You know that thing of when you buy a big cookie and put it in a safe place in your pantry to enjoy at a later date, and then on said later date you go home, can’t find the cookie, yell at your roommate/your cat/your mom/your neighbors/everyone about how awful it is that they stole your cookie, only to have them calmly explain to you that, Sara, you ate the cookie yesterday? Well, that’s basically what just happened to Lena Dunham, except instead of a case of a missing cookie, it was a case of mistaken Photoshop. And yes, I do feel good about that analogy.
Yesterday, Dunham found a 2013 photo of hers on the cover of Spanish magazine Tentaciones, and something just felt off to her in the “this literally doesn’t look like me” department. In response, she took a photo of the cover and posted it to Instagram:
She accompanied the photo with the following (admittedly very calm) caption:
“Oh hello El Pais! I am genuinely honored to be on your cover and so happy you licensed a pic by @ruvenafanador, who always makes me feel gorgeous. BUT this is NOT what my body has ever looked like or will ever look like- the magazine has dome more than the average photoshop [sic]. So if you’re into what I do, why not be honest with your readers? Much love, Lena.”
I absolutely love it when people call out publications and advertising agencies for Photoshopping their bodies beyond recognition. It’s happened countless times before and will like happen countless times again, and when celebrities like Dunham and Zendaya take a stand against it, the more likely it is that we’ll reach some future agreement to, well, never disrespect a woman’s natural figure like this again.
But the awkward thing is, no one Photoshopped this photo. Tentaciones published an open letter in response to Dunham’s criticism, which, while written in Spanish, effectively explains that the perceived “Photoshop” is actually just a result of their cropping the original photo mid-thigh. Cue the painfully awkward silence.
But, ever the classy lady, rather than removing her initial critique of what she thought was a case of inappropriate Photoshop, she read the letter and posted an apology of her own, along with the original photo in full:
“Hey Tentaciones- thank you for sending the uncropped image (note to the confused: not unretouched, uncropped!) and for being so good natured about my request for accuracy. I understand that a whole bunch of people approved this photo before it got to you- and why wouldn’t they? I look great. But it’s a weird feeling to see a photo and not know if it’s your own body anymore (and I’m pretty sure that will never be my thigh width but I honestly can’t tell what’s been slimmed and what hasn’t.) I’m not blaming anyone (y’know, except society at large.) I have a long and complicated history with retouching. I wanna live in this wild world and play the game and get my work seen, and I also want to be honest about who I am and what I stand for. Maybe it’s turning 30. Maybe it’s seeing my candidate of choice get bashed as much for having a normal woman’s body as she is for her policies. Maybe it’s getting sick and realizing ALL that matters is that this body work, not that it be milky white and slim. But I want something different now. Thanks for helping me figure that out and sorry to make you the problem, you cool Spanish magazine you. Time to get to the bottom of this in a bigger way. Time to walk the talk. With endless love, Lena PS I’d love the Tentaciones subscription I was offered.”
So, it seems that what Lena took to be Photoshop was just Lena’s body three years ago, and hey, who hasn’t looked at an old photo of themselves and said, “No, that’s definitely not how I look”?
The truly fucked up thing here, though, isn’t the fact that Lena thought she was Photoshopped, or that she had to sort of swallow her pride and issue a public apology mere hours after she shot out her surprisingly friendly accusation. It’s the fact that we’re so used to seeing Photoshopped images of celebrities that, rather than just look at a photo and recognize it as a body that we used to have but have no longer because that’s what happens as we age, we immediately jump to the Photoshop conclusion. It’s the reason why now, more than even, we need campaigns like #AerieREAL that remove Photoshop and retouching from the process altogether.
It’s sad that it happens so often that, frankly, crying Photoshop is more often right than it is wrong. Hopefully this uncomfortable instance will knock some sense into all the photographers and photo editors out there who exercise retouching practices regularly, and if not, at least this particular instance ended on a high note. Stay classy, Lena Dunham.