Large Retail Store Bans Airbrushed Images

Large Retail Store Bans Airbrushed Images

It is one of those controversial subjects that has been covered many times before. Creatives, marketing directors, and consumers all fighting over whether or not we should be airbrushing photos of models used in advertising and the effect it has on our youth growing up viewing images of flawless unrealistic body shapes. One large retailer is finally putting their foot down announcing publicly that they will ban all airbrushed images and are asking other retailers to follow.

The retail giant, Debenhams, would not be a name too familiar with those here in North America, but to our U.K. readers it is one that is all too familiar. The store which has over 150 locations throughout the U.K and a handful in Ireland as well would be most similar to a Macy's here in the US. After hearing about countless studies that show young girls self esteem being crushed after looking at the perfect Photoshop altered images, Debenhams vowed to stop using the images in their stores and advertising.


Caryn Franklin, co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, says: "Fashion and beauty imagery that is honest, is absolutely crucial for all women to see. Retailers have the power to take a stance on digital manipulation, so, I'm delighted that Debenhams has taken the lead here and customer feedback will no doubt validate this important step."

In 2011 Britney Spears let airbrushed images from a Candie's shoot to be released along with the originals. In 2011 Britney Spears let airbrushed images from a Candie's shoot to be released along with the originals.

"Millions of pounds a year are spent by organisations retouching perfectly good images," says Sharon Webb, Head of Lingerie buying and design for Debenhams. "As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great."

So what do you think about this move? Should other retailers follow the lead of Debenhams?

[Via DailyMail]

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I agree. Cast models who look like you need for advertising instead of turning unsuitable ones into cartoons. Both samples in this case are ridiculous.

I'd like to see it happen, but the fashion industry has never shown a serious commitment to showing realistic models, men or women. So I can't see them moving away from re-touching in a hurry either.

Jon McGuffin's picture

When the public decides to respond to putting "normal" people on the covers of their catalogs/magazines to sell clothes, the "Fashion Industry" will respond instantly. The public consumes what the public wants, and the fashion industry caters to those needs and is constantly looking for ways to put something in front of the consumer that they want to consume.

The fashion industry isn't selling drugs, people don't get addicted to retouched models on the front of magazines so please don't tell me the tail is wagging the dog here. Consumers want different choices, create a periodical featuring "average" looking models and "average" photography and see how that works for you.

The public consumes what the public can be convinced it wants. Understanding the difference is everything.

That great news, we don't need new laws, people can change the standards and always do, all the industry needs is to star promoting this new trend and make beautiful the real body again (like it always has)

Fashion photography is generally about selling two things:

1. Clothes, based on;
2. Aspiration.

To do this you put on your clothes on the optimum aspirational aesthetic for your market. No less.

I would venture that women don't buy clothes because they identify their own imperfect body types with that of the models. Rather, they are motivated to buy the clothes because they aspire to look more like the perfect models wearing them.

so, before this article I read one on here about how to crack a bottle to get a better pour for beer. that whole images was a complete composite for marketing purpose. 4-5 images all ps'd into one perfect image. what is the difference between that and airbrushing a model, they are both manipulative and deceiving.

Jorge Tamez's picture

Exactly. I think food and product (mostly food) photography is "stylized"/edited to worse extends than fashion photography.

Also, to the author: Stop calling retouching "Airbrushing"!!! Lol, That's so 15 years ago.

Jayson Carey's picture

a composited product image doesn't contribute people with low self-esteem having a poor image of themselves (unless you're another product photographer :p ). Product/food images are designed to be enticing and get you to buy the products. fashion/beauty images cause those with a poor self-image to feel even more inferior. that's a huge difference. The article states that this is the reason they won't re-touch images anymore.

Exactly Jayson, they are designed to be inciting. They are designed to attract you to the food, over eat, indulge, over spend, eat eat eat. Does that not lead to the USA's ever growing obesity problem. Maybe that is where the issue lies. Maybe the poor self image comes from overeating or not eating healthy. Either way, its an image, it's falsified, it's the same whether it's a person or an inanimate object.

