15 December 2010

Times Haven't Really Changed: Airbrushing the Past

As of late, there has been a backlash against the airbrushing of models for fashion magazines and advertising.

Because models apparently aren't beautiful, slender or tall enough, the fashion world further slims their hips and waists, elongates their legs, and enlarges their eyes, hair and breasts.

The left picture is a more accurate representation of what a 29 yr old's bottom looks like.

"We're always stretching the models' legs and slimming their thighs," a Manhattan-based photo retoucher tells NEWSWEEK, speaking anonymously for fear of professional backlash.

See how she's so fat in the second picture? Obviously such flaws had to be fixed.

I'd love to tell you this is just a new fad, or something that our Evil Modern Society created. Unfortunately, "airbrushing" has been around for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

It used to take the form of paintings and sculpture.

Henry VIII (yeah, that Henry) famously demanded that since he had yet to see Anne of Cleves, that his royal portraitist must paint her accurately and not flatter her.
If all artists painted accurate representations of their subjects, then why such a demand? Because almost NO ONE did that. That would be poor business.

I don't know, she still doesn't look too bad.

Only since the invention of photography were we able to prove that the art was less than realistic, but it's been going on long before the 19th century.

The Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, in a lovely painting:

The Princess Alice in real life:

She's not ugly, but didn't naturally possess the mid-late 1800s female aesthetic Ideal which was extremely sloping, white rounded shoulders, plump arms, and round face having tiny nose over heart-shaped lips.

Queen Victoria in her wedding dress:

And here is the Queen in her wedding dress.

Here's another painting of her:

It doesn't even look like the same person in the face.

Not only women were "photo-shopped" in paintings.
Here's President Andrew Jackson's photograph...

...which is far cry from paintings and money depicting him:

Note the strong jaw and expressive eyes that are required of all men.

Print of Andrew Jackson in his natural state of "kicking British ass." Still not my favorite President.

I agree that the media's depiction of models is not good for the self-esteem of the rest of us, particularly since the models have been altered so much that they are no longer real people. 

When a 5'9" model weighing less than 115 is not a "good enough" shape for Fashion, this is what we are left with after the airbrushing:

This is a real Ralph Lauren catalog.

But is it so much worse than this was?

1830s fashion plates. Notes the elongated necks, sloped but wide shoulders, oddly narrow feet, tiny high waists.


  1. I think airbrushing has a time and place. If I were in that first ad that Britney Spears was in, I would personally want my cellulite removed. That is something that even when in shape can be hard, if not impossible, to control. A faint glow of beauty around oneself to slightly soften the features can be nice. The rest I find kind of insulting. I am very proud of my tattoos. I would not have gotten permanent ink markings on my body if I wasn't.

    Did you hear about the fiasco with Julia Roberts a while back? Supposedly Redbook, I think it was, took her head from the cover photo shoot and photoshopped it onto a body shot they had taken of her years earlier. It was said that she was quite insulted and didn't understand why they needed her if they were just going to use an old photo.

  2. I did not hear about that, but I find it pretty funny.
    The part that bothers me is when they take an already skinny and tall model, then make her skinnier and taller. Soon we'll be looking at aliens and thinking, "that's hot."

  3. There's not much redeeming about magazines. They're like glorified, but less useful, phone books.

  4. I'd rather have airbrushing and photos being altered, than plastic surgery of unnatural proportions. That's what they do in the skin trade.

  5. This is excellent. Thanks Angry H.

    There is a good documentary about the "Real George Washington" and they do a forensic reconstruction of what he probably looked like. He's bot so heroic and handsome I'm afraid. And his visage is not what we see on our currency.

    The problem is that we want perfection in each other, not just the ads. It's sad, really.

    Tex Shelters

  6. @Tex - That's because that's Adam Wieshaupt, who took over for Washington for the Presidency.

  7. The interesting thing about this to me is that I look at political spin doctors and wonder if this is any different. The pictures vs the paintings make me think of the witnesses account vs the newspaper article the next morning.