Numéro magazine has a new cover editorial starring top model Karlie Kloss. The largely nude spread was shot in black and white by photographer Greg Kadel. But there are some stark differences between the photographs released by Kadel and those that appear in the magazine. Numéro, it seems, liked that Kloss was so thin but hated that her thinness made her bones more apparent. So in a have-your-cake kind of gesture, it made the bones disappear with Photoshop.
This is one of the images from the editorial in question. On the left is Numéro's version; on the right is Kadel's. You can see the uncensored photo here.
Yesterday, when Kadel's images started hitting fashion blogs, the fact that Kloss's bones hadn't been Photoshopped out was one of the things we first noticed. Kadel's images were most likely also retouched — always a safe assumption with any fashion photograph, and the photographer has not claimed otherwise — but his retouching didn't take away Kloss's bones. When Numéro released images that were retouched to such a different standard, Kadel's studio announced the photographer's displeasure:
It was Greg's desire to represent Karlie as she naturally is ... slender, athletic and beautiful. That is why he released the images as he intended them to be seen by the public. He is shocked and dismayed that unbeknownst to him, Numéro took it upon themselves to airbrush over his original images. Greg stands by his original artwork and cannot stress enough that he not only was unaware of the magazine's retouching but also finds the airbrushing of Karlie unacceptable and unnecessary.
One of the requirements for being a fashion model — at least, a straight-size fashion model such as make up the overwhelming majority of the industry — is to be very, very thin and very tall. Most models are at least 5'9" and measure 34"-24"-34" at most; Kloss is 5'11.5" and her measurements are given on her most recent composite cards as 32"-23"-33". To maintain this small size is something that different models face in different ways — but it is something they all must confront, a job requirement not quite like any other. This is not a comment on Kloss's health — of which we can know nothing, based on mere photographs — just an acknowledgement of the standards of the industry she works in.
The result of maintaining such a small body size is bones and musculature that are more visible than they are on people of more average weights. And plenty of people — perhaps lacking, in a visual culture polluted by Photoshop, a realistic sense of how very thin bodies look and move — stand ready to say that any photograph of a woman with a bony chest is "disgusting" or "unfeminine" or "ugly" or "reminiscent of Auschwitz." Or at least those are all examples from (now dismissed) comments on yesterday's post.
Most consumers seem to accept the idea that models are skinny. But they don't like to be confronted with images that show the consequences of being that skinny in a realistic way. They want the bones airbrushed out. It lets them off the hook. And it lets the magazine, one of the clients who is instrumental in setting the standards that models must embody, off the hook, too. In this way, clients get to continue demanding unreasonably skinny models and zero bodily diversity. And they get to Photoshop out any bones that might offend. Or remind consumers of the toll this narrow standard can take on young girls' bodies.
The ease with which photographs can now be digitally manipulated in post-production has left the magazines and brands who produce most of fashion's imagery chasing ever-less-natural standards of "perfection." Retouching that in the darkroom era was time-consuming and expensive now can be done with a few clicks of the mouse. Taking out Kloss's bones, as Numéro has done, adds nothing to these photographs except a veneer of unreality: raising your arms above your head makes almost anyone's rib cage more prominent, regardless of weight, and the lack of it makes the Numéro shot uncanny. As I wrote a few years ago when so-called "reverse retouching" (retouching to take away bones and/or add flesh to models' bodies) hit the headlines, this kind of retouching hardly contributes to a healthy visual culture for women and girls:
We've become conditioned to expect perfected images of skinny, apparently boneless, smooth little girls in our magazines. In a certain way, we've come to rely on Photoshop to insulate us from the sharp reality of what maintaining an industry-approved fighting weight can do to a human body.