Amber TolliverThere's been a lot of chatter this week about retouching. Does retouching present a harmful, unrealistic image of women? Or is it just a requisite part of the fantasy of fashion and advertising?As with most things, it's not so black and white: Light retouching is de rigueur (maybe a high end jewelry campaign doesn't want that model's tattoo to be visible-it doesn't fit with their image), but the kind of retouching that winnows down a model's waist to Barbie-esque proportions sends a potentially harmful message to young women about what is beautiful.
A new fashion campaign presents a hopeful picture of what could be: A few days ago lingerie company Aerie released a campaign featuring completely unretouched models. We spoke with one of the stars of the campaign, 28-year-old model Amber Tolliver, about how it feels to go unretouched.
So tell me about your experience being involved in this campaign?Our bodies, our flaws, our tattoos, our pimples, everything that is on our bodies is unretouched, and it's beautiful. It's so incredible to be a part of [this campaign] because young girls see these photos and they're like "Oh, wait, this is what I look like" or "I can relate to that, and I can see myself in these clothes."
How do you feel about what's going on with Jezebel paying $10,000 for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham? 99.9% of all advertising, all magazine shoots, all photos that are put out there are retouched. It's a part of the industry, and so to put a call out for Lena's photos targets Lena. I feel like they're just digging for controversy. Is there going to be a difference? Yeah, because they're retouched. We all know that they're retouched. Hopefully the Aerie campaign will motivate a movement to stop retouching things that don't need to be retouched.
So you've obviously had experience being retouched... Oh god, yeah.
Can you tell me about some of the more drastic ways you've been retouched? I mean, I've been retouched in every way possible. I've been retouched into someone that barely resembles me; it was like I was made into a Barbie. They cut out my ribcage, they shifted my waist to an inch within its life, lengthened my legs, lengthened my neck, raised my cheekbones, and filled in my hair because it wasn't perfect enough. What they're able to do in retouching is incredible, like they liquefy your entire body and remold it into whatever they want.
Does it ever make you mad, or do you just sort of accept it? Of course, it always upsets me to a point. To a certain extent I understand that, "Okay, they're retouching something that doesn't exactly look that flattering, or they want their clothes to look better, so they'll do certain things." I get that part of it. But to recreate a human being using a computer process is a bit of an attack on who you naturally are. Like, if I'm not good enough or if I'm not beautiful enough, then why'd you book me? This is where the experience comes into play: once you've been in the industry and doing this job for a certain number of years, you learn to let a lot of these things just roll off your back.
What do you think are your flaws? Oh, I mean, I've got stretch marks, I've got a stomach that's muscular but its not flat. I call it my little bagel, it's fine. We all have parts of our body that we wish were slightly different. It's little minute things that really don't matter at all, but we see it and magnify it. So [the campaign] brings me face to face with my own flaws and you see "Oh, that's not as big of a deal as I thought it was".
So was it scary to shoot? It's a little nerve wracking. I went into the [Aerie] store today, and I was like agh!
Did you prep in a different way for the campaign? I told myself I wouldn't. I was really tempted to go on a juice cleanse [laughs], work out in the gym 12 hours a day. I realized that by doing that, I'm essentially retouching without the computer… And there's nothing I can do about my stretch marks, like, they're there for life, and like, own them, I'm a tiger, dammit. What are you gonna do. It's definitely nerve wracking, but it's good.
Ultimately, would you like to see more campaigns like this? Always. I don't think that all companies are going to do "no retouching," but if we can find a happy medium, and say, "You know what, we're going to stop retouching things that don't matter, like, hair and wrinkles in the skin" … When you start retouching the natural anatomy of a body, you start to lose that realness. So if we can maintain some of it… baby steps.
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