Maybe just maybe if we didn't herd ourselves so much, and try to look/be like the people on the cover of a magazine, we wouldn't have this growing lack of self worth epidemic. Maybe if we concentrated on being who we are, and not someone else this place would be just a bit better. The problem does not within the falsification of bodies and objects in photo's, but rather with the weak mind of people who cannot decipher fantasy from reality.

As for my standpoint on the subject, I do not agree with the falsification of any image when it comes to print media. I think it is extremely unethical. Whether it's on the front of vanity fair, or buried 20 pages deep in the NYT. When I shoot food, it doesn't get touched, it doesn't have glue for milk, I don't take 5 images of one product to make the perfect enticing image. I check my surroundings, bring in the proper equipment, clean the plate, place the food, and take a picture to my best ability. People don't like it, don't hire me, but that's how I shoot.

True but does manipulating images of food/drink effect peoples self esteem?

Sure can. It makes them want to eat more, therefore causing obesity, causing what society deems to be an "unacceptable" body style, therefore causing low self esteem.

Do i actually think it does, no. what i think causes low self esteem is a terrible society that beats down the important qualities in a person. really, should your body style have any effect on how society views you. it's a combination of a weak mind and elitist society.

Well, I think it's more manipulative in the way that it portrays drinking beer as this sort of classy, "smooth" experience when, in reality, it's usually the opposite! It's manipulative, but just in a different way. When you airbrush for something like food or beer, you're selling the experience you want people to have. When you airbrush enough models, you're basically showcasing what you believe to be an ideal that you're really stressing that people should by into.

My belief is that stories like this indicate a growing contention between the materialistic and artistic views of photography. One the one hand, the purpose of these photos is simply the sale of clothing. On the other hand, there is an increasing demand by viewers for what they perceive as an philosophically pure representation of "reality." These two intentions constitute motivations that are completely at odds with one another.

The academic painters, up until the 1800s, were taught to "draw what you see, not what you know (or imagine)." This meant that a good draftsman was expected to render his subject in such a way that it appeared exactly as he directly perceived it regardless of how he imagined it should look like. Ideologically, this forced painters to search for the best angles on their subjects and also to be creative in terms of decisions about what to show and what not to show, how to use lighting and shadow effects, and compositional instruments to increase the direct aesthetic appearance of an otherwise imperfect subject matter.

Commercial photographers, unlike the academic painters, have a history of attempting to "represent what they imagine instead of what they see." This means that they rarely take the years of time necessary to learn to directly perceive the best angles and lighting/composition for subject matter. Instead, they choose haphazard angles and lighting/compositional scenarios that often bring out aesthetic flaws in the subject. Then, they attempt to make up for these mistakes with retouching in post.

Unfortunately, the only way that photographers can become more like the academic painters of the past is to adopt their ways of perception. This means that photographers must learn to approach subject matter as if retouching were not an option at all. However, this creates a problem when working in commercial photography because the ultimate goal is not to create art but to sell clothes and make advertisements. Clients are going to have to learn to start treating photography more like an art and less like a materialistic enterprise if they want to simultaneously represent the "truth" while still creating aesthetically pleasing imagery. At this point in time, clients are still more interested in quick low budget photo shoots with unqualified photographers, so I don't have much hope that they will demand more of an artistic approach at any time in the near future. This means that the problems associated with the conflict between materialist and artistic approaches towards subject matter will probably continue for some time to come.

Very well said. Really great insight. Cheers! makes me want to practice the 1800's painters approach!

Thank you

You make a good point. I think people also need to view photographers as their own entity. I do very little re-touching because I think that when you go beyond certain editing in photos, they cease being photographs and start to become some form of illustration. There's nothing wrong with that when used in the context of art, but when it comes to what is supposed to be documenting material goods, it seems strange that you would start to move out of the photography realm. I get that companies want to sell their items, but if you misrepresent how clothing fits, customers WILL notice -- that's not really something you can get away with.

