Magazines have doctored cover images since the first model showed up for her first photo shoot hung over after her first coke-and-booze-fueled night out on the first town. It happens to some degree on every cover of every issue of every magazine. So, not surprisingly, it has happened again.
But I’m not talking about Katharine McPhee in Stuff, Kate Winslet in GQ or even Andy Roddick in Men’s Fitness. This time, the retouching culprit isn’t a usual-suspect men’s magazine at all — it’s women’s mag staple Redbook. The blog Jezebel sponsored a $10,000 contest to find the most egregious example of airbrushing, then it blew up the spot on the mom mag for Photoshopping the crap out of Faith Hill on the cover of its July issue.
Here’s the real Faith:
And here’s the Photoshopped Faith:
A quick comparison reveals the obvious touch-ups that magazines regularly engage in — and the ones Faith Hill and her publicist likely appreciate: Her crow’s feet are smoothed; her laugh lines are softened. But Jezebel proceeds to take us on a feature-by-feature tour of exactly what was inserted (hair), removed (ass and elbow) and erased (back fat) so that the true image of the hideous Hill wouldn’t scald readers’ eyes.
Some of my personal favorite alterations are the complete removal of the bend in her elbow (fat elbows are a scourge!), the elimination of her armpit skin to reveal her spaghetti strap, the wholesale addition of her right arm and the junking of her junk in the trunk.
To say that magazines contribute to an unattainable ideal is to undersell the point: The art directors and retouchers of the world get paid to create women who literally do not exist and never could. It’s worse than the old Women’s Studies 101 complaints about Barbie’s proportions; everyone already knows Barbie isn’t real. The more insidious — and therefore more dangerous — manipulation occurs when they take away the natural crook of a woman’s arm or tighten up her droopy earlobe. Really: They digitally adjusted her earlobe!
If a magazine reader wonders why, even though she’s constantly dieting, buying expensive clothing and applying layers of makeup, she never look likes Faith Hill, it’s because not even Faith Hill looks like Faith Hill. The reader can never attain that look because truly no human being ever could. And Kate Winslet will never look like this:
I suspect working in the industry is the only way to know the frightening extent to which, in magazines, nothing is real. The pictures of cover subjects, be they models, actors or musicians, are no more real than a cartoon drawing — and that’s exactly what they are: drawings. The art director takes a print from the shoot, grabs a pen, and marks where he wants a woman to begin and end. He draws how thick her legs should be. He circles for removal parts of her arms, thighs, hips, waist, face and butt. He indicates how far her legs and hair should extend beyond where nature has grown them. He draws on muscles; he erases nipples; he adds shoes; the variations are endless. The final product resembles reality, but it isn’t. It’s reality squared, or halved, or otherwise sliced and diced in defiance of physics and disrespect of the photo’s audience as well as its subject.
The most offensive part of this latest cover cleanup, to me, is that the perpetrator is Redbook, a service magazine for older women. (At least the men’s magazines usually cop to hotting up their cover models.) And to add verbal insult to visual injury, the cover line next to Faith Hill’s head screams, “The New Skinny Pills: Yes, They Work!” To my knowledge, science has not yet yielded a pill that can create a 1-inch elbow.
The Redbook peeps, for their part, maintain that “The retouching we did on Faith Hill’s photo for the July cover is completely in line with industry standards.” So that makes it OK? Not to the Jezebels, whose entire existence is based on the premise that women’s media perpetuates what it terms “big lies,” one of which is the cover lie. To this end, the site’s writers regularly and snarkily pick apart the ridiculously altered pictures, simplistic articles and unrealistic expectations that fill the pages of consumer magazines. So I’ll leave the last, awesome word to them:
“Magazine-retouching may not be a lie on par with, you know, ‘Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,’ but in a world where girls as young as eight are going on the South Beach Diet, teenagers are getting breast implants as graduation gifts, professional women are almost required to fetishize handbags, and everyone is spending way too much goddamn time figuring out how to pose in a way that will look as good as that friend with the really popular MySpace profile, it’s f—ing wrong.”