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Debenhams: not messing (much) with natural beauty
June 20, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Debenhams, an international chain of fashion stores, has embraced more attainable body images by no longer retouching photos lingerie model, after they stopped airbrushing swimsuit models in 2010. The chain also recently featured models outside of the usual height, age and range, plus Paralympian athlete Stefanie Reid, in line with their selection of their first disabled model, Shannon Murray, in 2010.

This isn't to say there are absolutely no touch-ups done. "As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great."
posted by filthy light thief (26 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that's cool.

I was buying new underpants last night on Victoria's Secret, and as I was scrolling through my various options, kept coming back to this one picture with a model that just didn't look quite right and really stuck out. And then, upon my 3rd or 4th viewing, close inspection, I realized: the model had a scant amount of unshaved, unphotoshopped upper thigh baby hairs.

Weird how that can be such a jarring thing in the context of so much carefully orchestrated flawlessness.
posted by phunniemee at 11:44 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good on Debenhams! Honestly, the "before" version is far more appealing.

I'll just drop this oldie-but-goodie here, as another example of retouching. Starring Faith Hill!
posted by Thorzdad at 11:46 AM on June 20, 2013


I'll just drop this oldie-but-goodie here, as another example of retouching. Starring Faith Hill!

I can't stop staring at her retouched Terminator arm.
posted by 41swans at 11:51 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is sort of funny that they call "pigmentation" and "stray hair" minor issues since those are, like, two of the most highly contested and politicized aspects of body portrayal in visual media.
posted by threeants at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


nice - I have always thought what a crappy tactic it is for designers to use models that are all so perfectly identically thin and tall - it's really easy to make a body like that look good, hell you could wrap them in a potato sack and they still look alright. A designer that can make a short and squishy woman look great - that takes some skill and talent, that's who's clothes I want to wear.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:58 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


stray hair

While threeants' point is well-taken, the first thing that occurred to me is that stray pubes might be an issue for lingerie ads and could present some difficulties that aren't cosmetic (e.g., the showing of pubic hair might be open Debenham's or the ad agency or the magazine/newspaper/etc. to an obscenity charge).
posted by immlass at 12:02 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This might be a slight derail.

Following a few links, I ended up on this page. These mannequins are "plus sized"?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:06 PM on June 20, 2013


In my mind, stray hair and pigmentation are things that can be touched up in real life by a stylist and a makeup artist, whereas arms cannot be thinned nor noses straightened except by (serious) surgery.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:07 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


the first thing that occurred to me is that stray pubes might be an issue for lingerie ads and could present some difficulties that aren't cosmetic

Lingerie and swimsuit models keep themselves...um...tidy...just for this reason.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:08 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I sort of assumed that "stray hair" mostly referred to head hair that was slightly out of place from (in the "what we would have done" pieces they describe it that way), but I have no clue what "pigmentation" means in that context. I tend to assume that most lingerie models don't have pubic hair where it might peak out, but I could be wrong.

Following a few links, I ended up on this page. These mannequins are "plus sized"?

They said size 16, which I would believe. They look smaller than the mannequins at Lane Bryant, but bigger than most stores.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:09 PM on June 20, 2013


I do this shit for a living. There's a lot going on in this post - not using Photoshop, using plus size models.. Let's just say I'm really happy to see this happening in the UK, hopefully it spreads, because even from a purely creative standpoint, this is exciting. But I'm not without my reservations that the business will still find some way to fuck all of this up under assumedly good intentions.

The "pigmentation" comment is strange. A lot of really good looking models have natural cuts and bruises on their body, so it could mean taking those out. Or maybe they mean color balancing, which even I think is totally acceptable. Or maybe they mean taking a dark woman's skin and lightening it, which, if we're not talking about an underexposed shot, starts getting into troublesome territory.. so why the word pigmentation? Save yourself a lot of trouble and use a professional term like color correcting.

The other thing that has to be said is that this woman's skin is pretty much flawless. So, when we say no more Photoshop, will that increase the amount of make-up models wear? Does that not defeat the natural beauty concept? Won't 100 models still audition for 1 job? What really are the new criteria for not hiring someone? Is shooting people with disabilities a publicity stunt, or a real commitment? If this didn't garner Debenhams positive press, would they still do it?

Also, and this is not a complaint, I'd love to see some male natural beauty shots.
posted by phaedon at 12:17 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the context of photo retouching, stray hairs usually refer to head hair that's fallen into the face/eyes during shooting (though it can be used to refer to a whole lot more). What it is worth noting is that there's an awful lot of retouching that goes into a final image that isn't necessarily highly problematic. While retouching physical features is really bad, there's a huge amount of color correction, sharpening, tweaking to get the image looking more or less like what the photographer had originally envisioned.

For instance, last year a whole suite of VS raw photographs leaked out, and you could see what they seemed like before the editing went down. Jezebel put together a comparison between the before and afters, and what struck me more than the physical stuff was just how flat and lifeless the original images were. They had the color super-saturated to make it seem more summery and exotic.

