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Retouching photos leaves bigger issues untouched


When the blog Jezebel, the self-proclaimed “home of shiny happy ladies” of the Internet and known for its pro-women leanings, offered a $10,000 reward for un-retouched photos from Vogue’s photoshoot of the actress Lena Dunham, feminists harkened from all corners and opened up Pandora’s box on the touchy issue of retouching photos of women.

The bounty put out by Jezebel was allegedly an effort to take on the fashion magazine and advertising industry – industries that in the age of Photoshop and the likes have been able to nip, tuck and airbrush away the features that differentiate the body of an average women from a career supermodel.

The intentions of Jezbel may have indeed been good.

Studies, such as the U.K. based one in 2005 that has since been frequently cited globally, found that exposure to ultra-thin models had a direct correlation on adolescent girls’ negative sense of body image and self-esteem.

But as many criticizers have pointed out, the reward almost seemed to be a voyeuristic intrusion of privacy to put Dunham’s un-supermodel-esque features in the limelight.

While Dunham’s un-retouched features are no big secret and can be seen on full display on her HBO show “Girls,” which regularly receives viewership spikes over the controversy generated by the glory of her un-retouched nudity. However, for the website to call for the original images seems to imply that Dunham’s photos had been altered to be more aesthetically pleasing for readers of the magazine, and that there is something inherently inferior about her actual image. 

Why these images of celebrities, who are already revered in society, are re-touched in the first place raises an interesting question. It is not really for us to accept them, as they have already forged their way into achieving widespread acceptance.

It seems as though these ideals of a “perfected” anatomy that make us conscious of our bodies’ variations and prey off insecurities are used to sell concepts and lifestyles.

But Jezebel, great as their intentions may be, also seems to be using Dunham’s bodies to sell a concept of its own – one that is perhaps different from the glamorous touched-up images found in fashion magazines, but nonetheless, a sense of identity or cause.  

But whether it is OK for the human body – female or male – to be objectified as a canvas of art used to sell things – even positive or empowering messages – is an issue that the call for Dunham photos has left largely untouched.

Divya Kumar is a senior majoring in mass communications and economics.