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The Ugly Side of Thin: A Former Cosmo Editor Speaks Out on the Dangers of Photoshopping Models to Look Healthier

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Recently, the UK's Healthy Magazine was eviscerated for Photoshopping a model to make her look larger (end result, right). According to editor-in-chief Jane Druker, "We had to put on about half a stone." Druker says that the model appeared healthy during the casting but arrived on set much thinner a week later. "There were plenty of clothes that we couldn't put on her because her bones stuck out too much."

Photoshopping super-thin models to look healthy sounds like a good thing—doesn't it? No, says Leah Hardy, the former editor of British Cosmopolitan. By creating unrealistic images of what models look like, magazines feed into the idea that it's actually possible to be incredibly thin and, simultaneously, healthy-looking.

Thanks to retouching, our readers—and those of Vogue, and Self, and Healthy magazine—never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn't look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and Bambi eyes. A vision of perfection that simply didn't exist. No wonder women yearn to be super-thin when they never see how ugly thin can be. But why do models starve themselves to be a shape that even high fashion magazines don't want?
So why don't magazines cast less-thin and healthier-looking models to start with? After all, that's the logical next question. It's not as easy as it seems, Hardy says. From casting to call time, things can change. They can even get ugly.
There are people out there who think the solution is simple: if a seriously underweight model turns up for a shoot, she should be sent home. But it isn't always that easy.

A fashion editor will often choose a model for a shoot that's happening weeks, or even months, later. In the meantime, a hot photographer will have flown in from New York, schedules will be juggled to put him together with a make-up artist, hairdresser, fashion stylist and various assistants, and a hugely expensive location will have been booked.

And a selection of tiny, designer sample dresses will be available for one day only.
I have taken anguished calls from a fashion editor who has put together this finely orchestrated production, only to find that the model they picked six weeks ago for her luscious curves and gleaming skin, is now an anorexic waif with jutting bones and acne.

Or she might pitch up covered in mysterious bruises (many models have a baffling penchant for horrible boyfriends), or smelling of drink and hung over, as many models live on coffee and vodka just to stay slim.

And it's not just models that cause problems. I remember one shoot we did with a singer, a member of a famous girl band, who was clearly in the grip of an eating disorder.

Not only was she so frail that even the weeny dresses, designed for catwalk models, had to be pinned to fit her, but her body was covered with the dark downy hair that is the sure-fire giveaway of anorexia.

Naturally, thanks to the wonders of digital retouching, not a trace of any of these problems appeared on the pages of the magazine. At the time, when we pored over the raw images, creating the appearance of smooth flesh over protruding ribs, softening the look of collarbones that stuck out like coat hangers, adding curves to flat bottoms and cleavage to pigeon chests, we felt we were doing the right thing.

Our magazine was all about sexiness, glamour and curves. We knew our readers would be repelled by these grotesquely skinny women, and we also felt they were bad role models and it would be irresponsible to show them as they really were.
But now, I wonder. Because for all our retouching, it was still clear to the reader that these women were very, very thin. But, hey, they still looked great!

They had 22-inch waists (those were never made bigger), but they also had breasts and great skin. They had teeny tiny ankles and thin thighs, but they still had luscious hair and full cheeks.

Thanks to retouching, our readers—and those of Vogue, and Self, and Healthy magazine—never saw the horrible, hungry downside of skinny. That these underweight girls didn't look glamorous in the flesh. Their skeletal bodies, dull, thinning hair, spots and dark circles under their eyes were magicked away by technology, leaving only the allure of coltish limbs and Bambi eyes.

A vision of perfection that simply didn't exist. No wonder women yearn to be super-thin when they never see how ugly thin can be. But why do models starve themselves to be a shape that even high fashion magazines don't want?

· A big fat (and very dangerous) lie: A former Cosmo editor lifts the lid on airbrushing skinny models to look healthy [Daily Mail]