Jon McGuffin's picture

Dumb, does this mean no color correcting, sharpening either? At what extent is an image "fussed" with to produce a look that is somehow unacceptable? Bear in mind, with a digital (or even film) grab, some amount of image processing is being done on the subject. If its shot in RAW it's being done by the RAW converter of choice, if a JPG than you're relying on Canon or Nikon engineers to do your post processing for you.

There is always processing of an image so where does on draw the line?

This is nothing but a smart publicity stunt to being awareness to their brand and to set forth an image that these people actually "care" when in reality they may or may not.

The real "atrosicity" is the fact we allow people on the front of a magazine or catalog to somehow dictate and control the way we feel about ourselves. We strengthen each other and this is a non-issue and that's where the focus should be.

AP has guidelines, it's best to follow them in my opinion.

Sure, it's a "non issue" for guys (for the most part, but look out because that's changing too!). For women, from the moment you step outside everywhere you look/go someone is telling you how your "supposed" to look. I'm sure you're right about this being a publicity stunt, but I believe the entire point is that there's image processing, and then there's completely remolding your model in photoshop that has nothing to do with the quality of the image, or perhaps removing a couple of zits/blemishes. As a photographer, I think we also need to take some responsibility for this issue.

Brilliant!!! Well done Debenhams! About time someone took a stand against the fashionistas.

Well, that will last just as long as it takes for people to see what Madonna really looks like.

I liked the first model as is. She is very pretty and didn't need touch up work. The lighting needs to be better but other than that not bad. I don't mind subtle touch up work such as blemishes being removed. I do think you need to get models who fit your wants.

Personally I think we should go back to the days of skills of the photographer. I may only adjust exposure or switch some photos to black and white digitally. As a concert photographer everything is as it was on the stage. I just use light and the performance at hand to make it dramatic. I noticed in both examples the lighting is crappy.

As I scroll through the comments, im noticing a trend: Women are really liking this and only the guys are complaining about this...

This is the 3rd time Debenhams have claimed to 'ban' airbrushing in as many years, it's the same press release just with an updated image, there was one hanging on the wall of my old office that we kept to see how often it was recycled. It's meaningless, they'll wait until they applause has died down, start using airbrushed images again then re release the press release again in mid to late 2014.

Again? Or is this post just a rewrite of the post from 2010? (

It's for this reason and all the comments below that Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" is one of my favourite marketing strategies ever created. I consciously go out of my way to buy Dove products now, just to support works like that.

Their most recent video, check this out:

We regularly hear claims that airbrushed models contribute to "poor self esteem" and "poor self image" can possibly. We also hear cries (often from the same groups) about the "epidemic" of obesity in our culture and youth. Something doesn't add up here. If the first were true, then we would be hearing about an epidemic of anorexia, not obesity. Frankly, I think the"social consequences" argument is suspect and does little to help the enlargement against wholesale airbrushing: I don't agree with the heavy airbrushing but for altogether different reasons.

Over the years I've gotten pretty bored with retouched models. They just keep looking less and less like real people. Now, for artistic reasons that's not always a bad thing, but it'd be nice to see it toned down and see projects more often embracing natural beauty.

As another commenter said, fashion IS about selling clothing and aspirations, which is fair, but I do feel like sometimes an image could benefit from more delicate retouching. For example, that "plastic" look seen often just seems excessive when a little more effort could create naturally perfect skin rather than unnaturally. Heck, coupled with a solid makeup artist half the job is already done.

"As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great.”

Despite the outdated term "airbrush", I appreciate this statement. I'd go so far as to suggest getting rid of small unflattering elements, like say dry skin or excessive bags under the eyes from overworking, but I feel like that might be covered under what they're implying.

Anyway, just my subjective opinion. I don't think retouching is some huge obstacle, but there certainly are improvements that could be made.

Just another marketing strategy to differentiate themselves from the crowd... nothing noble here though.