Anonymous Retoucher: Mascara Ads Are Bullsh*t, All Skin Is Airbushed, Everything Is Photoshopped

A Maybelline ad featuring Christy Turlington, banned for its misleading use of retouching

Part of what we try to do as a fashion/beauty site is unravel the more extreme, impossible lies put forth by the industry itself (and we love tracking Photoshop accidents and catastrophes in both industries). However, even though many brands have become practically synonymous with overzealous retouching, we still frequently encounter people who don’t realize it’s all Photoshopped, not just the obvious stuff. Buzzfeed Shift sat down with a real live retoucher (who asked to remain anonymous) and confirmed that fashion and beauty ads are complete bullshit.

First of all, everything you see has been altered:

There’s just no way an image would be released without any retouching at all so every single ad would have that disclaimer on it. And absolutely 100 percent of what’s in fashion magazines is retouched… You can never have no retouching across the board, because some of it you just have to do if something’s really distracting in a picture.

…But at least it’s not always to make women look thinner:

With fashion work, I don’t do a lot of distortion of women’s bodies, which I think is terrible. I have been asked to slim down a waist or make the legs a little skinnier, but not anything too crazy. There is a lot of body distortion, and sometimes directions — and they always come from art directors, retouchers never make these calls on their own — get me upset, but it hasn’t been that bad for me. I think if I worked in a position where it was that bad, it would probably upset me that much that I would leave.

If anything, sometimes they’re manipulated to looked less thin:

I have smoothed boniness before — like when models have bones sticking out of their chest, they want that subdued. That’s somewhat common.

It’s skin, though, that is the biggest lie:

The skin is another story: we completely remove veins and freckles and moles and bags under the eyes all the time. We often remove body hair, subdue wrinkles, whiten teeth, pop the eyes. We also smooth kneecaps and veins in the hands and things like that — anything that’s distracting that takes away from the product being featured. If you look at something and the model’s got dark kneecaps with dry skin, your eyes are going to go straight to the knees instead of whatever it is they’re modeling. Or maybe there’s something in the background you have to take out just to make it less distracting. The goal of retouching is to put the emphasis on the thing that’s being sold.

And, of course… mascara ads:

I do work on a lot of cosmetics images, too, and the mascara ads are just ridiculous. They wear false eyelashes, of course, in the photoshoot, and we completely draw the lashes in one by one so it’s just like a forest of eyelashes. That’s like the biggest lie of all — you can’t achieve that.

We love reading stuff like this–it’s a terrific reminder to everyone that the photos in ads aren’t real and the standards they set are genuinely impossible to attain (even for the people supposedly starring in them). However, instead of watchdog agencies slowing banning overuse of Photoshop or requiring warnings in the ads themselves, we’d really love to see it stop altogether.

Read the rest of this really interesting essay over at Buzzfeed.

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    • NotThumper

      I guess it is nice to see someone in the business reporting this but in all honesty you’d have to be pretty thick to actually believe any advertisement you see for some beauty product or otherwise.

      • Fabel

        Yeah, I have to agree– every ad uses some type of Photoshopping & it tends to be pretty obvious. Like, almost CGI obvious. You’d have to be completely unaware of the technology to think these photos are real.

      • Ellen W.

        Well, yes. But it’s so hard to tell just what has been altered. Like the eyes “popping” thing- what is that, exactly?

        I know I went through a rough time about 10years ago trying to figure out how bad the pores on my nose were- and it was so hard to find a picture of someone with naturally small pores on their nose who wasn’t in a photoshopped picture. (btw my big pores really are super-big, but I’ve gotten over it what with having wrinkles to worry about instead.)

      • Danielle

        I went through a similar thing when I was in my 20′s–being worried about the size of the pores in my face (I’m 35 now). I would put all that glop on thinking it would hide them. Once I realized it was all bullshit I completely stopped wearing make-up altogether. The other thing most women don’t seem to understand is if you’re eating clean, working out, and getting enough sleep all of these skin problems will take care of themselves provided you don’t have a serious skin condition which requires professional attention.

    • sweetpea

      Keep in mind ladies, once we`re of age we`re well aware of the lies that adverts try to pass over on us. But tween and teen girls, for the most part, have no clue that ads are all lies. All they see is the perfect model on tv and in the pages of magazines, and try to attain the level of impossible perfection.

    • Miss Meppy

      @Ellen W. – “eyes popping” basically just means that you brighten the eyes themselves, and enhance their color and whiteness, to make them stand out from the rest of the face. It’s important a person’s eyes stand out in the photo, no matter what the product, because it creates a connection with the viewer.

      Side note, my aunt has really big pores and after years of experimenting with different products she says the most effective treatment is to just run an ice cube over them or wash her face with super cold water.

      As a photographer nothing in this article is news to me, although it’s nice to hear someone point out (in the original article) that the best retouchers are also really good illustrators. I’ve always sort of vaguely noticed that, but now that someone else has pointed it out I’m wondering if I should take some drawing classes. I don’t have that skill set and my retouching absolutely suffers from it.