Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Annals of retouching disaster: The Ann Taylor shirt

Thanks to a technical screw-up by someone at Ann Taylor (I'm thinking heads will roll over this), Jezebel was able to grab screen captures of a model before and after retouching.

Here's what the site ran:

You can see the work that's been done. As Jezebel put it, the "unretouched thumbnails . . . transform [models] into ribless monstrosities."

The model on the left--the unretouched one--is beautiful, shapely, and wears the clothing well. So why, why, why turn her into the absurd image on the right? I don't think it's enough to cite the pursuit of thinness. The model on the left is already thin--you can see her ribs, for God's sake. I think there's something more at stake here. Something that has to do less with beauty-qua-beauty and more to do with how women are perceived in 21st-century America--and how we perceive ourselves.

I can't help thinking about the timing of all these retouching debacles. There was the Calvin Klein photoshop disaster:

Then there was the Self magazine Kelly Clarkson debacle (see below).

Technology has something to do with it, of course. We photoshop because we can, because human beings are compulsive changers-of-reality and even more relentless self-improvers, and can't pass up an opportunity to "iimprove" ourselves.

Except that these kinds of "improvements" are so far out of the mainstream, no one (I hope) would confuse them with reality. Which brings me back to the idea that there's something more going on here.

Women have never been as powerful in America as we are today. And even though we still have a ways to go (can you say "woman president in my lifetime?), we've made enormous progress since I was a young thing. And thanks to the Great Recession, women's work and employment levels may be surpassing men's for the first time.

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe the Trojan Horse of self-loathing embodied in images like these is meant to put us uppity women in our place. I've said it before and I'll say it again: So long as we're obsessed with our appearance, our looks, how thin we are or aren't, we're missing the boat on a whole lot of more important issues.

I can't help thinking there's a connection.


Tanz said...

I totally agree that there is an anti-feminist angle to this promotion of self loathing but I don't think it's just America: it's just as bad elsewhere in the Western world.

The sad thing for me is that so many women simply buy into it without thinking about it and seeing it for what it is... an attempt to make us 'disappear'.

Harriet said...

Yep. Which is why we need to talk about it!

Cora said...

Thank you soo much for this!! I agree completely and dream of a day where my daughters and grand daughters won't be subjected to the same oppression...

Elizabeth said...

wow that's disgusting. really ann taylor? really? who do you think your customers are?
The untouched model is gorgeous already-look at her perfectly flat abs and flawless skin. is it really necessary to shave 5 inches off her already small waist? and the bobblehead ralph lauren ad is just so sad.
thanks for the excellent post!

Jeanne Courtney, MFT said...

Yep. The personal is political, and what's more personal than our bodies? Your insight resonates with this thought from Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.

"More women have money and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. . . . there is a secret "underlife" poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control. It is no accident that so many potentially powerful women feel this way. We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women's advancement: the beauty myth."

Harriet said...

Thanks for the quote, Jeanne. I should go back and re-read my Naomi Wolf

Sleepydumpling said...

It's just as bad here in Australia. They chop limbs off and re-attach them at impossible angles, they put white highlight down the bones to make them stand out more. They remove ribs, whittle waists, inflate breasts and lips, even heads now. They create these creatures that wouldn't look out of place in Avatar, if you just dyed them blue and gave them dreadlocks.

Women and girls are supposed to aspire to this. There is no doubt at all in my mind that it's a tool of oppression.

Unknown said...

does the person doing the photoshopping think that men actually find women that thin attractive? the retouched photo is enough to make me physically ill.

Anonymous said...

I HATE it when photos that are already beautiful get retouched. The woman looked so beautiful and she looked like a skeleton after getting retouched by the computer. It's such a shame that this stuff happens.