Digital Distortion

Posted May 31, 2010

Digital Distortion

The first time I saw Twiggy's advertisement for Olay in a magazine I gasped at the ageing face staring back at me.  I quickly did a double take. Yes, I really could see fine crease lines around her lips, wrinkles at the corner of her eyes and sagging skin. I felt guilty that my first reaction was one of shock.

Then I thought - bravo! At last, a high profile woman, an icon, who is brave enough to forgo photoshopped digital enhancement. All right, so undoubtedly there is still a bit of touching up but then most women like to appear better than they do in the harsh glare of reality. Who doesn’t go through photographs, select the unflattering ones and hit the delete button on the digital camera?

The point is, Twiggy has struck a compromise: she may not have revealed every wrinkle but she’s taken a brave step nonetheless. Yet when the advertisement first appeared last summer, it was highly photoshopped and Twiggy was criticised by a tabloid paper for daring to look a little jowly in real life. What do they expect? She turned sixty last year. If I look anywhere near as good as her at that age I’ll be thrilled.

The Dove campaign featuring ‘real women’ was similarly ground breaking when it launched but it also took me a while to get used to. I initially found myself recoiling at the sight of less than perfect images even though, at the same time, I was saying to myself that it was the right thing to do. I guess I’d been conditioned by the illusion of perfection for so long that I had to be weaned off gradually.

Celebrities are becoming more uncomfortable with peddling excessively retouched versions of themselves. It’s as if they want to burst their own mythical aesthetic bubble before someone else does it for them. Britney Spears, in a recent photo shoot, released pre-airbrushed pictures of herself alongside the digitally-enhanced final versions. Britney, 29, wanted to draw attention to the pressure that young women are under to constantly look picture perfect. Imagine what it is like, how it must feel, to see this idealistic vision of yourself on every magazine stand in the country and know that you can’t possibly live up to that image. Do stars fret that the public will feel cheated and let down when they see them in real life?

Kate Winslet was photographed at Wimbledon wearing no makeup. At the time she was also the ‘face’ of Lancôme.  She said that, of course, the real Kate doesn’t look anything like the Lancôme Kate. She has spoken about how she is conscious of the fact that she is a role model to younger women and doesn’t want to promote a beauty that is impossible to achieve. How awful, that a young woman in her early thirties should be pilloried for showing her age.

I know only too well that celebrities are digitally enhanced and yet part of me wants to believe that they really do look this good all the time. So who’s kidding who? The allure of glamour still attracts me but not if it means totally suspending belief. I want to look the best I possibly can by driving home my best points but I do realise that I’m a 3-dimensional person, not a one-dimensional digital fraud.

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