The Morality of Fashion & Beauty retouch

December 29, 2021Uncategorized

The beauty industry has come along way in recent years but one issue the remains controversial is the use of retouching.

While photographers & make up artist manipulate the imagery through the skilful use of make up and sophisticated lighting there is still an inherent honesty to the image, as although an optimised version of reality, it’s still reality. 

Retouching, the process of digitally manipulating images to enhance their appearance, challenges basic principles of morality by distorting reality and often promoting impossible standards. 

Some view of this practice is a harmless form of artistry, and it can be, in highly and obviously stylised art imagery, but many ethical struggle with its use and argued that it its use in marketing materials can create unrealistic expectations and negatively influence ones self image. Especially susceptible are young women and girls.

The vast majority of marketing photos are highly edited before they reach consumers and the resulting image can be far from representative of reality. This creates an unobtainable goals leading to feeling such a shame, lack of self worth or envy when compared to these near impossible ideals created by these techniques.

Consumer demand for authenticity in  brands is steadily rising across the board. It is especially vital in the beauty industry with great strides being made in creating organic, ecological and morally responsible brands. It is of upmost importance that the imagery created aligns with this framework.

As a digital media continues to grow more ubiquitous through out society it is even more important for professionals within the beauty industry to take account of moral considerations when deciding how heavily to rely on retouching technologies. Images with an excess of retouching & artificial alteration will ever truly be able to reflect a healthy body image. 

Retouch Techniques

The majority of retouch techniques I employ fall into 4 categories.

Grading is where one adjusts the overall image contrast and colour, usually using the raw data of straight off the camera. This raw data is just data & numbers. This data must be processed to create a flat image made from pixels. Grading is controlling how this data is interpreted. 

Dodging and burning are terms used in photography for a technique historically used during the printing process,  to manipulate the exposure of select areas on a photographic print. The modern digital tool does the same on a digital image, brightening or darkening selected areas.

Used well The above techniques can make a huge aesthetic difference without changing the authenticity of the image. They mirror the processes in analogy photographic printing, those where we used to project the image onto photographic paper in a darkroom, and in my view are perfectly fine. These processes have been used since the advent of photography and their inherent limits control the about of influence we have.

The following processes are more complicated.

Clone Stamp & Healing Brush tool sample the surrounding area on a digital image to replace a chosen area. Imagine painting over a spot with a sample of the surrounding skin. Over used this can lead to very over perfect skin, removing all the flaws along with a large amount of the humanity. 

Personally I think it’s perfectly fine to remove some blemish on the skin that would not be there perhaps next week, i.e. temporary issues with the skin such as spots etcetera I will happily remove as these are not inherent to the character of the person and are only temporary by nature.

Liquify allows you to ‘push’ or ‘move’ pixels around to manipulate the shape of something. It’s often used to manipulate body shape, creating of removing curves where preferred.

This is the tool that understandably causes most concerned with people. It can be used to augment the physical body shape of a model with great ease . Reducing a waistline or increasing breast size. 

It can also be used to alter the shape of a models faces and remove the natural bumps and curves of the body or those caused by physical movement. I generally only use this tool to shape clothing or correct the effects caused by lens distortion.

Effective October 1st, a new French law goes into effect that requires any commercial photos of models that have been digitally altered to appear thinner or thicker to bear the warning that the photo has been retouched,”photographie retouchée”. 

I imagine other government will join France in developing similar laws.

Im my next article I will explore practical & moral solutions to these concerns