Tuesday, 23 February 2010

To airbrush or not to airbrush? In defence of the digitally enhanced

I see that the whole ‘airbrushing photos of models and making spotty teenagers feel insecure’ argument has blown up again (is it ever dead?). The whole debate is utter b****cks if you ask me. What next? Banning pretty models in case they make the rest of us feel ugly? How about banning intelligent people so that stupid people don’t feel so stupid?!?

Now I’m as riddled with imperfections and insecurities as the next woman, but I have strong opinions when it comes to the airbrushing debate. The digital manipulation of models to make them look thinner is another issue. Those women often look ill, gaunt and just plain wrong and I vehemently oppose any use of models that offends my sensibilities as well as my eye. But attacking an image simply because the model has been enhanced to look prettier than the average women quite often annoys me.

First, every young person has insecurities – both male and female – and body issues and a lack of confidence are unavoidable aspects of puberty. It’s always been this way. There has always being someone far more intelligent, more athletic, prettier etc than you are and the human race has survived thus far. Second, I know firsthand that a photo editor can be a life-saver on a photo shoot after a rough night out. There is no way that I would let some photos be viewed by my cat let alone by anyone else without first being retouched. So I tend to sympathise with the model in this respect. Third, I don’t like being patronised by over-sensitive wishy-washy types who feel that they need to bring the whole world of beauty down a notch or two just to make the rest of us feel pretty. And finally, as a consumer I like my advertising to be pleasing to the eye. Take the Olay ‘real women’ campaign, for example. Did a bunch of women of various shapes and sizes flaunting their lumps and bumps make me feel more inclined to buy Olay? No. No-one wants to see droopy and overhanging lumps of flesh while they are eating their dinner, no matter how ‘real’ we are told that these women are. In fact I worried that anyone seeing me buy it off the shelf would think that I sympathised with the brand because I was overweight or insecure about my body. That’s one epic marketing fail right there. So in contrast, I asked myself, is a perfectly svelte and airbrushed to the hilt supermodel more likely to sell me a clothing line than a ‘real-life’ size 14 plain Jane? Yes, she is, I thought. And is a Wonderbra ad with a well-endowed woman spilling out of a bra more likely to sell lingerie to me than an ad featuring a pasty faced, B-cupped mother of ten? Yes, of course. These types of ads sucker me in every time and for one simple reason; because women like to aspire to an ideal.

Take a peek, for example, at one of Gill Elvgren’s pinup girls...

In most of Elvgren’s pictures we find an idealised image of a woman who has achieved a high level of feminine perfection that very few of us will ever attain. But do I hate the woman in the picture? No. Do I wish that she was carrying a little more weight, had bad skin or was just a bit more ‘uglier’? No. I love Elvgren’s work because I can aspire to be like these women and, as a heterosexual female, I find their beauty pleasing to the eye. These highly stylised pictures, and their modern airbrushed equivalents, should be embraced by women rather than treated as taboo and immoral images that are to be hidden away from young girls in case they make them feel insecure. In fact, it’s about time that women were exposed to more of them!

Ok, ok so I might sound like a ranting misogynist, but standards have already lowered considerably over the past few decades. Your average woman dresses for comfort in baggy jogging bottoms and her boyfriend’s jumper because we have been told that even the most beautiful models or celebrities dress like this most of the time. Just open any women’s magazine and the pages are crammed with unflattering photographs of celebs in their civvies and wearing little or no makeup. Women are no longer expected to look impeccable every minute of the day and it has become acceptable to dress like a slob even to go to the supermarket (as exemplified in the recent ‘Pyjamas at Tescos’ news story). We have been told that there is no need to make an effort, because no-one else is making an effort either. It’s a sad state of affairs and things can only get worse.

I know that the majority of us will never be that supermodel with the perfect body and the perfect digitally enhanced complexion, but please Mr. Ad man, give the next generation of young women something to aspire to. Set them a bar to which they can strive to reach before they start spiralling into a pit of complacency and disregard for their appearance. And, most importantly, please don’t start pandering to normality. Let’s try not to level the playing field so much so that we all become identical, faceless droids…

(however, let the following be a warning for temperance...)

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