Reverse airbrushing: making models look healthy?

By Leslie Good

Model Karlie Kloss with (right) and without (left) airbrushing.

Photoshop is typically used in fashion campaigns and advertisements as a means to perfect a model’s physical flaws.  Airbrushing easily slims down any trouble spots: tummy, thighs and arms, and can even make a face seem poreless.

But for the October cover of Numero, an international fashion and culture magazine, we saw the other side of airbrushing. Model Karlie Kloss was airbrushed with the intention of adding weight.

In the original photograph, captured by photographer Greg Kadel, Kloss’ arm stretches over her head, emphasizing her protruding ribs and concave clavicle. Kadel released the original image because he believed the photo represented Kloss as she is – naturally slender, athletic and beautiful.

Not everyone agrees with Kadel, however. Due to the level of shock the original photograph generated, Numero’s editors took it upon themselves to airbrush the picture for both the cover and the editorial spread, making Kloss’ skin appear taut and noticeably less skeletal.

The requirements for straight-sized (versus plus-sized) fashion models are stringent.  Girls must be very thin and very tall.  Most models are 5-foot-9 or taller and have measurements of 34-24-34.

Kloss is 5-foot-11.5, and the measurements on her composite card are 32-23-33. These “ideal body” standards lead models like Kloss to maintain a small body size that makes their bones and musculature much more visible.

Over the past decade, there’s been a trend among fashion media and the advertising industry to digitally manipulate photos of both models and celebrities.  With the software program Photoshop, a woman’s body size, facial features and skin color are easy to alter.

Some critics argue that this heightened emphasis on physical perfection only increases the pressure on young women in the fashion and entertainment industries to achieve and maintain “ideal” bodies, leading to severe dieting, eating disorders and sometimes even death.

Most consumers accept the idea that models are naturally skinny.  Others are aware that most images are heavily retouched.

Even though this “reverse Photoshop” practiced by Numero avoided exposing readers to Kloss’ emaciated-looking frame,  it still presented an unrealistic image of an extremely thin, smooth, flawless female body.

A dangerous image, and concept, to portray?  Some experts would say yes, given the increasingly high percentages of young teen and preteen girls whose attempts to meet these ideals leads to disordered eating and other problems.

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