The glamour industry has always been associated with the concept of the perfect body — slender, curves in the right places, blemish-free even-toned skin — these are just some aspects that one aspires to when looking at photographs of models on billboards and magazines. And in the era of technology, it is Photoshop that comes to the aid of photographers, models and graphic designers, to create this illusion of perfection through airbrushes and smooth juxtapositions. “Before Photoshop was around, photographers would use soft focus or diffused light to soften out wrinkles or blemishes,” recalls Meher Castelino, India’s first beauty queen.
So when Asos, an international fashion website took the initiative to post photographs of their bikini models without airbrushing away stretch marks and acne scars, it came as a validation to women the world over. The much-commended campaign had women commenting on how this move makes fashion more inclusive.
Indeed inclusiveness and body positivity are watchwords that have caught on more and more with the fashion industry over the years, says fashion photographer Vijit Gupta. “Dove also works with real women, whose blemishes are not Photoshopped. While I have had to work in spaces where Photoshopping is the norm, now I prefer to keep blemishes and imperfections in place. I often tell a model that it adds character to keep the dark circles intact. While there are some models who would rather have any anomalies edited out, many are confident enough to let me keep the photos as they are,” says the photographer, who was involved in a project, along with writer Meera Ganapati, wherein they shot a photo series of models in their daily lives.
Meera and Vijit’s project is only one of the many inclusive fashion initiatives taken in India. One only needs to look at plus size models at Lakme Fashion Week or acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi, who walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week last year. Kareena Kapoor Khan also became the first mainstream Bollywood actress to flaunt her pregnancy with photoshoots and even walked the ramp at Lakme Fashion Week for designer Sabyasachi.
With fashion trends becoming more and more inclusive, fashion writers like Meera find Photoshop to be a rather disconcerting part of the fashion world. “It’s worrying because it sets false standards of beauty. And young girls, who are easily influenced, begin to fall prey to them. It creates very superficial ideas of self-worth and totally unnecessary body image issues. But I see a small but reassuring trend online where magazines and social media campaigns are slowly challenging the notion of ‘perfect being beautiful’,” she says.
Model Karishma Kotak commends the move that Asos has made and says that she would gladly be a part of a project where Photoshop is left out. “Strategies like the one that Asos has used are just beautiful because it shows women that it’s alright not to be perfect all the time. None of us are completely satisfied with our bodies. Some of us don’t like our arms, some are not satisfied with skin tones, while some of us think we aren’t the right size. But at the end of the day, I love my body because it’s mine. So, if I had to be a part of a project where Photoshop wouldn’t be used, I would definitely do it,” she asserts.
Photographer Daboo Ratnani, on the other hand, doubts the market value of these photographs. “While it is good to have unaltered images for a feature, I doubt it would work in a larger market. These campaigns are good as far as a niche audience is concerned, but I’m not sure how viable they are as a larger marketing strategy,” he explains.
Meher contradicts, saying using photographs of models with stretch marks will, in fact, probably help women who have these blemishes themselves. “Fashion is always an aspirational concept. You see a beautiful woman wearing a beautiful gown and you want to be like her; so you buy the gown. What really matters though is that you wear the right clothes at the right time for the right occasion — no matter what your body type,” she concludes.