Sex & Society » Fashion, Acceptance, Women: "Mirror, Mirror: When Pictures Lie"

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Mirror, Mirror: When Pictures Lie

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Every picture tells a story, but a lot of the time, what's being sold as the truth is a fairy tale. When does fashion become a weapon and just how dangerous is altering reality to sell advertising?

  Size Matters

Okay … it’s totally the latter. According to a YWCA report, “Beauty at Any Cost,” nearly 10 million American women have eating disorders. And according to a University of Missouri study, even men—the men who we think want to look at cartoony women—suffer a drop in self-esteem when they see those photos.

So why are they still making models into Hunger Artists? Normal women can sell magazines. Glamour proved it by featuring a naked size 12/14 Lizzie Miller and getting a great response.

Consider, though, that normal women might be able to sell a few clothes but perhaps they can’t make you feel insecure enough to make you buy the other products being advertised in fashion display ads. Hoovers Business Solutions says that the beauty supply and perfume store industry is taking in $10 billion a year. Fitness centers: $21 billion. Weight reduction service centers: $2 billion. There’s a mint to be made from keeping you feeling like an Oompa Loompa.

This tip wasn’t brought to my attention by a social psychologist by the way but by the canny mother of a 14-year-old girl, who is trying like hell to help her kid navigate the social minefield and stay healthy. Good for her. Moms who are overconcerned with weight and fathers and brothers who are critical of weight can spark an eating disorder as well, according to Nancy Schimelpfenig,’s Depression blogger. So while I understand and agree with Julie Burchill that women should be savvier about the dark magic of advertising, some young girls never got immunized against that kind of insecurity, and for them it’s a little tougher.

  I Sing the Body Dysmorphic

Thirty years is a long time in which to sell diet pills and perfumes to increasingly mislead women and there’s historic evidence of how female images have become whittled down in that time: Wired magazine’s list of the proportions of Playboy Playmates from 1954 to present. The feature chronicles how much thinner Playboy Playmates have become over the past five decades, while real women have gotten heavier “…just like American men,” writes Wired’s Katherine Gammon. In BMI terms, “Playmates have gone from a sylphlike 19.4 to an anime-ideal, 17.6.”

The piece also traces a timeline of Seventeen magazine covers. In 1979, you’ll find fresh-faced Phoebe Cates wearing a sweater, no makeup and braces forgoddsake. She looks like a nice, normal teenager who hasn’t had to navigate around porn sites to get to her Facebook page. Go to the current cover and there’s Gossip Girl’s Taylor Momsen, also 17, stylized within an inch of her life and looking far too world-weary for someone who isn’t even old enough to drink. Compared to Cates, she looks miserable.

Who can blame her? It’s got to be exhausting to grow up in a world where reality is just another option. Two plastic surgery groups, The American Society for Plastic Surgery and the American Academy for Cosmetic Surgery reported respectively that there were 10 million and 17 million plastic surgery procedures in America…in a recession. Unemployment and underemployment reached their highest levels since the 1930s, but people still squirreled away enough to get their titties lifted. Is there really a point in trying to get ads to look like real people when real people no longer look like real people?

  The Naked Truth

Liz Langley-Au NaturelThe regulating of Photoshop through disclaimer is certainly a good idea (though it should be on all distorted ads, not just those for clothing) because the industry has a responsibility to tell its customers the truth. Even so, it still does have that feeling of taking down the Halloween witch without addressing why it made your kid completely freak because they thought it was real. Until women find ways to be less vulnerable to false images we won’t be out of the woods. No one should feel ugly because they don’t have novelty boobs, a WASP waist, or wear…makeup.

That’s a tough one for me. I love makeup. L’Oreal Lineur Intense black liquid eyeliner is often the only thing I wear besides clothes.

Liz Langley-BeforeSometimes, as you see in the first photo, I don’t bother with the clothes.

That picture was taken after a trip to my local nudist resort, and I’m posting it in order to participate in No Make-Up Week, created by Rachel Rabbit White and Alle Malice wherein women are exposing—gasp!—their faces!

“I came up with No Make-Up Week because, while I love makeup, it wasn’t feeling like a choice,” says White. “If I was going to see friends I needed to scurry and slap on some eyebrow pencil or mascara. If it was a work thing, I needed a full-face of the stuff. That isn’t fun. I think as long as there is not a real feeling of choice, it’s not okay.”

White wanted women to discuss role of makeup in their lives and I certainly thought about it when I considered uploading this picture. At first I thought, Not without my liner.

Liz Langley-photoshoppedBut I agree that makeup and fashion should be pleasures, not burdens, and thought it only fair to offer that picture to show—like the unretouched photos show—that people look different all the time. The middle shot is a professional studio portrait by Miriam Lorenzi with regular makeup, and last a Photoshopped image of the same picture.

So that’s me, “shopped, unshopped and totally nude—not even foundation. I like all three of these—I’m not so brave or so dumb that I’d have sent the editors pictures I hated—but I like the middle one best. That’s me. I’m not the porcelain doll in the retouch, but I’m even less the nature girl in the first shot. I’m somewhere between obsessive glamour puss and lazy slob.

That, actually, is where most of us probably are and it’s the most confident and comfortable of the three. The only way to get there is to not let the click of a mouse push you around.


Contributor: Kayla

Good article. I'm always surprised by how much we photoshop everything.

Contributor: Cherry Trifle

Brava. It would be nice if I wasn't always using the term "...stop being such a GIRL..." in a negative way. Everyone knows even the models 'don't really look like that.' Have you seen Keith Richards on the new RS cover? Think about all the Photoshopping it took just to get him look like a benevolent mummy. Fantastic piece. =)



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