A touch too much! As fashion firms take picture retouching to bizarre extremes, can you trust ANYTHING you see

At first glance, the model on the right looks picture-perfect — until you notice her six-fingered ‘mutant’ hand. She has fallen victim to the retouchers’ art, which in her case has gone horribly wrong.

This ghastly blunder became an internet sensation last week when it was published on the website of plus-fashion company Simply Be. Before it realised its mistake and took the picture down, the image was added to a rogues’ gallery of retouching on one website.

But while it’s pretty entertaining, it also shows graphically that after all the fuss in the past year about the retouching of celebrity pictures — it’s upset both MPs and the advertising watchdog — the fashion industry has not got the message.

Hand of horror: A retouching blunder by Simply Be

Hand of horror: A retouching blunder by Simply Be

And there’s a perhaps more worrying point here, too: Has this relentless quest for ‘perfection’ gone too far

One man who knows all too well what went wrong with Simply Be’s picture is Patrice Jameson, a freelance retoucher who digitally enhances images for a number of well-known brands.

To make the orange kimono more attractive, the picture was altered. ‘Retouchers have to cut out the hand in order to slim the body behind it, and then digitally placed it back on top of the slimmed-down body. But they haven’t put it back on correctly,’ he explains.

Such assignments are all in a day’s work to him. He was, for instance, presented with what looked like a perfect picture of a baby with a huge smile, smooth, plump face and dimpled limbs.

But to the art director in charge of creating the glossy advert for a well-known baby brand, the image was fundamentally flawed.

‘I was told to “fix” the baby,’ recalls Patrice. ‘The skin was mottled, the neckline wasn’t quite right, the neck had too many creases and the baby had too many folds of baby fat on its arms.’

Patrice says that ‘all commercial, non-news images’ we look at today are ‘retouched’ to improve them and, most significantly, make them fit in with the perceived ideal of perfection.

False perfection: Britney Spears' picture has been airbrushed so she looks slimmer with flawless skin, right

False perfection: Britney Spears' picture has been airbrushed so she looks slimmer with flawless skin, right

The Simply Be error was added to the
‘Photoshop of Horrors’ gallery on the website Jezebel.com where it is
shown alongside images by the likes of H&M — which last year
published a picture of a model with blank screen where her face should
have been — and a Vogue picture in which Kate Moss’s daughter Lila’s
fingers had been erased.

However, it’s not just these rather
amusing celebrity blunders that are so exercising the anti-retouching
lobby, but just how far the practice has spread. For while retouchers
would once use an ink airbrush to alter actual pictures, the digital age
has paved the way for it to become more extreme.

In 2010, MPs Jo Swinson and Lynne
Featherstone founded the Campaign for Body Confidence, with the goal of
ensuring honesty and transparency in advertising.

Last July, as a result of a complaint
by the Campaign for Body Confidence, the Advertising Standards Authority
(ASA) ruled that the promotions for cosmetics by Maybelline and Lancme
starring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington breached industry codes
and were banned.

In the case of Roberts — who was
promoting a moisturiser — excessive skin smoothing had taken place.
Turlington’s image had the skin lightened, make-up perfected, dark
shadows reduced under the eyes, her lips smoothed and eyebrows darkened.

But these bans haven’t stopped the
cosmetics giants. Earlier this month, another advert featuring Rachel
Weisz was also scrapped. The ASA believed the excessive smoothing of
Weisz’s skin gave viewers a ‘misleadingly exaggerated’ implication of
the moisturiser’s performance.

Marketing agency Turn Key admitted recently to retouching a photo of Lily Allen to mark the launch of her jewellery range. Her freckles and moles were removed.

Banned: It was ruled an advert for L'Oreal moisturiser, left, had excessively smoothed Rachel Weisz's skin

Banned: It was ruled an advert for L'Oreal moisturiser, left, had excessively smoothed Rachel Weisz's skin

Banned: It was ruled an advert for L'Oreal moisturiser, left, had excessively smoothed Rachel Weisz's skin

Louise Chunn, editor of Psychologies magazine, says: ‘All glossy magazines retouch cover images. Photographers generally wouldn’t release an untouched image. They want to deliver the best possible picture, and the celebrity or model wants that, too.’

Bianca Richards is a retoucher who has worked with large cosmetic brands and cosmetic surgery companies.

‘I have often created a final image by using the arm of one model, the head of another and the body of another,’ she says. ‘It’s common practice to swap a head on to a different body.’

The attitude among retouchers is the public should understand images are not real and stop comparing themselves to them. ‘I wish people would realise the final products are not photographs, but works of art,’ says Bianca. ‘No person or product gets through without being retouched.’


Model Erin O'Connor said: 'Fashion is built on perpetuating fantasy'

But psychologist and author, Gladeana McMahon, who works on reality shows such as Britain’s Next Top Model, believes viewing such images can have a negative effect on adult women as well as teenagers.

‘It’s a natural to make comparisons and if you’re surrounded by retouched images and are not confident or self-assured, you will feel worse about yourself, not better,’ she says.

‘Unfortunately, most people look at retouched images and see them as real, not the fantasy that they are.’

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Dr Hany Farid, a professor of computer science and digital forensics at America’s Dartmouth College has come up with software that measures the degree of digital change on an image on a sliding scale of one to five.

Dr Farid would like his scale to be printed at the foot of advertisements to show how much work has been done to a picture.

Perhaps then, seeing really will be believing.

Some names have been changed.