Real Beauty Isn’t Retouched


Dove Canada is getting serious about promoting Real Beauty by going after art directors, graphic designers and photo retouchers — basically anyone who distorts body image in print. In order to fight those who they feel create an unrealistic representation of what the body actually looks like, they created a “Beautify” action that can be downloaded for free from popular editing sites. The action appears to add a “glowing skin” effect when in reality, it reverts the image back to its original, unretouched state, thus driving home Dove’s philosophy that “Real Beauty Isn’t Retouched.”

I don’t know about you, but if I downloaded a skin enhancing action only to find it reverted my image back to the unretouched state, I’d be throwing out all my Dove products in protest.

No doubt, it’s a beautifully executed video which drives its point home. But, look; there’s a fine line, and it’s the difference between subtle enhancement and a complete body makeover.

barbieWe see it in print ads all the time: waists are smaller, bust lines are bigger, skin is smoother, hips are narrower, hair is fuller. In essence, we’ve Barbie-fied ourselves and it’s easy to see why so many girls grow up with a warped sense of body image. (Note: Barbie pre-dates Photoshop and, if human, would have a neck so thin she’d be unable to hold up her head. I still like all her accessories, though. And I want her townhouse and car.)

We even hear it in advertising. I actually received advertising advice once from someone in the photography industry known for their marketing expertise to ONLY use attractive, thin subjects when advertising your photography. Woah, there. Dove Canada and I do not take kindly to that kind of advice.

Our celebrities are probably the worst offenders. Or at least, those who retouch them.

Celebrities and print ads are one thing, but what about regular portrait clients? Are they happy with images completely un-retouched as Dove would have us believe? Again, there’s that fine line. Despite a session filled with beautiful lighting, and posing that elongates and flatters the body, ask most women if they want to appear exactly as they do out of the camera and the answer is a resounding, “no.”

What you will hear is:

“Can you tuck in my tummy?”

“Will you thin out my arms?”

“Can you give me more of a waist?”

“You will retouch my skin, right?”

And, of course, we do it. Why wouldn’t we?

juliaThere’s nothing wrong with being kind to someone’s image, giving a gentle nip and tuck here and there, but unfortunately, Photoshop is a lot like eating potato chips; once started, it’s hard to stop and all too quickly you find what started out as a gentle retouch has crossed over to what I like to call The Dark Side of Retouching; that place where subjects become unrecognizable, every pore is gone, and teeth look like they have their own light source.

Yeah, that place.

So, what’s the right amount of retouching? It differs for everyone and depends on the end product, so I don’t think there is any one right answer, but I can tell you what I think regarding portraits.

It’s like this: you know the feeling when you wake up in the morning and do your hair and it turns out great — so great, you wish you could freeze it so it would always look this way. And the jeans you put on somehow fit better than usual. You don’t know if you’ve lost a few pounds or the jeans were still stretched out from the last time you wore them, but it doesn’t matter, because you turn around in the mirror and you don’t dislike what you see. In fact, you love it. You can’t get over your bad self. You look put together and you leave the house feeling confident about your appearance. You have a bounce in your step and feel pretty great about yourself.

mirrorAnd then, a few days later, you see a picture of yourself taken on that same day, and you’re shocked. Your hair, which looked so good in the mirror that morning, now looks like you combed it with an egg beater. And your jeans, those same wonderful jeans that hugged your curves and fit so well, make you look in the photo as if you were trying to smuggle throw pillows in them. And you think, “WHAT? I looked awful! I must have been crazy to think I looked good.” And then you swear off photos completely and go eat about four doughnuts. Okay, maybe it’s just me who does that. But it’s a blow to your self-esteem and you can’t help but question your self-image.

My goal for retouching is very simple: to make a client feel, when she looks at her images, the same way she did when she left the house that morning and felt great about herself. Not different. Not changed. But herself…and just a little better. The way she feels when she feels she looks good. It might be a clumsy sentence, but, to me, that’s successful retouching.