It becomes a weird line as what is marked acceptable retouching, and what isn't. Stray hairs? Sweat from standing under studio lights? Blackhead that managed to poke its way through the day's makeup? Dodging and burning to give the hair more depth? Color tweaking lipstick to make it more red? Dodging and burning to give the illusion of changing the shape in someone's features, but without actually changing them? Only do things that could be done with makeup?

Still, a step in the right direction.
posted by themadthinker at 12:18 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, when we say no more Photoshop, will that increase the amount of make-up models wear?

Very likely, I'd wager. Let's not forget that oftentimes half of the "airbrushing" occurs on the actual model's body before the picture is taken. (and in a much more literal sense; i.e. body makeup applied with an actual airbrush)
posted by ShutterBun at 12:26 PM on June 20, 2013


what struck me more than the physical stuff was just how flat and lifeless the original images were. They had the color super-saturated to make it seem more summery and exotic.

Some of those photos just look like they were taken by a photographer who was shit at lighting.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lingerie and swimsuit models keep themselves...um...tidy...just for this reason.

I would assume that in the US they were pretty Brazilian at most but I don't know about womanscaping standards in the UK. Also if they're expanding the model range, that might be a concern with new or nontraditional models.
posted by immlass at 12:44 PM on June 20, 2013


Following a few links, I ended up on this page. These mannequins are "plus sized"?

I don't think they're supposed to be plus-sized. They say the majority of women in the UK are either a size 14 or 16, so I guess the new size 16 mannequins are supposed to be median size, neither over nor under the average, while the standard size 10 mannequins are abnormally skinny.
posted by narain at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2013


Some of those photos just look like they were taken by a photographer who was shit at lighting.

Yeah, it could be that. But if these images are actually from the original raws, they may just look flat because they haven't gone through any post-processing yet. I know some photographers opt to shoot their raw images in the most neutral way possible, as that allows for the most latitude when editing later. If you have something that's ultra-bright and high-contrast when you first get it, it makes it harder to tweak.
posted by themadthinker at 12:53 PM on June 20, 2013


Some of those photos just look like they were taken by a photographer who was shit at lighting.

Hah, well, don't forget it's not exactly easy for the photographer to get that job either. They know what they're doing. Most likely, they're using a big fill flash that needs to compete with the sun, so it has to be powerful, but they also need to be able to fire off photos quickly, so they can't have it on full power. So they put in just enough fill flash to know that there's enough info in the exposure for it to be brightened up in editing. They don't need it to look perfect right out of the camera; the raw picture is just one step in the process.

And let's not fool ourselves into thinking the unprocessed image is 'real'. There's so much reality-bending that goes into setting, posing, lights, wardrobe, and makeup that the whole thing stopped being real before anyone even walked on the set.
posted by echo target at 3:15 PM on June 20, 2013


Note that UK and US sizes are different. So a UK size 16 is a US size 14, IIRC.
posted by Joh at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2013


US size 12, FWIW.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:09 PM on June 20, 2013


This means nothing.

I've been retouching these sort of images for UK shops for years and I've only been asked to do slimming once (and plumping up once). It may be different for big ads and magazine covers (which I don't really do) but for web stuff they only book skinny models in the first place!

Does the HOW really matter more than the results?

They could have a fully CGI range of incredibly diverse and deliberately imperfect mannequins, or they could use photos straight from the camera but with fully made up and exclusively ultra-skinny models. Would the latter really be better?
posted by PJMcPrettypants at 4:21 PM on June 20, 2013


The story where they used more diverse models is cool though. I hope it's not a one-off.
posted by PJMcPrettypants at 4:24 PM on June 20, 2013


I can't wait to see how this affects their Maine New England line. If they're committed to truth in advertising, they need to realize that one thing you'll never see in Maine is women of color dressed like refugees from a Preppy colony.

I wandered alone into the Bath Debenhams a couple years ago, and nearly pissed myself laughing at the false representation of my home state. Actual English people were giving me a wide berth because I'm sure it appeared that I was on something.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:52 PM on June 20, 2013


Hah, well, don't forget it's not exactly easy for the photographer to get that job either. They know what they're doing.

I'm just throwing this out there with no further comment - you'd be fucking surprised.
posted by phaedon at 1:20 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


PJMcPrettypants, to my untrained eye, Debenhams has more realistic looking models. Compare the Victoria's Secret models and the models used by Debenhams. In the former, you see bones (ribs, hips, etc), while not so much in the latter. Of course, with the series of images of (mostly) untouched, untouched photo with mark-ups for post-production enhancements and the final product, it's even more clear what kind of photo editing can be done to marketing images.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on June 21, 2013


I think it's a bit odd to have Stef Reid wearing her sport leg with a garden party dress, but I suppose her everyday leg looks too normal to be immediately recognizable. Ironic!

Good on them either way.
posted by Madamina at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2013


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