(Re)touch and go!

(Re)touch and go!


With advanced retouching tools,  a fat model can be made to look thin, the flesh tones and hair can be altered to give the model a very different look. Photo illustration by Ashwin HaldipurA lot has been said about size zero. Models have been berated over years about their skinny look as have the Hollywood heroines and celebrities. In India, it was still a distant problem as none of our trend-setting industries had adopted the trend. (think cricket, Bollywood and fashion).

But that soon changed after Kareena Kapoor and a host of other starlets set the redefined the meaning of ‘slim’. Larger populations of teenage girls are now at the risk of multiple diseases due to the size zero trend as it now reaches out through not only the fashion magazines but also Bollywood.

A large amount of the responsibility always rests on the fashion magazines too as they are the ones who hail this trend and term it either ‘in’ or ‘out’. Widespread acceptance of this trend stems from the magazines’ validation of it. Size zero models and actors would not have found acceptance if the fashion glossies did not hail them as the ‘epitome of fashion’ or glorify their wispy leanness. A lot of young minds devour these magazines and treat their word as the final word. They are malleable enough to negate every advice, be it their parents, doctors or friends. If their favourite idol is doing it then it’s right and if the fashion magazine validates it then it gotta be the next big thing. But what about the other side? The editorial boards on most of these fashion magazines are women who are well aware of the dangers if the female body verges on the point of being a skeleton in the name of fashion. Should they not be honour/ duty/ethically bound to ban this trend especially as it endangers the very lives of their fellow women? But who will take up the fight against the size zero at the risk of being embroiled in a controversy or losing the precious advertisers?

High-profile deaths

There have been a number of high profile deaths of models, including the death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston in 2006, which have also shone a spotlight on the industry. In 2006, Italy became the first country to ban size-zero models from the catwalks after one minister said the fashion industry “could not stand by as an indifferent spectator.” The move was followed by shows in Madrid, which ban models who have a Body Mass Index of less than 18. Attempts to introduce a size-zero ban in London fashion week did not come to anything although in 2007 the Model Health Inquiry was set up to look into the issue of underweight models.

Thankfully there are some leading voices of fashion who are indeed taking up the fight. The editor of one of fashion's leading magazines Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, is today at the centre of a “turning point” in the size-zero debate after stinging criticisms were leaked in a letter sent to some of the world's leading designers. A stalwart of the fashion industry, admitted in the letter, leaked to the Times, that the magazine had to retouch photographs of models to make them look larger. Shulman blamed designers for providing increasingly “minuscule” garments for photo shoots, making magazines hire models with “jutting bones and no breasts or hips.” The letter — prompted by Vogue readers — was sent to leading designers in Europe and America, including big names such as John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld as well as designers at some of the world’s biggest fashion houses such as Prada, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent. Shulman said designers, who sent their creations to magazines up to six months before they appear in shops, were responsible for ever thinner models appearing in fashion magazines and editors had no choice but to hire models that fitted the clothes or face not covering the latest collections.

Do any of the Indian fashion magazines have a say in this matter? While doing this story we had to pursue through a lot of no-nos as the magazines did not want to comment on this story. But a few did and here is what they have to say:

Shefalee Vasudev, Marie Claire

Firstly, let’s not call this is a cause. Everything related to fashion is not necessarily a cause. It is perfectly fine to use photoshop and clear out skin and give a little shape here and there but not to the extent that you put a different body on a different face. Further more you should always check with the person you have photoshoped if there are all right with that representation of themselves.

We believe in keeping the individuality of a person. The beauty lies in the imperfections which should be allowed to remain. A little wrinkle or a crease or a mole or a freckle is perfectly fine and very much a part of the identity of that person. You certainly don't need to typecast and pigeonhole models to make them look like clones. Fashion is about individuality which is lost if you make them into plastic clones.

We are in the fashion business so we cannot present a picture which is not aesthetically beautiful. It is well within the realm of fashion to touch up an image to clear skin or give slight shape to an unflattering image. But I am against excessive use of photoshop that gives people assets they don't have or changes their individuality. It needs to be done ethically, credibly and intelligently.

The majority of Indian models are fit and slim. Thinness is the new in thing but I don't think our fashion designers are responsible for it. Mainly because they have only recently started doing the western silhouettes and tailored look. In fact for Indian drapes they need fit if not voluptuous bodies to showcase their clothes.

Sathya Saran, former editor of Femina

Retouching is a wonderful tool, if used properly. I have used it sometimes, though only when strictly necessary. We shoot a lot of real women and readers for ME magazine, including for the covers, and sometimes we need to touch the photo to hide zits, scars, or dark circles that even makeup cannot completely hide. However, we have never used retouching to make a woman look fatter or thinner, we believe we are who we are and looking real is part of being real.

Also retouching does add a degree of the false to the photograph, however carefully it is done, and a trained eye should be able to make out a photograph that has been seriously tampered with. I have always believed a magazine should be as close to truth as possible to be credible and that includes the images it carries.

I think editors in India should take a cue from UK Vogue and in fact go a step further and refuse to accept size zero models and clothes from designers… if they should send them. Ditto, the organisers of fashion weeks.

Nonita Kalra, Elle

At Elle India we don't retouch images more than necessary. In fact beyond the normal “clean up” we don’t work on a model’s face or alter her body shape. Given that a good photographer can make a beautiful model look good with his craft alone, there is no need to airbrush images.

Superna Motwane, L'officiel

“Well, to be honest, in India we don’t have a major anorexia problem like they do in the West, and so our ‘touch ups’ are more about neatening the images, creating flawless skin and basic trimming. Very often we use ‘real people’ and not models in our photo spreads. Also, in India, fitness has become the trend and people are very aware of healthy living. I do agree that one should not aspire to look like the people shown in glossies – they are not real, but I don’t think re-touching has reached problematic heights in India.”

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