I understand what Dove Canada is trying to do with their Trojan Horse Photoshop Action campaign, and applaud the philosophy behind it; they’ve found a clever way to remind digital artists everywhere that true beauty does not depend on digital enhancements, and perhaps that message will take root and we’ll recall it each time we take stylus in hand to work on an image.

All that being said, I’m sure that Dove Canada doesn’t want to completely eliminate all retouching. Even some of their prints ads feature highly retouched models with smooth, flawless skin. Certainly Dove knows that women seek their beauty products for the same reason women seek a little retouching…

To feel better about themselves.

Image credit: Mirror mirror… by antkriz

  • Melka

    Haha ! :>

  • Michael Andrew Broughton

    this whole thing has been nothing more than disingenuous marketing bs since everybody but cheri frost first heard about it half a year ago.

  • Ralph Hightower
  • sikdave


  • Renato Murakami

    It’s all good and fun, but I hope people don’t get too much out of it.
    The article was to the point, but just to reinforce: if people think only those 3 categories of people “Art Directors, Graphic Designers and Photo Retouchers” are to blame for excessive photoshop, they are plain wrong.
    Yes, people who are directly using the software are often to blame for excessive stuff that ends up in Photoshop Disasters and the like, but it’s also a surprising ammount of times that it’s the model’s fault, the boss-who-never-touched-Photoshop-before fault, or someone who has absolutely no idea on how retouches are done and just forces photographers to do too much.
    And that’s talking about bad photoshop jobs alone, because quite frankly, good portraits on magazines are very reliant on Photoshop not to alter model bodies, but to correct errors made on the photography session.
    Poor lighting, bad white balance, etc.
    All in all, let’s be honest here: Dove only does that because it sells beauty products. It’s a nice way to market itself… use our products and expect a natural look rather than rely on photoshop and artificial techniques.
    But for magazines, celebrity stuff, among other outlets, which despite having the occasional protest against too much photoshop, still has a vast majority of people who would not accept or keep buying their content if the models and subjects started looking more natural. We unfortunatelly still live in a society that glorifies beauty to an unnatural barbie level, even if there are lots of people who got over it.

  • matt jones

    Dove – keeping ugly people clean too

  • Jennifer Hudson

    I think you totally missed the point of the Dove Real Beauty campaign. It is to help women have a healthier self esteem and not compare themselves to unrealistic images in magazines. By retouching a client’s waist you aren’t enhancing her beauty but reinforcing the idea that women need to look a certain way.. and if you don’t well ” let’s touch it up so you look better.” Instead of altering the client’s image to your standard of beauty, why not adjust lighting, try different posses, or use backgrounds to enhance the natural beauty a client brings to the set instead of a little wrinkle remover here and nips and tucks elsewhere. You are creating unrealistic images as well because no one has flawless skin but if you think they should then what does that say about the way you see beauty and promote it to others?

    The whole point is to embrace what traditionally is viewed as flaws and a photographer’s future spots to edit to instead be your own beauty marks. Retouching is retouching and I think by trting tk defend your “minimal” ” in the best interest of the client” retouching you are fooling yourself if you think you aren’t like the professionals.

  • Scott

    I’m so glad I don’t need to retouch the photos I take of my wife to make her feel as good as she did in the morning. In fact I shot her this morning before she even got out of bed and she loved the raw images. :P

  • Sirkellett

    Here’s the thing, a photo is a clients memory. How they want that memory is up to them. Some people want to remember the way it was, some want to remember the way they could only dream. If you can create that memory for them, no matter what, you have done a good job.

  • DafOwen

    I appreciate where they’re coming from – but at the end of the day it’s still a marketing campaign used to manipulate our buying habits.

    The “Real beauty” campaign is a bit hypocritical – it ONLY uses curvier models. I have several friends who are naturally slim – are these girls not “real” or beautiful …..

