Julia Roberts’ advert for L’Oreal has been pulled after complaints over excessive airbrushing. We look at some recent controversies and an expert retoucher reveals some does and don’ts
The Guardian in London reports that a complaint lodged against L’Oreal at the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority was upheld. Two campaigns, one for L’Oreal and another for Maybelline – featuring Christy Turlington – were criticized for promoting exaggerated results of using a foundation cream. Mario Testino shot the Maybelline ad which contrasted the parts of her face covered (and not covered) by foundation.
Retouching of course has been a hot topic in recent years with Kate Winslet and Britney Spears just two celebrities who have hit the headlines. Spears allowed the digitally altered images used in a fashion shoot for Candies to be shown alongside the unaltered ones and Kate Winslet complained about excessive retouching in a 2003 cover for GQ magazine.
It’s a sensitive subject which that causes heated debate. Do such manipulations encourage an unattainable ideal for women? And yet image manipulation has always existed as photographers since the 19th century have used available camera, lighting and printing technology to manipulate portraits.
So where do we draw the line? UK Member of Parliament Jo Swinson who lodged the complaints told The Guardian, “pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality. Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great.”
A certain degree of retouching is necessary. With high-definition cameras too much facial detail for example can distract from the overall image of the face which gives us a sense of the person behind it (even if that insight is just illusion). Professional retoucher Dean Wardell said, “from a retouchers point of view over airbrushing the model clearly looks fake, the retouching can be done in a way that it looks polished but natural.” That said, Wardell thought it was probably “a bit unfair to blame the retoucher for this particular thing, he or she was probably taking direction from someone.”
So what are the tell-tale signs of bad re-touching? “Definitely keep away from giving it that plastic look, keep it as natural as possible, don’t airbrush out the pores in the skin. Also keep the skin tones natural so definitely do not over saturate the colours.” Wardell concurs with the ASA that L’Oreal overstepped the mark but also wonders, “it would be interesting to know how Julia Roberts feels about the retouch in question.” The re-touching in this instance implied all sorts of things about the product but in general, it’s clear however that as screen technology improves and we get used to seeing ads close-up on iPads, the likelihood is that we will be seeing more re-touching in advertising not less.