“Reverse retouching” of models to fatten them up

May 27th, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  7 Comments

“There’s another type of digital dishonesty that’s rife in the beauty industry, and it’s one that you may well never have heard of and may even struggle to believe, but which can be just as poisonous an influence on women.

It’s been dubbed ‘reverse retouching’ and involves using models who are cadaverously thin and then adding fake curves so they look bigger and healthier.

This deranged but increasingly common process recently hit the headlines when Jane Druker, the editor of Healthy magazine – which is sold in health food stores – admitted retouching a cover girl who pitched up at a shoot looking ‘really thin and unwell’.

It sounds crazy, but the truth is Druker is not alone. The editor of the top-selling health and fitness magazine in the U.S., Self, has admitted: ‘We retouch to make the models look bigger and healthier’…

I have taken anguished calls from a fashion editor who has put together this finely orchestrated production, only to find that the model they picked six weeks ago for her luscious curves and gleaming skin is now an anorexic waif with jutting bones and acne…

Naturally, thanks to the wonders of digital retouching, not a trace of any of these problems appeared on the pages of the magazine. At the time, when we pored over the raw images, creating the appearance of smooth flesh over protruding ribs, softening the look of collarbones that stuck out like coat hangers, adding curves to flat bottoms and cleavage to pigeon chests, we felt we were doing the right thing.

Our magazine was all about sexiness, glamour and curves. We knew our readers would be repelled by these grotesquely skinny women, and we also felt they were bad role models and it would be irresponsible to show them as they really were.

But now, I wonder. Because for all our retouching, it was still clear to the reader that these women were very, very thin. But, hey, they still looked great!”

Former Cosmo editor Leah Hardy’s column in the Daily Mail

Blog commentary: Reverse airbrushing: Photoshop Jumps the Shark


  1. Lori says:

    May 27th, 2010at 3:08 pm(#)

    The most powerful statement in Leah Hardy’s article for me was, “Thanks to retouching, our readers … never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn’t look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and Bambi eyes. A vision of perfection that simply didn’t exist. No wonder women yearn to be super-thin when they never see how ugly thin can be.”

  2. Anna says:

    May 27th, 2010at 4:24 pm(#)

    Moral of the story: no woman is good enough to be on a magazine cover as is. You will be shopped no matter what.

  3. Shay says:

    May 29th, 2010at 8:56 pm(#)

    @ Anna, I agree! Omg…it’s really sad that no woman, no matter the shape, is good enough for these magazines. I’m just disgusted.

  4. Lieke says:

    June 4th, 2010at 2:15 am(#)

    What keeps surprising me is that, apparently, normal healthy women are made to feel like “freaks of nature” on purpose by a fashion industry that in stead of catering to healthy women and their fashion needs (whatever their styles might be), hate them with all their heart. Instead they produce looks and clothes in tiny sizes that look so horrible even on beauty professionals that they have to be fattened up digitally to look healthy in them. Let alone flatter anyone else.

    So, decided here and now to stop buying (who can afford them anyway) any “woman haters'” clothes brands, whether it be clothes, accessories or shoes. My small contribution to a saner fashion industry, I hope.

  5. Melissa says:

    June 6th, 2010at 6:10 pm(#)

    Just came across some photos on the web that highlight this issue so well – http://www.styleite.com/media/glamour-cover-photoshop/ – The blog article is talking about how they photoshopped the ‘plus-size’ (size 10!) models to look thinner, but I can’t help but notice how awful the standard size model looks in the candid shot!

  6. Great links for the weekend! says:

    June 25th, 2010at 1:53 pm(#)

    […] retouching of images.  I was therefore really interested to read an article on Stumptuous about reverse retouching to flesh out models who are too thin.  Unfortunately the end results are the same – unachievable […]

  7. Sara says:

    July 8th, 2010at 12:24 am(#)

    Ugh, goes to show you: no one wins in the beauty industry. The images they are selling are literally unattainable for ALL women. Even the women used to create those images: very tall, very thin women who through uncommon genetics and painstaking maintenance “fit the standard”…even THEY don’t fit the standard, aren’t good enough. I’ve been so much more at peace with the concept of beauty since I threw over Vogue for Bust and National Geographic. And, I hope, smarter too.

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