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.
We 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?
There’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.
And 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.