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Unattainable Beauty

February 12th, 2010
05:51 PM ET

By Tom Evans; Sr. Writer, AMANPOUR.

(CNN) - Fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg says there should be no censorship of images in magazines and advertising - despite calls in some countries for legislation to label fashion photographs that have been digitally retouched.

"The pictures, the snapshots that you take of your family - you crop them, you take something away. That's just part of what we do automatically," von Furstenberg told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

While von Furstenberg, who is president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, does not believe such legislation is necessary, she said it's vital for the fashion industry to promote health as a vision of beauty.

"Beauty is health - health, beauty," she added. "My whole philosophy in life and in my work and everything is to enjoy the woman that you are and to believe in it."

Furstenberg was responding to calls by a French lawmaker, Valerie Boyer, for legislation that would require all photographs that have been retouched to be labeled as such. French fashion watchers say that means 99 percent of all fashion photographs would carry a disclaimer, if the legislation is passed.

Boyer, who has two teenage daughters, says the fashion industry bombards people with images that may encourage anorexia.

"Today, we are forced to imitate bodies that do not exist, and this affects people, especially women," Boyer said.

Von Furstenberg, though, said the fashion industry is taking steps to discourage the use of stick-thin runway models. "We emphasize that we do not hire people who are clearly anorexic," she said.

Elle magazine's creative director, Joe Zee, agreed, saying, "We want girls to look healthy, and that is an ultimate goal. So we don't use girls that are too young, we don't use girls that are too thin. We want them to look beautiful."

He said retouching is not a new concept.

"This has existed way back into the 1950s. You know pictures you've seen of Marilyn Monroe have been retouched, albeit by hand in a different way."

Von Furstenberg pointed out that retouching has always happened, even in paintings.

Both von Furstenberg and Zee emphasized they would never allow retouching that went too far.

"I would never put a picture or print a picture in our magazine where we drastically altered anyone," von Furstenberg said.

"I would never drastically alter someone's body, change their hair color, move a neck, or whatever it is. It's really about cleaning up skin tones and looking beautiful," Zee said.

He added he would never feature anyone who is "deathly thin," because there's nothing glamorous about that.

The two also said the fashion industry is always changing, with von Furstenberg saying she believed there will be a return to models who look "a little bit more real."

Zee said there is a return to athletic bodies in fashion images. "Fashion is not about clothes," von Furstenberg said. "Fashion is a reflection of your time. And things change and mood changes, and you can't really understand why and nobody really decides it."

Filed under:  1 • General
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. K.C. Werick

    I am an R.N. and have been teaching Health to bright young women for 17 years. I would welcome a disclaimer regarding re-touched fashion photos. It's ridiculous for Diane von Furstenburg to say that we essentially do the same things to photos we take of our families. The models are "thinned out and de-blemished", and things are added and subtracted to them to such an extent that 95% of the girls looking at them see an image with which they can never compete. These doctored fashion photos are akin to steroids for athletes. The body is false and unattainable without "outside help". Of course von Furstenburg would be against the disclaimer–this is how she makes her fortune!
    It's so sad that there is so much emphasis put on external "beauty"
    when in the grand scheme of things it is so unimportant! As I say to my girls, "When you are old and you reflect upon your life and what you have done with it; I hope that you can say that you have contributed much to this world because of your beautiful minds, and that you have not worried so much about what you have done with your face."

    February 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  2. K.C. Werick

    Corrections: I did not spell von Furstenberg's name properly in my first post.
    Also, I meant to say "things are added to and subtracted from them".

    February 12, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  3. streykatt

    first to comment on K.C. Werick's comment.. If you have been teaching 'health' for some time, then you would know that no one wants to have 'blemishes' or to be fat. so when fashion magazines promote 'de-blemished' and normal sized and healthy people, you, out of all people, should be able to know the difference and have a better comment. Of course people external beauty.. that is how most people find their mates, only personality is a close second, and that's what fashion is about.. being able to ascertain one's personality from afar as well.

    the whole industry is based on presenting ones self as the best one can be. and as a health teacher of 17 years, which may indicate that you are at least 35 years old, , you should know that there are plenty of people without blemishes.. meaning that their appearance looks healthier than someone with one or two or more.

    fashion and art images, have always portrayed people as the artist wants one to see them. if you want to imagine (which is still free, for now, in this country of america) a flawless looking person, than please do so.. I've never heard about anyone being so dismayed over mona lisa's or david's flawless appearance! thanks

    February 14, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  4. K.C.

