Yesterday Jezebel offered a $10,000 for an unretouched photo of Lena Dunham’s Vogue shoot. It was a remake of the 2007 stunt that put the site on the map: Back then, founding editor Anna Holmes offered the same cash reward for the original version of any women’s-magazine cover image from the past two years, a bounty hunt that yielded a Faith Hill Redbook cover in which the singer still had bags under her eyes.
In 2007, it took two months for Jezebel to make the big reveal; this time (according to Coen), they got the pictures within two hours. As with the Redbook cover, the differences they revealed were minor tweaks — filled-out eyebrows, a shaded jawline, a digital haircut on the cover. Inside, Dunham’s cleavage was covered up, a leg was lengthened, and — the big reveal — she was shown not wearing that pigeon fascinator. Coen acknowledged the anti-climax: "While Dunham has not been radically Photoshopped, it's clearer than ever what kind of woman Vogue finds Vogue-worthy: The taller, longer-limbed, svelter version of reality." Which only left us with the same question we’d had when they first announced the bounty: What had Jezebel intended to accomplish?
Specifically targeting Dunham in Vogue made it sound a lot like they hoped to reveal how many pounds Dunham lost on the Vogue diet. (The answer: not many.) Jezebel editor Jessica Coen had tried to preempt this criticism — she’d pointed out that the reward couldn’t be about revealing what Dunham “really” looks like, because we can see that on TV every Sunday night. Instead, she said, this was about Vogue, and figuring out just how “resistant” the magazine is to the idea that a Dunham likes herself fine the way she is.
But the answer here was obvious all along: Vogue is 100 percent “resistant” to that idea. As in, they retouch all women, regardless of their weight, beauty, self-esteem, or net worth. Their images are creative nonfiction, not journalism. And calling attention to how much Vogue might have altered this particular woman (as opposed to ANY woman, as in 2007) only served to underscore what Jezebel took to be that woman’s obvious distance from the messed-up ideal the site ostensibly hoped to take down. In 2007, the surprise of Jezebel’s Redbook coup was that trying to look like Faith Hill on the cover of a magazine is a trap. Not even Real Human Faith Hill looks like Faith Hill on the cover of a magazine. The surprise of this was — what, exactly? Dunham's persona and ideas ARE at odds with Vogue's images. But that incongruity is about Vogue's aesthetic. And Jezebel's $10,000 challenge didn’t make the issue Vogue's aesthetic; it made the issue Dunham's body.
Besides, since Jezebel’s launch, the unretouched-image game has spread to outlets driven more by voyeurism than idealism. Schadenfreude drives more clicks than concern for body image or impressionable teens. As Amanda Fortini wrote in 2010:
“The endless cavalcade of before-and-after shots is an outgrowth of the voyeurism, gossipmongering, and schadenfreude that fuel our celebrity industrial complex. People want to see actresses in all their wrinkled, full-figured glory for the same reason they want to purchase tabloids replete with pictures of A-list love handles. They want assurance that stars are just like us, which is to say imperfect.”
Which gets at the other big difference between this campaign and 2007's. Seven years later, Photoshop literacy is vastly improved and teenage girls about as likely to stumble across a Jezebel link as a Vogue cover. Thanks in no small part to Jezebel, they launch their own grassroots campaigns against Photoshopping in magazines. In fact, I think many people saw Vogue’s decision to put Dunham on the cover as a sign that the magazine is now chasing a conversation that has since moved elsewhere, to Jezebel and other sites that were founded, partly, in opposition to Vogue and its Photoshopping fashion-magazine ilk. Which makes it time for Jezebel to take up a new cause.
This post has been updated throughout.
Most Viewed Stories
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Everything We Know About Brad Pitt’s Plane Incident
Jaden Smith on the Many Subtle Flavors of Water
Taylor Swift’s Squad Begged Kim Kardashian for Mercy
The National Nightmare Is Over: Kim Kardashian Will Vote for Hillary
Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo Unveiled Their Baby on Instagram
The 6 Best Denim Shops on Etsy
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesAva DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.Santigold’s New Video Is the Result of a Spontaneous Run-in With Kara Walker
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Spotted Together Again, Love Might Be Real
They could be back together ahh!Teen, Forced to Go on Vacation With Her Family, Calls 911
The logical decision.Report: Hearst Fired Seventeen EIC Michelle Tan During Her Maternity Leave
Tan had been at the magazine for about two years.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.Miles Teller Is Still Upset About Being Called a Dick
He wants to set the record straight.Why Parents Shouldn’t Talk About Weight With Their Teens
New guidelines seek to banish weight talk.UVA Student Assaulted at Knifepoint During Orientation Weekend
But some students weren't notified until 24 hours later.