A couple of years ago I found myself in the most unlikely place. To this day I have no idea how I got there. I was sat in the London office of a high profile fashion photographer with covers of Vogue and rock stars and iconic figures in his portfolio. I have never been a squarer peg in a rounder hole. By the time I leave the house, despite my best intentions, I’m usually pretty scruffy. My hair is usually in some state of dishevelment, with roots that should have been dyed two months ago. Nail varnish chips before it’s even applied. Tights ladder. Shoes scuff. That studio was no place for scuffed shoes. That studio was no place for any imperfection of any kind.
So I was sat at my desk in this place during a casting for models. I couldn’t really tell you much about many of the girls I saw that day, except for one. One of those people who lights up a room when they go in. Amazonian and strikingly beautiful, with dark hair pulled back into ponytail, she wore a pencil skirt and a striped vest top. We had a short conversation about how hot it was that day. As she left, the photographer strode up to my desk laughing as though there had been some obvious joke. He shook his head and said “can you believe it?!” looking at me expectantly. I grappled with the right reaction, tried to get the joke but I had no idea what he was talking about. “Can you believe they’d waste my time with someone like that?” (and then I swear he actually said this and up until this point I had no idea that people ACTUALLY SAID THIS) “Don’t they know who I am?” His smile was gone and he seemed furious. I sat and listened to his rant about “the size of the girl” and “that mole on her lip”. He dictated to me an email to her agency, suggesting in some thinly-veiled, false-fashion-bullshit code that they shouldn’t ever send even her card to his studio again unless she lost weight. I wish that I had refused to write it. As it was, I ended up walking out of that studio anyway. But, at that point, I was already used to sending pretty depressing emails. I would send off photos for airbrushing, with the same instruction most of the time: soften the bones. There are naturally skinny men and women in the world, I don’t dispute that, but we all know that the fashion industry has a type that those who aren’t naturally like that can put themselves through hell to be like. In would come these girls, often for several hours, who wouldn’t let as much as a mint touch their lips. I was told “let’s just have fruit for lunch” on days when we had models in, so that I wasn’t “setting a bad example”. Some of the girls just looked worn out, drawn and tired. The photographer explained that he liked the impossible size of the girls, but that we had to make it look like they were healthy in the final pictures. “Soften the bones“.
Now, as I said, I did walk out of that studio. I knew that I wasn’t made for that environment. My business was growing and my own work was developing. And while I know that not all airbrushing is as sinister as softening the bones, I’ve always had a strong aversion to doing it to my own work. It doesn’t sit right with me. I hate that we’re getting to a point now where these impossible images are the norm. It’s all about breeding insecurity, and you guys know I hate that. So, in my own work I avoid the airbrush. So, there may be a few things here and there that maybe some people might feel should be magicked away. For a while, I worried about that. But then I thought about my favourite old photos. I think about pictures of my parents when they were younger, my aunts and uncles, my grand parents… when I am older and I show my children and grandchildren my photos, I don’t want it to be some plastic-wrapped view on things. By that point I’ll probably look back and curse myself for ever worrying about my teeth or my skin, in the same way I look at pictures of myself as a teenager and think “for heaven’s sake girl, you were NOT fat”. I want to be able to look back and to see it how it was, not catering to my insecurities of the time, or the insecurities that the media push onto me.
So no, I don’t airbrush the photos that I give to my clients. I like them better that way, and I hope that you guys do too.