Style Voices

Sunday 20 October 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'Most of us are not quite ready to give up on that new and improved version of ourselves Photoshop brings'

The crusade against magazine and media airbrushing is on the rise, but abandoning filters may be harder than we think, writes Tanya Sweeney

Jameela Jamil discusses
Jameela Jamil discusses "The Good Place" with the Build Series at Build Studio on October 2, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
Nigella Lawson asked US TV companies not to airbrush her stomach

Tanya Sweeney

Be honest: when was the last time you posted a picture on social media without giving it the full FaceTune treatment first? Or even just a precursory nip/tuck, then a crop of the 'bingo wing' here, a filter on root regrowth there? Whether it's pictures of our food, our kids, our holidays or our new haircuts, it's a rare and hardy soul that decides to do away with the array of filters at our fingertips.

Yet a bizarre irony is afoot. While putting our best (and possibly fake) foot forward has become the norm in real life, the traditional arena of the fantastical and the escapist is coming increasingly under fire for doing what it's done for decades. Magazine covers, model shoots and megabucks ad campaigns have long had aspiration, not to mention a severe reality tweak, as their very cornerstones.

Yet thanks to the actions of a handful of body positivity campaigners, celebrities and industry heavyweights, airbrushing has taken on a sinister, seamy reputation. Things have become politicised. People are speaking up about how excessive media airbrushing has shifted the goalposts for every woman, changing the world's already unrealistic beauty standards. 'Aspirational' and 'fantasy' are no longer the beauty biz's buzzwords: 'healthy', 'inclusivity', 'transparency' and 'authenticity' are. We have, say campaigners, guzzled the lie of perfection for too long.

The big question, of course, is this: in a world where filters and FaceTuning are less the exception and more the norm at the hands of mere civilians, is the beauty and fashion industry about to take trailblazing steps into a post-airbrushing world? Or rather, can they? Those who have ostensibly built careers on the fantastical qualities that airbrushing affords have been first past the post with their protestations.

Presenter-turned-actress Jameela Jamil has become something of a powerhouse in the battle against the airbrush, which she calls a 'crime against women'. Now, Jamil - who is open about her body image struggles as a teenager - goes so far as to invoke a 'no retouching' caveat when posing for magazine photoshoots (joining models such as Iskra Lawrence, Robyn Lawley and Ashley Graham).

"Please explain to me how this isn't bad for young/all people to see these doctored images that they don't know have been doctored," she tweeted earlier this week.

Even more recently, Nigella Lawson has wandered into the fray, revealing that she is now requesting that TV companies leave her appearance well alone: "I've had to tell American TV stations not to airbrush my sticking-out stomach," she tweeted. "The hatred of fat, and assumption that we'd all be grateful to be airbrushed thinner, is pernicious."

The latest arrival into the BoPo, anti-Photoshop camp is Emily Atack, fresh from an appearance on I'm A Celebrity. Recalling how she found it hard to find work as a 'curvier' girl, Atack revealed earlier this week that she had deleted her many in-phone photo-editing apps, and is happy to embrace her unvarnished, authentic beauty. The retail giants sniff a seismic trend when they sense one, and Aerie, H&M and ASOS have implemented no-editing policies in their campaigns. "We have a moral obligation to ban the airbrush," said Debenhams, adding they "want to help customers feel confident about their figures" (surely the resulting publicity boost was a mere bonus).

Nigella Lawson outside The Late Late Show studios at RTE
Nigella Lawson outside The Late Late Show studios at RTE

The airbrushing debate has cracked open a great many truisms about the media's shortcomings, specifically its contribution to our frankly preposterous physical standards. The links between mental health challenges, eating disorders, media images and the ensuing selfie culture are calcifying with every passing day. But will making airbrushing - formerly the bedrock of the vast chasm between celebrity and mere mortal - illegal really change anything?

Read more: No airbrushing please, we're models - getting to know the new industry rules

It's likely that being drawn to the glossy, the dreamy and the impossibly beautiful will remain in our nature. However, a wider representation of different facial features, bodies, skin types and colours would, in theory, make a consumer more 'media literate', and able to pinpoint the join where real ends and unattainably beautiful begins.

Even before the picture editing tool Photoshop was invented in 1987, women have been held to beauty standards that have felt just beyond reach.

It's the very foundation on which we consume media in all its forms: make a person feel just about bad enough about her appearance to spur her into action, but not bad enough that she can't envisage a miracle cream/dress/handbag elevating her from the realm of the ordinary. Airbrushing is certainly having a moment, but other factors should be running in tandem to these sea changes. Carrying a few extra pounds shouldn't be seen as 'letting oneself go'. Bad skin shouldn't be synonymous with a bad lifestyle. Wrinkles and ageing shouldn't be considered a defeat at the hands of nature. Cellulite shouldn't be the preserve of women who just don't take enough care of themselves. Only then will we truly embrace the 'authentic'.

Re-education is sorely needed to break down the beauty standards that seem to hold so many women hostage… but knowing a Snapchat filter from a Photoshop tweak is the tip of the iceberg. Whatever about the encouraging battle cries of Jameela, H&M et al, most of us are not quite ready to give up on that tweaked, new and improved version of ourselves just yet.

Irish Independent

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