    AFAIK The same ad agency which started the Real Beauty campaign also did some of the Lynx/Axe deodorant adverts – total opposite message…

  • Hank

    The Dove Real Beauty campaign isn’t a real thing. It’s advertising to sell soap.

  • Wodan74

    It’s so lame that Dove is pointing the finger at us, graphic designers and art directors, because we all know that they are the client, asking these jobs from us.

  • disqus_t8VysXPYFg

    As a naturally slim girl, I was offended when I didn’t find a slim model in the campaign ad. Apparently, to Dove, slim is not an acceptable natural body shape.

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    As someone else stated – they sell soap. Dove doesn’t really care about “natural beauty”, it cares about sales. Photoshop is a tool and it’s not “evil” or “bad”, it’s just that – a tool. Images are being Photoshopped because they sell better like that. They sell better because people like slim girls with large breasts and square jawed, muscly men. We like slim girls and muscly men because we evolved to like them and be attracted to them. We are attracted to them because a “mate” like that meant full belly and children.

  • 442323

    ugly fuks…..

  • Rob Elliott

    Retouching pictures of both men and women have been done for decades including the heyday of film. It is significantly easier and cheaper now. People need to learn that the images are retouched, accept they are retouched and move on.

    At the same time Magazines either need to decrease the severity of the retouching, (though changing a waist has been done going back to the 40s), or increasing it to the point of a photo to digital painting conversion.

    The Dove campaign is designed to sell soap and troll people looking for a quick fix filter.

  • Ulfson

    nonsense… girls re attracted to them because it simply looks better.
    in africa woman like to marry fat men because that means they have enough food, that´s right.
    but muscular men like myself just look great. simple as that…..

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Photos in magazines are retouched. Get over it.

    Also fashion models are a very select few that were born with certain genetic traits that qualifies them to be a model.

    I would love to be a pro basketball player, but I am neither tall enough or fast enough. I have accepted that. Why is this so hard????

  • snapshot1

    You do realize that Dove is owned by the same company Unilever that sells and promotes Axe products right? This “It is to help women have a healthier self esteem and not compare themselves to unrealistic images in magazines.” is BS. They are feeding on insecurity with a “I’ll make you feel better after you watched that Axe ad if you buy Dove.” Don’t believe me – watch TV for a week and see how many times you see a Dove ad only AFTER a sexist Axe ad in the same chunk of commercials.

    I totally believe in natural beauty and refuse to Photoshop to perfection and never alter body shape, but to think Dove actually cares about this is the real sad part.

  • Chris Pickrell

    Doesn’t Dove retouch their own photos too?

  • Same Story Different Author

    Yaaawn, PetaPixel. Another rehash of the same story about retouching photos. Rehashing this story into another story is laziness by the author and by the blog. We get it. Photos are retouched. Let’s move on.

  • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

    Well said Piotrek! Right to the point!

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    there is a reason why something looks “great” to us. culture and society has a role to play in it too but on a basic level: big breasts and square jaws.

  • Natalie

    Actually the waist to hip ratio is more important than large breasts, biologically speaking

  • antquinonez

    Dove is not a person, it’s not even a company. It’s a brand (a product label) belonging to a multinational corporation. We’re not dealing with ideas, we’re dealing with marketing. It’s BS, it’s selling products and increasing mind-share for the sake of money.This is a campaign, it will have it’s day in the sun, and the next time you hear of Dove it’ll be beautiful, retouched babies and young girls.

  • antquinonez

    Jennifer, this skin beautiful thing this is an advertising campaign, not an initiative to help women have a healthier self-esteem. It’s not real.

  • antquinonez

    Note to the ugly people: Irish Springs is a harsher cleaner. Get’s the excess ugly off faster.

  • cuteshannon

    I love this article, I think the women in the top box are so much more beautiful and interesting than the bland retouched photos I see in most adverts.

    (I also agree with the comments on Dove)

  • Sugando Pulando

    No, but I guess other people just want to piss in everyone’s cereal.