Photo Credit: Ford Models
If a plus-sized model is airbrushed in fashion photographer Nicholas Routzen’s charity ad campaign but no one knows about it, did it really happen?
Earlier this months, photos of plus-sized "It" girl Crystal Renn clad in nothing but a T-shirt and heavy eyeliner showed Renn looking nearly as thin as she did when in the midst of her early eating disordered modeling days.
Mass hysteria ensued, as often does when a woman dares appear thinner or heavier than usual. Renn’s agent, Gary Dakin of Ford Models, dismissed rumors that his superstar client, known for her blunt and outspoken critiquing of the fashion industry’s obsession with thinness, was actively trying to lose weight, claiming she had simply "firmed up" after hiking in Patagonia. He also said, "She is still a 39 to 40 hip (she fluctuates like any woman), and a solid size 10. She has no urge [to lose weight]. She’s an amazing model. She can make herself look bigger or smaller depending on what the client wants."
Aside from Renn’s apparent Last Airbender shape-shifting powers, some theorized she is truly thin, but is photoshopped to look larger than she actually is. But it turns out the opposite is true: Renn is as curvy as ever, but she was digitally whittled down for the Fashion for Passion shoot, according to her interview with Glamour.
The magazine asked, “But you say that when you saw those photos yourself, you gasped. Why?” Renn’s answer:
“Well, I was shocked. When I saw the pictures, I think I was silent for a good five minutes, staring with my mouth open. I don’t know what was done to those photos or who did it, but they look retouched to me. And listen, everybody retouches, but don’t make me into something I’m not. [Reached for comment, photographer Nicholas Routzen explained that Crystal looks the way she does because the photos were “…taken from a higher angle with a wider lens.” But he also added, “I shaped her…I did nothing that I wouldn’t do to anyone. I’m paid to make women look beautiful.”]… But in the new pictures...well, that body doesn’t look like my body. It doesn’t. Having had an eating disorder, I know what that very thin body looks like on me, and it's not something I find attractive. It's not something I aspire to. I feel completely confident in my own health because I know I don't look like that, but even to see it in an image was really disturbing to me.”
In what other art or media forms is it acceptable for a person to purposefully alter another person’s work and pass it off as original? I once interviewed Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser. I asked her if she had ever struggled with her weight and how she made the decision to change. She responded, "Absolutely. I was an overweight teenager, from childhood into my early teen years, about age 14. My mother had the insight to get me into martial arts. That was the catalyst for me to make that transformation into health and wellness, using it as a means to change my life. But it’s consistently a struggle and I’m sure it will be until the day I die."
Now, imagine if I reported her answer as, "Nah that much. I would gain and lose a few pounds around my period, but other than that, my body stayed the same size without much exercise." Ridiculous and unconscionable, right? And yet, photographers can totally distort a model’s or actress’ photo to look nothing like the real thing, and they get away with it. It’s just not right, plain and simple.
Adding insult to injury, the last time Renn was as thin as she appears in the altered pic, she was in a very dark and unhealthy place. She’s clearly done the work to bring herself up out of that eating disordered hole; no one else has the right to drag her back down, even if it is just in the pages of a fashion spread.
This is why I support France’s call to force magazines to disclose the extent to which they have airbrushed their models. What do you think? Should laws surrounding retouching go the way of tobacco, with warning boxes notifying us that "This model has had her thighs slimmed and her freckles lightened."? I mean, we already know it’s happening, but it’s oh-so-easy to forget that as we page through bikini features and cellulite cream ads and Victoria’s Secret catalogs (actually, I think that under such a law, VS would become just one gigantic black and white warning.) Having a little "Alert!" box would keep us cognizant of the artsy tweaking that is so subtly effing us up mentally. (And it is messing you up, whether you realize it or not. Remember the recent University of Missouri-Columbia study in which all women, regardless of their body size, shape, height or age, reported feeling like garbage after viewing pics of models in magazine ads for just three minutes?) That might mean something as seemingly innocuous as the removal of Danica Patrick's tattoo gets a warning; as would the mind-numbing waist-cinching of Jessica Alba.
Do you think fashion ads should carry airbrush warning labels? Chime in below.