This image of Brazilian model Lais Ribeiro in the new Victoria's Secret Body by Victoria campaign has drawn plenty of criticism on the brand's own Facebook page. The photo has attracted some 1,913 comments and counting, most of which are extremely negative, and nearly all of which lay the blame in a single word: Photoshop.
As you can see from the selection of comments highlighted at right. (Click any image to enlarge.) The truth is, the image is incredibly poorly chosen for an ad, and it's no surprise that the public feedback is so critical. The shot just looks uncanny, and the weirdness is definitely located in the area of Ribeiro's rib cage, where because of the placement of Ribeiro's arms, it looks like her waist isn't in alignment with her hips. But is the photo weird because of Photoshop? I'm not so sure. When a tipster first alerted us to the existence of this image a couple weeks ago, when it was on the blog Photoshop Disasters, I took a look and decided to ignore it — although the commenters were quick to attribute Ribeiro's narrow rib cage to retouching, I didn't think the evidence was that clearcut. Obviously, this picture — like all pictures in all ads and all women's magazines, unless explicitly stated otherwise — has been retouched, likely with a program such as Photoshop. And yes, Ribeiro's body, not to put too fine a point on it, looks weird in the image. But I'm not sure that's because some retoucher decided to shrink away half her rib cage with the Liquify tool. I think it's more likely that, in an attempt to use Photoshop to cover for a poor initial photo selection, numerous other post-production changes were made. Those small changes, taken together, result in the shot careening into the uncanny valley.
Kind of like that time Victoria's Secret released two weird-looking pictures of Candice Swanepoel's arms: nobody literally thinks Victoria's Secret asked a retoucher to give the model bigger deltoids. But you trim a little off the waist here, and smooth out the natural contours of the armpits there, edit the boobs, change the hips, alter this and that in a dozen ways that individually seem pretty small — and suddenly all you see when you look at the final picture is WHOA, ARMS. (See, when you put back a little of Swanepoel's rib cage, her arms look more proportional.)
And you can never rule out the distorting effects of the camera lens, the lighting design, and the model's own posing, either. (For what it's worth, Ribeiro's body looks more or less similarly shaped in unretouched runway photos, too.) Photoshop and the digital manipulation of images of women in general is a reality of our contemporary world — but not every funny or weird or bizarre-looking advertising image is that way because of Photoshop. We need greater image literacy about all of the ways in which brands distort the way women look if we're to hope to counter the effects of those manipulations on our self-esteem.