Airbrushing Controversy

So if you’re a fan of either Lena Dunham, Vogue, Jezebel, or if you generally read Twitter a few times a day, you may have seen something about this controversy.

Lena Dunham (whom I love and adore, and do feel she is the voice of a/my generation) is appearing on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue magazine. This is sort of a big deal, because it means that A. Editor Anna Wintour has approved of her and B. that Lena has made enough of a splash in her career (and style choices) that she is qualified for a Vogue cover (if you’re unfamiliar of the politics behind Vogue or Anna Wintour I suggest watching the Devil Wears Prada, which is based on the book written by a former Vogue employee).

However, Lena has made a name and career for herself semi based around not caring what people think about her appearance, and doing what she wants with it – aka, she’s naked a lot on her show. I respect and love this about her, and I’m so thrilled that she’s made a voice for girls who don’t have bodies that would typically be on the cover of magazines.

In light of this fact, Jezebel, a feminist leaning blog/site that describes themselves as “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing,” offered up $10,000 to anyone at Vogue who would release the unretouched photos from Lena Dunham’s Vogue shoot. And Vogue did. Here is the resulting review of all pictures, with gifs showing both versions.


So, a few things have  happened here. Initially, I get what Jezebel is trying to do. In a way, it seems like they wanted both Vogue and Lena, who again encourages the normal-looking-woman on her show and in the media, to put their money where their mouth is. Jezebel has many articles about airbrushing and retouching photos in magazines, movie posters, advertisements, etc. it’s sort of their thing as a feminist publication to write about and “out” this kind of stuff. But the problem with this situation is the target. First, Vogue touching up photos isn’t new news, and at this point, is assumed. Yes it’s very unfair that women in magazines can’t have pores, or wrinkles, or smile lines, and especially not an ounce of fat. However, this is very much the status quo when it comes to women’s magazines, and the results of the photos were most likely not at all in Lena’s creative control, and ultimately not even THAT touched up anyway. Second, if anyone is confused as to what exactly Lena looks like naked, they can see her real, true body (in often ill fitting clothing) every Sunday in her show Girls. She is naked quite frequently, and has already accomplished anything she is trying to do in promoting the image of the real woman in that medium. So taking those two things into consideration, Jezebel has come off in this case like a big, mean, frivolous bully. Lena does so much showing her body and encouraging acceptance of a normal one, that this was really a situation that everyone could have just let her have.

Lena had a similar reaction as Mindy Kaling did to her  criticized Elle cover a month ago, and it was perfect –

I understand that for people there is a contradiction between what I do and being on the cover of Vogue; but frankly I really don’t know what the photoshopping situation is, I can’t look at myself really objectively in that way. I know that I felt really like Vogue supported me and wanted to put a depiction of me on the cover…. I know some people have been very angry about the cover and that confuses me a little. I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing…. A fashion magazine is like a beautiful fantasy. Vogue isn’t the place that we go to look at realistic women, Vogue is the place that we go to look at beautiful clothes and fancy places and escapism and so I feel like if the story reflects me and I happen to be wearing a beautiful Prada dress and surrounded by beautiful men and dogs, what’s the problem? If they want to see what I really look like go watch the show that I make every single week.

I think the opposite of the intention is happening when we criticize the “fat girls” magazine covers. Instead of celebrating one of our own normal looking people being on a cover, we are tearing apart each aspect of it. There is an argument for why Lena and Mindy are only shot from the chest up on the cover, and why retouching is ever necessary, but when it results in making a negative, bigger deal of the whole situation, and making that person feel bad? It seems completely redundant.

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