When you open a glossy magazine–whether it’s a model in an editorial in Vogue, a CoverGirl, or a celebrity in US Weekly staring back at you–is what you’re seeing real? How altered, airbrushed, Photoshopped and retouched are the people we see in ads and magazines?
A lot of people are asking these questions lately. Recently, the New York Times published an article about a computer algorithm for ﬁguring out how much an image has been retouched–and it seems to have touched a nerve.
And where beauty ads are concerned–when retouching can actually mislead customers–steps are being taken to scale back on the post-production, or at least make plain that alterations took place. The UK released a series of advertising guidelines this past spring requiring cosmetics companies to disclose when they manipulate ads post-production. The US may start to do the same in the wake of the recent Taylor Swift CoverGirl mascara ad controversy.
The National Advertising Division, a watchdog group, opted to ban the ads, prompting discussion that other cosmetics ads in the US could come under investigation. The cosmetics company yanked the ads after the National Advertising Division, a watchdog group, challenged the claims made in the campaign, saying the use of photoshop made them potentially misleading to consumers. Since then, there’s been speculation that other cosmetic ads in the US could come under similar investigation.
But retouching has been around for almost as long as photography has–itʼs not a new concept. So why all the recent fuss? Has it gotten out of control? Or has it just gotten sloppy (see: advent of the phrase “photoshop disaster” as spotting retouch jobs gone bad has become a sport on the internet)? We talked to a bunch of professional retouchers–all of whom agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity to protect their careers–but the insights they offered should clear up some misconceptions–and surprise you.