Back in August, Victoria's Secret accidentally published a set of two dozen raw, unretouched images from a photo shoot with supermodel Doutzen Kroes. Although we had to take down the unretouched images from our post after some kind of legal crap from VS, we knew the publication of the retouched versions in the brand's catalog was only a matter of time. And now we can show you all the images, both before and after the VS airbrush job.
Many of the differences between the retouched and raw photographs are not terribly shocking. There aren't any missing limbs, or drastic alterations to the shape of Kroes' body — she's a supermodel, after all, and the woman sure knows how to pose. This is, to be honest, mostly pretty subtle, "good" Photoshop. The biggest change by far is that Victoria's Secret brightened up the colors and corrected for lighting conditions that had some of the raw shots looking a little washed-out or dull. Now, it comes as no great surprise that a company should want its products to be seen in the best light possible, even if that is the magical, fake, golden light of Photoshop. An advertiser using lies to make a product seem more alluring than it really is? Well, I never!
But it's still interesting to see exactly what changed — and what didn't — during Victoria's Secret's post-production process. The retouching of women's bodies in advertising is normally intended to be invisible: it takes advantage of the presumed objectivity of photography but instead gives us an image that has been highly manipulated. The standards to which images are edited vary from brand to brand and magazine to magazine, and in a world where virtually every image of a woman we ever see (outside, perhaps, of news photos) has been manipulated and "perfected," whatever information can be gleaned about these standards helps foster media and body literacy.
It's easy to forget just how very recent the advent of Photoshop was in our visual culture. Images have always been retouched in the darkroom, sure, but the cost and time-intensiveness of darkroom retouching often meant that magazines and brands simply didn't have the time to "fix" everything. When digital retouching became the norm in the late 90s/early 2000s, our bodily ideal for women began to change, too. A lot of the things that got Photoshopped out of these Victoria's Secret images — folds of skin visible at Kroes' side when she thrusts out a hip, expression lines, traces of body hair, the texture of her skin — were visible in ad campaigns for global brands and on fashion magazine covers even as recently as the 1990s. We did not always think of the place where the pectoral muscle meets the armpit as something "ugly" in need of "fixing." We did not always think that it looked "bad" for a woman to squint slightly in the sun.
So let's take a look, shall we? Scroll through the images at top to see how your gorgeous sausage gets made; click the bottom right of any image to enlarge.
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Changing the colors of garments in post-production (1) is one of the most common image edits; the transparency of the tankini fabric was also reduced with the recoloration. The photograph's colors were brightened in general (2) and lighting errors were corrected. Part of Kroes' back below her armpit has also been removed (3), as have the expression lines on her face (4). The hemline of the swimsuit bottoms has also been redrawn (5).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Again, expression lines have been removed (1), and skin folds created by the exaggerated position of Kroes' hip have been smoothed (2) along with part of her back below her armpit (3). Kroes' lower body has also been subtly reshaped to elongate her legs and slim part of her right inner thigh and buttock. Aside from the overall color (4), the biggest change of all between the unretouched and retouched images is the removal of her swimsuit strap (5). That's one way to get the cleavage of a standard swimsuit top in a bandeau: Photoshop.
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Notice that this is the same swimsuit seen in our first slide? The color has been changed yet again in post-production, and again the garment fabric has been made more opaque. Here expression lines have also been smoothed (1), the folds of skin around the side of Kroes' back are gone (2), and the faint armpit stubble visible in the unretouched image is gone (3). The hem of the swimsuit has again been adjusted in post-production so that it falls straight across her lap (5).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Here is another strap removal (1). Kroes' expression lines have again been erased (2).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. The natural folds of Kroes' armpit were erased (1), along with her expression lines (2).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Multiple changes have been made to Kroes' body along her left side. Folds of skin have been removed (1), along with part of her back visible below the armpit (2), and the area around her armpit where her pectoral muscle was previously visible has been extensively smoothed and modified (3). The nude underwear originally visible underneath the swimsuit bottoms has also been edited out (4).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. A bruise on Kroes' right hip has been removed (1) and her abdominal muscles have had some of their tone retouched away (2).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Wrinkles in the swimsuit have been magically smoothed out (1) and Kroes' expression lines were — once again — taken away (2). Faint scars or scrapes on Kroes' right hip were also edited out, and her inner left thigh was slimmed down.
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Kroes' abs are looking a little smoother and less defined in the Photoshopped image than they are in the original on the left (1). And once again, the swimsuit top has been magically turned into a bandeau (2). Kroes' expression lines are gone (3).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Notice how they straightened out the horizon line (1). There were also changes made to her right armpit.
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Gone are Kroes' expression lines (1), some of the definition to her abs (2), and the hair that spilled out behind her shoulders (3). Also gone are the fingers of her left hand (4).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Folds of skin along Kroes' side have been smoothed out (1), along with veins in the crook of her arm (2) and the area around her armpit (3). Shadows have been deleted from her abs, making them look less toned (4). The nude underwear is gone (5).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Another total garment color change (1).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Note that this is the same swimsuit as seen in the 10th slide, except that here the color has been altered. Kroes' expression lines have also been smoothed (1), along with the skin around her armpit (2) and the veins in crook of her arm (3).
Left: the unretouched original. Right: the final Photoshopped image. Note that this is the third shot using that same tankini from our first slide. In this image, wrinkles in the swimsuit top have been smoothed (1) and the lay of the hem of the swimsuit bottoms has been changed (2). Kroes' expression lines are gone (3) and her armpit has been smoothed out and any hint of body hair removed (4).