    Streykatt–first, may I say, your screen-name is darling. I love all cats –stray or otherwise–don't you?
    My probem is not with showing de-blemished, lovely people. My problem is with the extreme manipulation of photos so that they are "perfect". Teenage girls feel so bad about themselves as it is. They do not need to compare themselves to a standard of beauty that does not really exist. The problem is, the magazines do NOT show "normal" people. They show people whose pictures have been doctored and tweaked. That is what the whole article was about. They ADMIT in the article that they manipulate the photos–the only question is–should they be made to put a disclaimer on these pictures in the magazines, where they will be viewed by teens, who believe they are real! Of course I, myself, know that these pictures are false. It's teenagers who don't realize the extent of the manipulation, who compare themselves to these "perfect" pictures of models and of course then find themselves wanting. This makes them feel like losers.
    I have a friend who did some modeling who told me that she did a photo shoot and saw later that they had put someone else's legs on her body.
    This is not, as you say, presenting ourselves as the best we can be–it's presenting us as we can never be and never were!!!– it's morphing 2 different women to make one woman that they consider the best. Kids look at these pictures and think that they are "ugly" because every bit of their bodies aren't perfect aas they think the models are.. The photos are changed so that the original model might not recognize her own body!
    Honey, I see this sad scenario every year. I would just like the magazines to admit which photos have been changed, and how– see? Then my girls would honestly realize that many of the pictures in the magazines are false, and they would be less likely to judge themselves so harshly!
    I love beautiful pictures–I don't love false advertising, and I don't want to have my girls think that the false pictures are real–you see? Thank-you!

    February 15, 2010 at 3:01 am | Reply
  5. Evelyn Kosita-Madu


    I quite agree with you, we should be told which pictures have been touched up. Truth is, our society is full of young impressionable girls who will do anything to look like the models on magazines because for them, this is the epitome of beauty.

    I knew a 12year old girl in Nigeria who ate only crackers and water for a long time because she had been teased and wanted to be slim and beautiful.

    I am 36 years old and have dealt with serious image/personality issues for the last 25 years or so because I have never been able to look like the girl in the magazine. Now I know better, and I have channelled my energy to having a healthy mind and personality.

    For the sake of the young girls, please tell us what is real and what isn't . Our young girls need to know that they are not imperfect and are beautiful the way they are. Please help them build a healthy self image of themselves and put their energy to more realistic and rewarding activities.

    February 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  6. K.C.

    Hi Evelyn,
    I can tell by the way you write that you are a strong beautiful woman!
    I am so glad that you have come to realize that the false images that the fashion industry presents should never be the yardstick by which we judge ourselves. It's funny, in my grandmother's time, a woman was supposed to be heavy because it showed that her husband waas able to put food on the table. It's odd, when you think of it–the way women are "supposed" to look is most often mandated by men. Amazingly arrogant of them. Men have worn essentially the same uniform of a suit and tie in this country –with some small changes–for years. Also, the suit completely covers a multitude of body types very nicely. We and our daughters are the ones bombarded by ridiculous fashion images with which we are supposed to conform–and although the fashion industry always contends that we don't have to choose what they offer, it is hard–especially for young women who are so desperate to fit in-to stand up for themselves and choose a different look. Did you see the article about the model who believes she was fired by Ralph Lauren because she was too fat? She is a size 4, and 5' 10!
    Hang in there my friend! A person at a time we can teach young women what really matters in this life–and it is most certainly not fashion!

    February 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  7. Sarah

    Thanks so much for doing this story, Christiane.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  8. Fernando F.

    thank God we have a government that protect citizens from Corporations that try to brain wash our youth and replace brain cells with false ideas that will bring those Corporations tons of money if they could get away with their monetary goals.... oops... sorry, that's in another planet.... in the US is Corporations that regulate themselves, meaning 'they'll do anything for a buck' ... or a couple of billions.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  9. Hilary


    While I agree that it's dangerous how some girls try to hold themselves to impossible standards when looking at retouched images, I fail to understand why fashion, a legitimate and interesting art form, is something that does not matter. There are plenty of important issues in the world, like famine, wars, human rights issues, and so on, but why can't there be time for fashion, too? What if putting together art in the form of fashion is the way some young women raise their self-esteem? Scary-thin models are not a good thing, but that shouldn't sully fashion. The two are not one in the same.

    February 23, 2010 at 12:12 am | Reply
    • Henk

      Hey! Def go to the mall and run wild! Haha but seriously it is cool bauscee I remember the first one started here in NYC 2 years ago and now cities nationwide are participating. Sept 8th is Fashion's Night Out everywhere so make sure you mark your calendar!

      August 11, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  10. SP

    In one sentence the guy says that they want girls to look healthy and in the next he is saying that it is fantasy. The two don't work together, I'm sorry. It seems to me that these are the lines that they are feeding themselves to help them justify what they do.

    And what does he mean "aspiration". If he means the beauty that we should "aspire" to, well, isn't that the point of the arguement. Should little girls (or even grown women) be aspiring to this look that is unatainable?

    We are not talking about bluring out a pimple. They are shaving off thighs to make them look, what they deem to be, more beautiful.

    If only it were just airbrushing out pimples and celulite like it used to be. Now it is completely changing how a person looks to fit some imagined ideal.

