We have been accustomed to the fact that the overwhelming majority of photos presented to us in some parts of the media have been digitally altered. In glossy magazines and advertising, whether the subject matter is young or old, short or tall, slim or curvy, the chances are their images have been subjected to a certain amount of airbrushing, from simple removal of skin blemishes to procedures as extreme as adding inches to a model's legs.
The latest altered image to create a scandal comes courtesy of the US department store Nordstrom, whose digitally enhanced photograph of the model Tao Okamoto left one poster on the popular website, The Huffington Post, comparing her to one of the aliens from Avatar. Modelling a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Okamoto's already tiny frame (a reported US size 4, UK size 8) appeared to have been slimmed in post-production - a claim that was initially denied by Nordstrom.
The company eventually admitted to tampering with the image somewhat - from brightening up the colour of the shirt and digitally removing several wrinkles on the trousers to smoothing out Okamoto's left hip - before publicly apologising for its "heavy-handed" approach. Ralph Lauren was also in the news in October last year when the company mistakenly released an image in Japan which featured the 24-year-old model Filippa Hamilton sporting hips that looked narrower than her head. The company admitted its error, saying that the image was "completely inconsistent with our creative standards and brand values" while Hamilton publicly announced her disapproval of the end product. Speaking to NBC's Today Show at the time of the controversy, the model said: "I saw my face on this super-extremely skinny girl, which is not me; it's not healthy, it's not right."
Other celebs to have been tarred with the same airbrush include the British actress Kate Winslet. In 2003 the men's magazine GQ famously lengthened and slimmed Winslet's figure for her appearance on its front cover. The move prompted the actress, who has long been an advocate of natural beauty, to speak out publicly against airbrushing. GQ eventually apologised on behalf of Winslet, though the editor, Dylan Jones, insisted that this was a normal procedure at GQ "to make the subject look as good as is humanly possible".
A publishing backlash has ensued, and several publications and industry insiders have fought back against the Photoshop pandemic, with varying degrees of success. The legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh shot un-airbrushed photos of Monica Bellucci, Sophie Marceau and Eva Herzigova for French Elle in April of last year, and five months later the photographer worked with Helena Christensen, Amber Valletta, Nadja Auermann, Shalom Harlow, Claudia Schiffer, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, and Kristen McMenamy on an airbrushing-free shoot for US Harper's Bazaar. "Heartless retouching should not be the chosen tool to represent women in the beginning of this century," he told New York Magazine.
In the summer of 2009, too, women all over the world rejoiced at a shoot in the US issue of Glamour, which showed the 20-year-old model Lizzie Miller sporting a slightly protruding (and entirely natural) tummy. Moments after the image appeared on the magazine's website, the forum was flooded with hundreds of positive replies from readers. Such was the overwhelming response to the photo that it earned the model (who at 5ft 11in and 12 stone had previously been told she was too big to venture into plus-size modelling) another, more prominent feature in Glamour's November edition as well as an interview on the daytime TV show, Today.
Unsurprisingly, plus-size models have also found themselves on the receiving end of a healthy air-brushing - thought not necessarily in an effort to slim their figures. In an interview with the New York Times, last year, Crystal Renn, the world's number one plus-sized model, revealed that her shapely figure (a US size 10, UK size 14) had been enhanced in several photo spreads. Renn is just one of many models whose frames have reportedly been "plumped" up in post-production. Called "reverse" touching, this practice came to prominence a year ago, when the editor of UK Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, lamented the fact that the trend for emaciated-looking models had prompted the magazine's art team to add curves actively using airbrushing, to disguise the protruding bones.
It remains an issue: a few months ago during an industry round-table on retouching, Jane Druker, the editor of the magazine for the UK health shop chain Holland & Barrett, admitted that the May covergirl Kamilla Wladyka had had almost half a stone visually added to her UK size 6 (US size 2) frame before the magazine went to print. The camera never lies? We beg to differ.