The Victoria's Secret models themselves feel their retouched bodies are pure fantasy and say that is the whole point. "Retouching is an essential part of our job, you know," Victoria's Secret Angel Erin Heatherton told style blog Fashionista. "We're not selling reality; we're selling a story. It's all about creating this fantasy. And I don't think people should confuse fantasy and reality because no one is perfect—we all know that, and I think people should embrace themselves and not really focus on where people are depicted as perfect and where they're not."
When comparing the before-and-after photos above, you'll notice that more than just the brightness has been adjusted. In the original image, Kroes has visible skin folds on her stomach and side from the way her body is leaning. You'll also see some wrinkles and bulging under her left shoulder, and frown lines between her eyebrows. We spotted some small scars on her right thigh, along with a few birthmarks on her stomach and cleavage. Not to mention the fact that Kroes is wearing flesh-colored underwear beneath her bikini bottom. All these things have been altered to achieve the final "perfect" image, which is featured on the Victoria's Secret website as the new Harlow Push-Up Halter Top and Forever Sexy Matching Bottoms.
Does this image present a completely unrealistic message? Absolutely. (Though we'd argue even the unretouched image of Doutzen Kroes is something many women would kill to look like.) Heatherton says it's up to us, as scrutinizing individuals, to understand the difference between what women really look like and an airbrushed image in an advertisement or magazine. When it comes to how these photos may affect one's body image, Heatherton felt strongly that this issue should be discussed in schools and at home. She said children and adults need to establish their own confidence and self worth, and recognize that published images are enhanced just like special effects added to a movie.
We find Heatherton's perspective quite honest and true. It's unfortunate that we must come to accept that most photos are altered, perhaps just as we're realizing many actors enhance their actual bodies with things like Botox. Personally, we'd love to see the real, unretouched photos, and to see women looking like humans and not bizarre, Gumby-like creatures with rubbery limbs and no flaws. But we also have to remember that brands are trying to sell products, and as technology continues to change, they will do whatever it takes to create the most attractive image possible. Nowadays "attractive," to many people, means unrealistically perfect. Despite the controversy, the backlash, and the occasional refreshing unretouched batch of photos, altered images—in professional or even personal settings—are the future. So like Heatherton says, we may as well get comfortable with them and learn to understand the difference.
We reached out to Victoria's Secret to discuss its stance on retouching and the before-and-after photos of Doutzen Kroes, but they have not yet returned our request for comment.
Want to look like a Victoria's Secret model without the airbrushing? Watch this video for Erin Heatherton's "Golden Combination" for Staying in Bikini Shape.