Can we live without the magic airbrush?

Debenhams has taken the brave step of launching a marketing campaign using photographs that aren't digitally enhanced

Jonathan Owen
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:02

The game is up. It was bound to happen: a backlash against airbrushing and photo makeovers has seen a growing number of celebrities – from Madonna to Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears – exposed au naturel in recent publicity pictures.

Now the high street is following suit, picking up the trend for pictures without digital trickery. Debenhams launched a new swimwear range last week, using a photograph of a bikini-clad model that has not been airbrushed or digitally enhanced, along with an example of how the picture could have been altered. It's a smart marketing effort and a test of whether we're ready to see "real" pictures. The caption was pithy: "We've not messed with natural beauty; this image is unairbrushed. What do you think?" So, what would have been different? Well, quite a lot. Slimmed and toned arms, thighs and waist, perfect hair and spotless skin. Oh, and a bigger bust. Indeed, pretty much all of the digital tricks that have prompted calls for an end to manipulated pictures: such images put pressure on women, and particularly teenage girls, to try to achieve a look that isn't possible outside the digital world.

The "before and after" shots, to be rolled out to stores around the country in the next few weeks, will increase pressure on other retailers to reconsider whether they use enhanced images in future.

Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP and co-founder of the Campaign for Body Confidence, said: "More and more people are realising that airbrushing and other trickery are not necessary in order for women to look beautiful."

Indeed. But here I have to declare a personal interest. You see, I have been the beneficiary of a little digital nip/tuck.

What harm could it do, I thought, dismissing my corpse-like pallor and greying temples as tricks of the light. I even told myself that my growing beer gut was down to a dodgy camera angle.

Everyone gets the odd bit of help from technology, I told myself as I picked up the phone and threw myself on the mercy of award-winning photographer James Facey, a master of the dubious art of digital manipulation. A big mistake. The amazing portrait picture I now have bears almost no resemblance to me – not that my long-suffering wife would complain.

A chuckling Mr Facey tried to put my mind at rest, explaining how with a few clicks of his mouse he had made me slimmer, removed (nearly) all my "skin flaws" and whitened my teeth and eyes. "I have flattened your tummy, made your eyes slightly bigger and more open. I also straightened your teeth and made your visible ear smaller. Not to mention the removal of all your white hair, including neatening any stray hair on top of your head, neck and chest."

I'm not alone in needing a little help; just check the covers of the vast majority of magazines. So, a brave experiment by Debenhams. But I suspect, for a while at least, the camera will continue to lie.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments