Self Editor: Photoshopping Is Like Deleting Bad Vacation Photos

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Self editor Lucy Danziger admitted last week that Kelly Clarkson's September cover was retouched. Apparently this became a big deal on the Internet, which is curious because magazines digitally altering photos, especially cover photos, is hardly news. But Danziger seized the opportunity to defend her magazine's use of retouching with a thorough blog post on the subject. She argues retouching is not unlike editing vacation photos: "I keep the pix that show us all happy and glowing and laughing and playing, not the ones where we are scowling or hungry or tired." Except the difference with those vacation photos is that's where the editing stops — they won't then be digitally slenderized. Nor will millions of people see them.

When Danziger decided to run a photo of herself after she completed a marathon five years ago, she had her hips slimmed. "I am confident in my body, proud of what it can accomplish, but it just didn't look the way I wanted in every picture," she writes. Well, does anyone ever?

Danziger explains what typically goes into digital retouching:

[W]e mark up the photograph to correct any awkward wrinkles in the blouse, flyaway hair and other things that might detract from the beauty of the shot. This is art, creativity and collaboration. It's not, as in a news photograph, journalism. It is, however, meant to inspire women to want to be their best. That is the point.


Except at our "best" we can never ensure we don't have awkward flyaways or bulging hips or other things that detract from our beauty. It's called being human, and it's something that, thanks to the culture of Photoshop, many women must work to accept rather than choosing to aspire to impossible ideals. Danziger writes of the Clarkson cover:

Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best. Did we publish an act of fiction? No. Not unless you think all photos are that. But in the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand.


We could go on for hours enumerating the flaws in this reasoning. But why couldn't Danziger just come out and say: "You know what? My goal is to sell magazines. We Photoshopped her because in this day and age it feels impossible to do that without retouching. Readers have grown accustomed to looking at inhuman ideals of beauty, and looking at someone in a magazine who hasn't been digitally improved has become more abnormal than looking at a normal person."

Pictures that please us [Lucy's Blog/Self]