Airbrush, Or Not to Airbrush? That Is The Question


Over the past few days I have been pondering my opinions on airbrushing. It has become a hot topic over the last few years, due to the controversy surrounding magazines and advertisers covertly using the technique without readers’ knowledge. L’Oreal in particular has had many advertisements banned because they had airbrushed and exaggerated their photographs. More recently,  in October 2012, Christian Dior have had an advertisement of the DIORSHOW; New Look mascara, banned for use of airbrushing. In the advert Natalie Portman’s eyelashes were apparently “misleadingly exaggerated the likely effects of the product” according to rival L’Oreal, who had lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority.

As a self confessed ‘beauty addict’ I can appreciate the beauty of these elaborate glossy photos. To me airbrushing is almost like a new art form that has evolved from photography, not only can we take pictures but we can manipulate them into even more wonderful creations. The raw picture that has been taken, is used as a canvas to be worked upon. One can change some or all of the variants. There are many ‘magical’ tools which can be used such as, blemish or red eye remover, teeth whitener, a thinning button and many more. People can even be edited in or out of photos to create a completely new scenario that suggests it is reality. The technology that allows one to do that must be given some credit.

These airbrushed creations in magazines of perfectly symmetrical faces, are not without merit. It is a great time consuming task to airbrush a photograph professionally and to get a photo looking it’s absolute best. It also takes a creative and artistic eye to know which colours to use, and what other effects are needed or whether any graphics should be added. I sometimes think that this hard work is dismissed and whether or not it is ethical to use these photos in a magazine the art and skill that creates this new form of beauty can not be denied.

 All this technology is now available in a less advanced form to use on a home computer, smart phone or tablet. It is enabled through new applications such as instagram or basic photo-shop versions that can be bought or downloaded, the normal photograph is bypassed and an enhanced product is the result of the click of the camera. Larger scale photo-shop applications available on computers allow one to take a plain passport type picture, then process it through said photo shop programme and after several editorial changes it could end up looking worthy of a gallery wall! This technology is a wonderful achievement of human intelligence and is a major sign of creative progression. The average person is now being exposed to a whole plethora of artistic tools, without even being aware of it. They are working with colour, tone, light, saturation and graphic effects etc to create a work of art that simply would not have been possible to make only several years ago.

 However, the problem occurs when the line between art and reality is blurred. This is often the case in magazines; the art form of the airbrushed photo is seen as reality.  But  just as Piccasso’s mixed up cubist faces are physically impossible for one to replicate so indeed are the airbrushed photos in magazines which often create body shapes that are just as biologically impossible. The difference being that most people would agree we couldn’t replicate the strange face of one of Picasso’s creations, but sadly the pictures in magazines are becoming the new ideal to many of their readers. As one can imagine this is causing major health and psychological problems for many of the more impressionable and often younger readers.

 Anorexia and bulimia are two very serious diseases which magazines need to take into account when choosing whether or not to portray women’s bodies as the reality or as unnaturally thin. It’s a loosing battle for anyone who decides that they want to look like the pictures of women in magazines. So magazines have a responsibility to keep that very important knowledge in consideration when they select their photographs. It is becoming more common place to see small messages on pictures that airbrushing has taken place, this is a step in the right direction, although how much attention that vulnerable person will pay to the small notice is questionable. The fact that reasonable, responsible adults have placed an airbrushed picture specifically in their magazine rather than a picture of a real person will speak volumes to them, way above that of the barely visible tiny line of words in the left hand corner.

 But this isn’t a new issue, the search for beauty is innate in all of us and has been in some form or other for hundreds of years, and we all would prefer to look our best rather than our worst. Which is why occasionally I do indulge in instagram’s amazing overlay selection, which can miraculously make a photo of me look nearly half decent. Similarly, Anne of Cleve’s was one of Henry the eight’s wives, she sent a painting of herself to Henry which he found very attractive, unfortunately the artist had used a little artistic license on her behalf to entice the King and it turned out she wasn’t as comely as the picture had suggested and the marriage was annulled (she was well rid of him, if you ask me! Shame the other 5 weren’t mingers too!).

 Anyway back to the point, personally I feel that the only way of getting this problem sorted is by grasping the fact that beauty is truth. When selling a product be honest with the consumer, don’t manipulate the pictures to slyly shift more of whatever you’re trying to sell, we deserve the truth.  However, we understand that when doing a fashion shoot in Vogue for example and the set for the piece resembles a that of a Salvador Dali painting some airbrushing is expected, but airbrushed pictures on every page, just aren’t needed and more to the point are not wanted. Guilty magazines (you know who you are), you are selling to ordinary women, women are awesome please represent that rather than trying to make us into walking skeletons. You’re pictures are beautiful but if you want to sell books of manipulated pictures then go into the art industry.



There is currently a petition to ban all airbrushed images and advertisements aimed at children. It closes on March 15th so you will have to be quick if you would like to sign it: