britneyspears via Instagram
Done right: Britney Spears as she appears in her “Work, Bitch” video, courtesy of vertical stretching
It doesn’t matter what you eat or how much you work out — you’ll never look like a celebrity from a magazine cover or a music video.
That’s because you don’t employ a professional retoucher to create that beyond-perfect bod and heavenly glow that’s out of reach to even the finest personal trainers and makeup artists.
These miracle workers can trim bellies, enhance busts and make wrinkles and blemishes vanish with just a few clicks of the mouse.
“We have a collective idea of what we find attractive, and that’s kind of where we go with retouching,” says veteran retoucher Ted Blumenschein of MetaLux Imaging.
The goal is to make small tweaks that help people look better without making them look unnatural. But sometimes retouching does just the opposite.
Just ask Britney Spears, whose seemingly trim figure was called into question in October. It turned out she wasn’t the only one workin’ it in her new video, “Work Bitch.” Retouchers at Hoax Films did the heavy lifting, giving her a digital slim-down that stretched the video vertically. It was “like a fun-house mirror, so everyone looks tall and thin,” according to a postproduction expert who asked to remain nameless because of the “touchy” nature of her business.
It’s not Spears’ first retouching gaffe. Last fall, Lucky Magazine issued an apology of sorts for shrinking the singer and giving her skin an otherworldly glow.
Then came this month’s Vogue, which showed already-dewy star Kate Winslet airbrushed beyond perfection and, some said, recognition. With her skin eerily flawless, her mole removed, age lines invisible and jaw line tightened, critics claimed the leading fashion magazine had gone too far.
Whatever happened to the days when Vogue editor Anna Wintour forced Oprah to lose 20 pounds so she could get on the cover?
Today, retouching is the standard — but it’s not without controversy. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld hates the look, and complained in a talk at Lincoln Center last week that the practice left its subjects looking embalmed.
“Everyone looks like they stepped out of a funeral parlor,” he said.
Retouching was once an art of the darkroom, where dodging, burning and other techniques played with light and shadow to flatter and hide. The digital era took the art of out the process and made it easier to transform body shapes, whether in photos or videos.
Done wrong: Mariah Carey sticks her neck out on the cover of Elle.
Over the years, retouching has become more blatant, perhaps because women’s magazines see themselves as “aspirational,” says Jennifer Nelson, the author of “Airbrushed Nation: The Lure & Loathing of Women’s Magazines.”
“They think of themselves as an inspiration if they show us the perfect-looking woman. When in actuality, most women would like to see them as they really look,” Nelson says.
When it’s done well, retouching isn’t supposed to be noticeable. But when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong.
Just take a look at the popular website Photoshop Disasters, which features mistakes on a grand level — like Mariah Carey’s 2008 Elle cover, which stretched her neck so much she looked like she was ripping her own head off. No surprise there: Carey is also guilty of getting Photoshopped beyond recognition — into a sparkly, golden apparition — on the cover of the 2005 album “The Emancipation of Mimi.”
What makes celebrities turn into Frankenstars? Usually it’s “too many cooks in the kitchen,” according to our inside source, who is no stranger to the perils of over-retouching.
It starts with the photographer’s relationship with the celebrity — and the promise, implied or otherwise, that it’s the shooter’s job to make her look good. Then, the art director and the magazine’s editor-in-chief have their say.
“From the photographer to the stylist, then the makeup and hair people sometimes chime in, then the magazine gets a hold of it and I get direction from a creative director or two,” says the source. “Then, with a celeb like Britney, she gets input, as does her publicist.”
The next thing you know, you’re gluing heads from one shot onto bodies from another.
“I used to work for a health magazine that I don’t work for anymore because I didn’t like what they did,” the retoucher says. “They would say, ‘Okay, we like the body from this shot, but we really like the head from that shot, so can you put the head on this body?’ Ninety percent of the time it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.”
That’s just the way the industry works — and it’s not changing anytime soon.
So the next time you read about a miracle product that promises to make your skin glow and your waist shrink, bear in mind that a retoucher could fix you up a lot faster. And with more reliable results.
Without retouchers, not even celebrities would look like celebrities.