Monday, May 17, 2010

We Can Fix You; We Have the Technology

Every Monday when I sit down to write this column, I am ready with the opening. I always know how I want to start. But I have to tell you, I have been sitting here for over thirty minutes staring at my screen and for the life of me I have no idea how to introduce the topic. There is just no pithy way for me to ease into this outrageous nonsense; there is no cute little anecdote I can present before smoothly segueing into the subject. So I am just going to throw it right at you. No kisses, no dinner, just the raw deal. Here it is:

Healthy magazine, a British periodical that promotes “health and well-being” radically retouched the cover model for their April issue because she was…wait for it…too thin. Let me just give that to you again: a magazine Photoshopped a model’s entire body to make her look heavier and therefore healthy. And this wasn't a quick retouching. It took thirty pounds of digital weight, according to the editor, Jane Druker, who explained that when the model arrived, “there were plenty of clothes that we couldn’t put on her because her bones stuck out too much. She looked beautiful in the face, but really thin and unwell.” So the editor of a magazine that promotes HEALTH decided to proceed with featuring a model who was so thin that she looked UNHEALTHY by just AIRBRUSHING the HEALTH right onto her. Sorry to yell, but, I mean, come on. Even in our messed up world of Heidi Montag and Real Housewives and Baby Food Diets, this is an all time low. Ms. Druker did a pathetic job of defending her magazine by saying, “Sometimes when you cast a model, they look OK, but then when they turn up on the shoot day, they might not have eaten for two or three days. You’re not in charge of their health.” Um, you are certainly in charge of whom you pay, Druker, and you should have sent that model’s scrawny a*s home with a “no thanks” and a sandwich.

I know Jane Druker is not a singular, sinister force in the world of unrealistic media images. But Druker represents a terrifying trend in these images. It’s gone from Photoshopping out zits and undereye circles to making already thin girls even thinner to hiring models who are so thin they look sick and digitally building the “perfect” body on their skeletons. What is happening? It has to be some sort of exponential equation or inverse algorithm or whatever math phrase means “holy crap, this stuff is out of control.” It’s not only the retouching that is out of control; look at what happens to unretouched images. You know where you see the candid photos of famous women that don’t get airbrushed beyond recognition? They land in Star magazine’s “Worst Beach Bodies” feature, where the editors add yellow arrows to point out cellulite and caption the shots with clever phrases like “thigh anxiety.” No wonder fashion mags have given up on using real photos of women. "THIGH ANXIETY."

Jane Drucker’s preposterous decision at Healthy magazine is unthinkable, but it's instructive. It reinforces the fact that, in general, magazines care more about making money than about promoting health. They want to create the most attractive image, no matter how unrealistic or hypocritical, because they want to sell magazines. So if you think it’s a little scary that editors have decided to just draw women from scratch, don’t buy the mags with obviously Photoshopped covers and avoid issues like last week’s Star. The magazines print what we buy. Let’s stop literally and figuratively buying the idea that a computer generated image of a woman looks better than a real one.

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