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Image retouching – where to draw the line

By Maxine Howe
June 10, 2015

As graphic designers, it’s easy to forget that there’s a certain responsibility that goes hand in hand with retouching images. After all, which one of us hasn’t de-spotted a client’s chin or smoothed out a couple of crow’s feet without giving it a second thought?

But there can be serious consequences that goes with this type of semi-automatic makeover: negative body image, anorexia, depression and even suicide among the young (and not so young) and impressionable. Image retouching has become responsible for creating body types that could not be achieved by any real woman or man.

Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Portia de Rossi, and Cindy Crawford have all criticised acute photo retouching, and we need more celebrities to demand minimal retouching instead of full Photoshop makeovers so as not to mislead young women (and men).

But hey, wake up! As well as the beauty and fashion industry, it’s us designers that are to blame too.

So how can we help?

Well, the Be Real campaign encourages anyone who uses advertising to help change the way people feel about themselves and install the following creative guidelines and policies:

Reflect diversity and show people with realistic body shapes

Use positive and inspiring language to encourage people to be body confident

Use messages that prioritise general wellbeing over just appearance and weight

Encourage people to have realistic and healthy aspirations

Applying these guidelines doesn’t have to mean that creativity suffers either. For an excellent example, just take a look at the campaign This Girl Can by Sport England.

In a traditional mindset, it would have been easy to show lots of lithe young models in peak condition, trying to ‘inspire’ us couch potatoes at home that we can all look like them. Not exactly helpful if you find gyms intimidating already. And for most of us, not particularly achievable to aspire to having a 5ft 10, 20 year old, size 6 body!

So thank goodness that common sense prevailed and resulted in a fantastic portrayal that celebrates real people with all types of bodies. Now that’s inspiring.

For our part, we would like to urge all graphic designers to connect with their conscience and draw a line on extreme and unrealistic retouching. Let’s keep it real!

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