Why Ditching The Airbrush Makes Good Business Sense

It turns out we like it when companies keep it real


by Zing Tsjeng |
Published on

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when fashion brands want to score an easy PR win, they quit Photoshop and declare to the world they wont retouch their snaps – at least for a little bit. There’s no simpler way to generate splashy, right-on headlines to convince women that they really do care about body politics. A zero-retouching policy screams. ‘We know what real women look like! We’re not faceless corporate automatons intent on flogging you clothes you don’t need, promise!’

Of course these bold statements don’t usually stick around for long and it’s back to a trusty slimming tool soon. Just check out Vanessa Hudgens’ latest Bongo campaign – she might be ‘100% all natural’ in the ads, but a quick perusal of the brand’s website shows it hasn’t ditched Photoshop for plenty of their other models.

What are fashion labels so scared of? Maybe they think women have got so used to buying clothes displayed on remodeled bodies – what if the sight of an un-retouched girl drives customers away? Maybe it’s that we want to buy in to an unblemished fantasy, as opposed to the actual truth?

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Well, it turns out that argument just doesn’t hold up anymore. As after US clothing brand American Eagle imposed a permanent Photoshop ban, it’s gone from strength to strength. The American retailer stopped airbrushing ads for its Aerie lingerie line as of this January. ‘We left beauty marks, we left tattoos – what you see is really what you get with our campaign,’ spokesperson Jenny Altman told* Good Morning America* at the start of the year.

Aerie campaign girls possess model good looks, but they also have a few things you never see in a conventionally retouched image. Their undereye wrinkles show up when they smile. Fuzzy blonde hair adorns their arms and stretch marks crisscross their thighs; Aerie even leaves in back rolls of fat (which, for the record, looks totally cute).


Executives say that their no-airbrushing stance is working: lingerie sales have soared by 9% last quarter. Obviously, there could be multiple reasons at play here for the brand’s sudden success, not least because American Eagle has started stocking the line in its regular stores, as opposed to in stand-alone boutiques. And somewhat dishearteningly, Aerie campaign images are still dominated by conventionally good-looking, relatively thin models. But it’s still one of the only brands that have stuck to their guns, with proven results.

READ MORE: Retouching A Selfie Is Kind Self-Defeating** **

It’s in sharp contrast to Victoria’s Secret, who landed in hot water this month for its latest campaign that photographed a bunch of super-retouched ladies in underwear with a tagline ‘The Perfect Body’ over it? It’s little wonder that a Change.org petition calling for its removal scored over 28,000 signatures.

Leeds University student Frances Black, who started the petition, told us that the image and the message combines to particularly toxic effect. ‘It comes down to, “Should companies have a social responsibility?” And I think they should,’ she says.

But maybe the tide is turning against the airbrushed-as-hell image. On Thursday, Victoria’s Secret quietly changed ‘The Perfect Body’ campaign on its website to read ‘A Body For Every Body’. It’s not exactly perfect (or, er, grammatically correct), but it’s a start. Maybe one day, we’ll get a lot more used to girls who look like Aerie girls and not VS Angels.

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**Follow Zing on Twitter: @MissZing **

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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