Among the many style moments 2014 will be remembered for, the conversation surrounding plus-size models and extreme photoshopping sticks out in my mind. In the journey to representing a wide, normal range of women’s bodies, a lot of victories were made: The idea about what a lingerie model should look like was challenged, Victoria’s Secret listened to pressure to change the name of its Perfect Body campaign, and the iconic Pirelli calendar featured a curvy woman. Because it’s an issue that interests me, I reached out to three brands that have taken stands on it, whether committing to present models with little-to-no photo editing or casting women in their campaigns who don’t regularly earn paychecks as models. Here’s how the conversations went.
Glamour: What’s your stance on photoshopping, as in how do you use it? For what purpose?
Peter Kim, Hudson Jeans founder and CEO: Photoshop has become sort of a buzzword, but the fight isn’t against the application. As a program, it’s an amazing tool in our creative suite that allows us to stylize photos with mood, attitude, and personality. But there’s that extra step, the drastic warping and altering of a person’s body past the point of reality that we believe should no longer be part of how companies advertise. It sets up a completely fictional standard of beauty that even the model being shot can’t live up to. It’s been a common industry practice for a long time, but we at Hudson came together and decided we didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
Jen Foyle, Aerie chief merchandising officer: Let me be clear—we do not retouch any aspect of our girl. Nothing. If her hair is a mess, we leave it. Pimple or stretch mark? It stays. Scars and tattoos? All real. All curves and belly rolls are welcome at Aerie. Like our tagline says: “No retouching on this girl. The real you is sexy.” We believe it and live by it.
Susan Gregg Koger, ModCloth cofounder and chief creative officer: I think of our approach as fine-tuning things that the photographers may have missed on set. We’ll continue to use Photoshop as a retouching tool but very conservatively. We don’t smooth skin bumps or rolls, and we refuse to enhance or diminish the bust, thighs, arms, or buttocks. We don’t do “airbrushing” with the paint tool. On the other hand, we want the models to look their best. We do remove zits and stray hairs, lighten undereye circles, and even skin tone. We also have to consider copyright issues with some tattoos and do work to preserve the model’s modesty, particularly with sheer products or intimates.
Glamour: What might shoppers notice if comparing images you’ve put out recently with ones from the past?
PK, Hudson Jeans: You’ll see a small watermark in the lower corner of our print and digital marketing that’s our stamp of commitment. It lets you know that the person in the photo has not had their body modified in any way.
JF, Aerie: We use beautiful models, but we no longer use girls who are considered “supermodels.” We use girls whose bodies and looks inspire and represent all girls. We believe in creating an aspirational and approachable brand and feel our girls represent both sides of this theory.
SGK, ModCloth: Very little. We conducted a survey showing consumers various ranges of retouching and overwhelmingly found that our consumer prefers light to no retouching.
Glamour: How would you respond to consumers who see campaigns with “real women” models and still think they look an awful lot like models, with bodies that don’t really reflect who they see walking down the street?
PK, Hudson Jeans: That’s an ongoing conversation for us at Hudson, [so] I’ll just speak for myself. In our industry, right now feels like the beginning of a moment similar to “thinking green.” There’s a good and necessary cultural shift taking root that most people can get on board with. At the same time, the idea of “real women” campaigns, while a powerful response to narrow definitions of beauty, can be a bit problematic because it only challenges traditional ideas of beauty, not the larger practice of how products are sold. They don’t fully address how we can approach a cultural shift that everyone, especially larger businesses, can get on board with and implement over time to dig out of a hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
We want to chip away at the larger issues, and for Hudson, that isn’t just a campaign, it’s a philosophical shift. Telling a great story is what’s important to us and we think it’s sexy what people do, not only how they look.
SGK, ModCloth: We’ve found a balance by sourcing our models from our very own [shopping] community. In fact, we frequently use images for our community-powered style gallery in homepage campaigns and you can find a good percentage on our product pages too. It’s cool to see [a dress] on 50+ different women, each with a unique shape, size, and personal style. I’ve asked our community to step up and be what you want to see in fashion. We’ve committed to continue to empower our community to do just that.
Glamour: Where do you think the root of the real problem is?
PK, Hudson Jeans: Right now, our focus is on the editing process and establishing the firm line between the art of great and compelling photography, the post-production it takes to achieve that, and the territory we don’t want to participate in—the warping or reshaping of the human body. We felt that was the most immediate and glaring problem for us to address and have put all of our efforts into resolving that issue first.
SGK, ModCloth: For the most part, you have a singular body type that’s used to depict fashion. We’re exposed to thousands of ads every single day, and that has a profound effect on us internally. Externally, it also creates a very narrow definition of what a beautiful woman is. I’m not saying that the “traditional” model bod type isn’t beautiful—it absolutely is—but so are the myriad of other body types that exist. Even when brands venture out to show a more diverse body type, it [can go] through a frightening post-production process and comes out a far departure from the original. This level of truly unattainable perfection is psychologically damaging, especially to young girls.
Glamour: How and when did the issue first become important to you?
PK, Hudson Jeans: I can’t speak for my staff, but I saw a documentary called MissRepresentation that blew my mind way open. I was sitting there watching and found myself mad at the world for what we were doing to people. I have two young girls of my own, and I thought about how this world was affecting them. Images that pump us full of self-hate and insecurity and then capitalize on it. Then I realized that I was participating in this too and could at least effect change through my own company. When I brought these ideas to my team, they were immediately on board and it ignited so many fantastic conversations about ways we could change.
JF, Aerie: Over the last few years, through social media. We were able to listen and engage with our customers directly and [have worked] to give them exactly what they wanted.
SGK, ModCloth: When we first heard about the Truth in Advertising campaign. We immediately wanted to be involved since it’s perfectly aligned with what we’ve already committed to: celebrating the beauty of women as they truly are.
Glamour: Do you think it’s a problem that affects the entire industry or just women?
PK, Hudson Jeans: It would seem that it’s more apparent in women’s brands, with women getting the worst end of the marketing stick. But I think to truly make a shift for the better, we have to see a change across the board. Weighing who is the biggest perpetrator of the problem is sort of irrelevant. Ultimately it’s just a snowball that got too far down the hill and is now big enough for us to see and say, “No, this isn’t how we should be moving forward anymore.”
SGK, ModCloth: The industry as a whole, but we’re seeing it largely impact women’s brands. We released the findings of our “Truth in Fashion” report in September and found, overwhelmingly, that women feel alienated by the fashion industry and can’t relate to the advertising they see from brands. Sixty-five percent of women said they “never” or “rarely” see women who look like them reflected in fashion advertising.