LONDON–British department store Debenhams launched a new in-store swimwear campaign today using un-airbrushed photos—a move the retailer says is a step towards banning retouching across its catalogs and ad campaigns.
The campaign features three versions of the same photograph on display in the windows of Debenhams’ London flagship: An image of an un-retouched bikini model, a copy marked up with requests for fixes, and a digitally enhanced version of the ‘before’ shot showcasing slimmer thighs, dramatic cleavage shading, and a rather impossible-looking wasp waist.
The most striking aspect of the images (and the non-Photoshopped Fashionista exclusive pic) is how incredible the model looks without the airbrushing—better than after all those body-warping tweaks.
“She’s perfect as she is—there’s absolutely no reason to airbrush her,” says Debenhams spokesperson Carie Barkhuizen. “Unfortunately, everyone seems to think that airbrushing is where we need to be.”
Debenhams has stepped into the body image arena in the past. In January, the retailer populated its window displays with UK size 16 (US size 12) mannequins; in February, it cast disabled model Shannon Murray for the ads that launched Ben de Lisi’s Principles line.
Both stunts got press. So is this latest anti-airbrushing crusade a gimmick?
“These are baby steps towards being a much more inclusive retailer…. and tackling the overall problem of body image that customers are facing,” Barkhuizen says.
It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that showcasing clothes on already perfect bodies will make the rest of us any more comfortable with the idea of buying THAT bikini. As in all of the highly hyped makeup-free magazine features we’ve seen (and Britney and Demi’s ‘before’ ad shots), the model is still meticulously made up, lit, styled, toned, etc.
Still, we have to applaud any move that challenges industry-wide assumptions and spurs on conversation.
Underneath the images propped up in the Debenhams window, there’s a request for feedback: “We’ve not messed with natural beauty; this image is un-airbrushed. What do you think?”
So: what do you think? The way forward, or a skillful PR move?