“Pictures that please us”


General Culture, General Photography

Using the headline Pictures that please us, Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of the women’s health magazine Self openly admits and defends her magazine’s retouching transformation of singer Kelly Clarkson for their cover. Before you read on look at this page to see images of what Ms Clarkson looks like on the cover and in reality.

It’s worthwhile to quote in a bit of length: “Kelly has this amazing spirit, the kind of joie de vivre that certain people possess that makes you want to stand closer to them, hoping that you can learn what they know. In this case, you get the feeling Kelly has not let fame spoil her, but also that she was just born confident, with a generosity of spirit that is all about others and rarely about herself. She is, like her music, giving and strong and confident and full of gusto. Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best. Did we publish an act of fiction? No. Not unless you think all photos are that. But in the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand. I love her spirit and her music and her personality that comes through in our interview in SELF. She is happy in her own skin, and she is confident in her music, her writing, her singing, her performing. That is what we all relate to. Whether she is up or down in pounds is irrelevant (and to set the record straight, she works out and does boot-camp-style training, so she is as fit as anyone else we have featured in SELF). Kelly says she doesn’t care what people think of her weight. So we say: That is the role model for the rest of us.” (my emphasis)

So first of all, Self decides what Ms Clarkson’s personal best is, regardless of whether that’s achievable or desired. Nice. Second, “whether she is up or down in pounds” is very much relevant. The fact that the singer in fact is perfectly happy with her body, regardless of whether it conforms to the kinds of standards that Self pushes, is what sets her apart from many other people in the entertainment industry. Making her morph into something else while claiming it makes her look “her personal best” is not only insulting for Ms Clarkson, but also for all women who do not conform to the beauty ideals the magazine is pushing (in part so that the advertizers can sell their beauty products).

In the article inside the magazine Ms Clarkson says “When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!”’ (quote found here) The irony, of course, is that the very magazine that published the interview in fact had a problem with her weight and changed it for their cover.

How this all is supposed “to inspire women to want to be their best” - as Ms Danziger claims in her post - frankly escapes me.

But I have an idea. A good way to start is to read the justification of the Photoshopping carefully: “This is art, creativity and collaboration. It’s not, as in a news photograph, journalism.” If that’s true for the images, one would have to assume it’s true for the rest of the magazine. “It’s not, as in a news photograph, journalism.” So women with an interest in health issues might want to look elsewhere.