Lena Dunham, Vogue & The Retouching Debate


Let’s face it, Lena Dunham’s US Vogue cover was an uproar waiting to happen. If they didn’t retouch, the whole thing would have been out of sync with the rest of the magazine’s glossy, fantastical and 100% retouched images. Hell, some might even accuse Vogue of trying to portay Lena in an unflattering light. If they did retouch, which obviously they were always going to, outrage would ensue which of course it has. What I really don’t understand, is why anyone is remotely surprised and frankly, why it’s even newsworthy. Today it’s a pretty safe bet that every single image you see in Vogue, or any other fash mag for that matter, has undergone a spot of editing regardless of whether the subject is a “real woman” (God I hate that patronising phrase) or a supermodel. We all know this, it’s no secret. Being photoshopped is no reflection of the individual in question. Everyone’s seen enough of those shocking and mildly self righteous Upworthy features to know that not even the girl in the advert looks like the girl in the advert. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s healthy, but like the price on request gowns and more expensive than rent handbags, fashion magazine’s are about fantasy not reality. For me, far more distasteful was Jezebel’s $10,000 quest to get hold of the unretouched photos which seemed like a highly unoriginal piece of scandal mongering. As Kat Stoeffel wrote in her brilliant article for The Cut, what exactly did they intend to achieve? We’ve all seen Lena basically buck naked enough times to know what she looks like and she looks very much like that person, albeit with professional hair, make up and high fashion get up in the Vogue pictures. We all know that fashion magazines retouch images. While the retouching highlighted by the oh-so-predictable before and after shots on Jezebel may have confirmed it, the changes were actually pretty minimal. As for the digital placement Annie Leibowitz is so known for and pigeon on head palaver, I’m not really sure if or why anyone would care.

Ultimately I can’t help but feel it’s a positive thing that Vogue are championing talent, brains and unconventionality on their cover and perhaps our collective energies would be better spent pushing for more of that than lamenting the inevitable. Retouched or not, surely this is more interesting than yet another Alexa Chung/Cara Delevigne cover. But enough from me, what do YOU guys think?

Love Ella. X

6 Thoughts on Lena Dunham, Vogue & The Retouching Debate

  1. Hannah says:

    You always make so much sense!

  2. I agree with everything you say in this post, it’s what I’ve been saying/thinking for the past days. I loved the cover, i thought she looked like herself. believe me, if i were to be on a magazine cover, with a close-up just like Lena’s, i wouldn’t mind a bit of correcting here and there, because no one is perfect, and being retouched doesnt mean you’re a bad example, or something to be ashamed of. The fact that Lena is being celebrated, and shes not a supermodel, the fact that we are saying “woman with brains=relevant and an icon to many” by placing her on a mag cover is simply great. Enough with the negative opinions, i think we need to see more “Lenas” on the covers of Vogue

  3. pinkschmink says:

    I’ve basically just made the exact same argument in conversation with a friend. I’m deeply disappointed in Jezebel as a supposedly ‘feminist’ outlet – they should know better than anyone that it’s stunts like this that have made feminism a dirty word. Just when it looked like we were actually making progress, Jezebel has dragged the issue back to the level of a playground cat fight. Pretty pathetic.

  4. Catherine says:

    I agree! I’m normally the one on up worthy agreeing such videos, but i really don’t think Jezebels article has much of an argument. They’re just kind of poking at things to see what happens. Yes, Vogue altered the pictures, but mildly in my opinion. I’m not insulted by the before/after pictures as she is still Lena and it is still her body there. Its not like they replaced it with someone else’s completely. And as you mentioned we’ve all seen Lena intimately naked several times. She will show us how she wants to be portrayed in her own show as she pleases. The fact that Lena is in Vogue was always going to be controversial and was always going to become a topic of discussion for Jezebel or anyone for that matter. And I’m ok with that. Lets talk more about positive body images and Lena is one!

  5. Cristina says:

    I agree 100%! I never got to understand this type of reaction in the first place. Artificial perfection sells, and we are to blame for it, we need to see a flawless skin and body in order to react positively to fashion (and other things, as well). Reacting subversively to the digital retouch that massively changes imagery today is a sign of hypocrisy, above all else. This is how it is, and I doubt that anyone actually expects it to change anytime soon.

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