The Reality of Real Women

 Article excerpts from Lesley Kinzel’s article, published by CNN.

Image: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Rights are that of Dove.

I’m browsing through the lifestyle section of CNN news and found this article. Every now and again you find gems, there, and this has been something that has been on my mind for some time. It has been on my mind, actually, since I started working in photography in 2007.


I’ve worked with models ranging from scary-thin to average to, well, above average. I’ve been average and I’ve been “above average.” I get it.

Many of my projects worked around the model’s personality. We were capturing images that they could use to remember a specific event or stylistic interest. “Themed portraits” were the gig. I wasn’t shooting for magazines or advertisements. I was shooting for myself and I was shooting for them.

Of all the people I’ve worked with- thick and thin, only one person from the lot did not ask me to photoshop her waistline. She didn’t ask me to take in her chin, pull in her cheeks, or give her a butt lift. She did not ask me to remove her characteristic mole or the bags under her eyes.

Every other person requested that.

Now, it’s one thing to smooth out an image. “Oh, this light was harsh and unfavorably distorts how bad the bags under her eyes are.” It’s another thing to make her look like Barbie- or give her the complexion of a mannequin.

I’ll be honest. I feel less compelled to stay true to natural form when working on an unrealistic themed shoot. Alice in Wonderland comes to mind. I had done a shoot with my sister, who is very petite and pretty. She’s had modeling gigs in the past. But I changed her skin tone, her hair, and her eyes. Why? This image wasn’t about her. It was about the character.

Lesley notes: “There’s nothing wrong with fantasy. Fantasy is fun, and the fashion industry does it as well as Hollywood. Why can’t we relate to fashion images for what they are — imaginary worlds with beautiful people who don’t really exist? Why insist that they represent reality in some way? Why are we so in love with the idea of seeing “real women,” whatever that represents?”

There is a difference between fantasy and real life. When I get men and women asking me to do portraits of them, ask me to alter their bodies to oblivion, and then post those images on their dating profiles- well, I get downright disgusted. I’ve actually worked a clause into my contract forbidding such use of altered images.

A majority of these folks don’t mean any harm or any outward deceit, I don’t feel. It’s just a lack of thinking, maybe, and an insecurity that maybe the reflection they see in the mirror isn’t going to garner good attention. Then again, I’m sure for a few of these folks, it has been to hook someone on a date so these poor souls can “see more than my outside, but actually get to know me on the inside.”

(I’m sorry, if you post untruthful photos of yourself, it is a lie. How does that reflect you on the inside?)

I digress, as per usual.

In any case, I suspect that the fall out relates somewhat to what we see in magazines. If I see another Examiner magazine post images of imperfect celebrities in awkward moments (hunched over in a bikini in unflattering late day sunlight, for example), well, I don’t know what I’ll do. I guess I’ll get mildly annoyed and make a snide comments (again, as per usual).

We might think we ignore these messages, but after multiple exposures, I think we subconsciously carry the message with us.

As Lesley notes: “We’ve all seen what happens when actual “real” bodies make news.

The most recent whipping girl for the crime of failing to be perfect is Lady Gaga, whose recent photos from a concert in Paris have had practically everyone on the planet hypothesizing how she could allow herself to suffer such a horrible fate as to put on a few pounds. Critics and fans have suggested everything from drug abuse to pregnancy. Gaga, for her part, simply credits eating a lot of tasty food at her father’s restaurant.”

She goes on to note:
“Lady Gaga has unashamedly shown off her body onstage in spite of her changing weight, refusing to apologize, and the response has ranged from shock, to disgust, to “concern,” to schadenfreude-driven laughter. Gaga has since responded by launching a new section on her website entitled “Body Revolution,” kicking things off by sharing pictures of her own body (and acknowledging the eating disorders that have shaped her) while soliciting fans to share their own insecurities.”

Most notably, Lesley states “It is telling that the initial public response was not to applaud Gaga for being “real,” but to shame her for being imperfect.”

She goes on to explain:
Real women are everywhere. The biggest problem with this nebulous concept of “real women” and our desire to see more of them is that it is intrinsically hypocritical. The truth is, we want to see “real women” when they look like Robyn Lawley in a Ralph Lauren ad, coiffed and digitally altered into that brand’s iconic and immaculate horse-riding fantasy world. We don’t want to see “real women” when they look like us.”


Dove had a campaign once upon a time, on behalf of real woman.”The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.”  I thought it was noble. I adored the idea. Other than when it made it’s first appearance several years ago, I haven’t seen but maybe a handful of ads since then. I could count on one hand.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many ads of the “Unreal” Beauty I’ve seen.
It sells. And really, that’s because we buy it.

The advertising industry gives us more of what we respond to. We are the ones who drive the market, and by responding favorably or unfavorably to a given campaign, we direct those who advertise. We respond to women who work as professional hangers. My own customers want to be unrecognizable. They want to be someone else while somehow being themselves.

You and I are the customers, after all.

And the customer is always right.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s