattering angles, the stylist would have palpitations over crinkling clothes and the photographer would have to create stilted, set-up poses for ideal lighting.

So basically, what I’m saying, retouch can be used to subtly enhance an image and make it true to the team’s vision. A bit like taking photos of yourself from your best angle, or applying a filter to flatter your complexion. Don’t like it?

Let he who is without #filter cast the first stone.

When is Retouch Unacceptable?

OK, so I’m obviously pro a bit of retouch, but when do I think it’s bad? When it makes an image into a big fat lie, that’s when! It’s when it goes from being a few correcting little touches to creating a totally unreal image, turning us models into aliens with no pores, lines or knees.

It really is going too far these days – imperfections are what make a person both human and beautiful, so to take these away erases their humanity and their relatability.

May I also say that people get upset that the images they see are retouched so much. Well let me tell you – it can be just as upsetting to be retouched! Case in hand – my lovely strong nose is always being made into a tiny little snubbed affair:

perfectwedThat ain’t my nose!

I look so far from my own self in the below picture, my housemate didn’t even recognise me!

If you’re going to retouch me this much, at least make my boobs look enormous!

As with most things in fashion – money, weight, the height of heels – things are always taken uncomfortably far. We need to find the balance between a bit of gentle enhancement and giving models virtual plastic surgery with Photoshop.

The public, i.e. the consumers of what we sell on shoots, are demanding less retouch, and lapping up honest images such as the Dove campaigns. It’s probably why people reacted so positively to the picture of Cindy Crawford, a Mum of 2 in her 40s, looking like this:

cindyFYI, this sort of lighting doesn’t just draw attention to lumps and bumps, it creates them. It’s like being in a Topshop changing room to the power of a gazillion.

Wow! A mother who shows actual signs of having born children! When people are overjoyed to simply see a woman looking like a human being, you know it’s time for a bit of retouch revolution.

Rebecca x

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  1. Frances wrote:

    Another great article! This one made me smile, I just wish each of my photos could be re-touched!

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