    February 23, 2010 at 12:20 am | Reply
  11. LA

    Argh! This is double speak. They may not show deathly thin models, "obviously anorexic," on magazine covers, but they sure as heck show underweight ones. In addition, they don't just photoshop out blemishes; they photoshop the actual bodies. Natural lines caused by feminine softness get removed. Borderline healthy (still on underweight women) arms and legs get skinnied down.

    Not too long ago, the industry said, "OK, we won't photoshop women to be scrawny any more." (Yeah, right, but anyway ....) "Now, we'll photoshop curves into them." So apparently they think the solution is to start promoting different types of unattainable figures: scrawny waists and thicker hips and chests. Is it not downright ludicrous that to be the industry's idea of beauty, women have to be both anorexic and plastic?

    The fashion industry has shown itself to be so harmful to women and young girls in its stubborn denial of truth and consequences that they need to be put in the time out chair: They should label photos when anything but pimple-reduction has been done.

    February 23, 2010 at 1:48 am | Reply
  12. Annette

    Hello K.C.,
    Thank you for your perspective. I know many girls and women who growing up, myself included, became quite influenced by magazines and images of perfect skin, perfect hair, the perfect smile, the perfect height and weight, the perfect proportions, etc..... Knowing that pictures have been doctored is common knowledge but to young women that feel bad about themselves when they do not measure up creates self-esteem issues that can last for years down the line. However, once we as individual women come to appreciate ourselves fully and realize that we can use time on much more productive things, that appreciation and realization (for who we are and what we are about and not merely what we look like) will bring us more satisfaction and peace from within. I'm not saying that we shouldn't take pride in how we look, dress, etc., but I am saying that to obsess over every detail constantly and to strive for that perfect image constantly will only continue to take away from the things in life that really matter, like our health, our inner peace and our relationships with friends and family. Here's to feeling beautiful, believing in ourselves and taking care of our bodies and our health!!!

    February 23, 2010 at 6:21 am | Reply
  13. K.C.

    Hi Hilary,
    My gosh, in the United States, "Fashion" already does take up considerable "time" as it is! It is no doubt among the top 10 things with which we Americans concern ourselves!
    Fashion design can be a great career for both men and women. Some designers have a great gift for design and I agree that at its best, fashion design can be considered an art form.
    All I ask is that we tell the truth in regard to the images that we show our impressionable young women (and also, by the way, our young men– who think that their girlfriends should look this way too!) who are so influenced by what they see in fashion magazines. I agree that "scrawny thin models shouldn't sully fashion." But sadly, that's exactly what they do! They also cause some of our young women to begin a slide into self-loathing that may take them many years to reverse. Believe me when I tell you most sincerely–I have seen it happen. What a sad, sad waste.

    February 24, 2010 at 12:02 am | Reply
  14. Keith Bond MD

    I think that this is both a wonderful topic and a critical one for discussion. We can all see, especially in medicine, the effects of this on women young and old. It is evidenced by the increased numbers of plastic surgeries related to cosmetics. But lets get to the bottom of this issue. This is driven by money, as is everything in this country. For the fashion industry to be successful and the cosmetic industry to be successful women must feel unattractive or less attractive. This feeling of inadequacy is the driver behind the relentless quest for attaining a better look, for looking younger, for chasing the magazine cover. The chase involves the purchase of cosmetics; the purchase of surgical procedures; the purchase of clothes to make you look thinner; the purchase of diet pills, etc. For this reason, you have people from the fashion industry defending the brazen display of unreal images to our children. For this reason, they always will. The sad part of it all is that they do not have to destroy the confidence and self esteem of millions of young women to achieve their goal. For all those young women that look at these images and subconsciously say to themselves "I dont look like that so I must be ugly" this is a tragedy. I hope your story wakes this country up and initiates change. By the way the same thing is happening to men, only a different format.........muscles!! Thank you for your wonderful work.

    April 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  15. Piotr

    I think it is so sad that fashion industry is so unhealthy. The way they shows women is pooring. Men are better, they must look healthy and toned, otherwise they can not be models.

    Some of the people from the this industry talks about it, however they still showing unnatural thin models on the catwalks and in the fashion magazines.

    Other thing is how people look at these things and what is popular in the shops (clothes or even food). I think it s too many fat people, who cannot feed themselves properly – chips and fat food with no exercises is not good too.

    It is need to be balanced – good, proper food and exercises!! No TV, no crisps etc.

    If the population will think and only watch that fashion things, it will be better soon.

    April 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  16. Piotr

    sorry mistake:

    If the people will think and NOT only watch that fashion things.........

    April 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  17. Oscar Villadolid

    Photographs have long ago ceased to represent reality. People know this, there should be no need to label whether photos are retouched or not.

    April 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  18. K.C.

    Hi Oscar,
    I must tell you–I am an RN and a teacher of teenage girls. YOU may know that photos have "long ago ceased to represent reality".
    Teenage girls do not always know what adults know. They are more likely to take at face value what they see. Even if they DO know something objectively, they really do not internalize it.

    April 2, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Reply
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