One of the main goals of the growing ethical fashion movement has been to make ethical fashion look like “normal” fashion. Desperate to shed a “earthly” label, sustainable fashion brands are aware that they already stand out – and when it comes to certain aspects of their branding, they do their best to melt. the appearance of models, and what that does to consumers’ self-esteem, ranges from body image to ethnicity, but there is one aspect where ethical fashion often looks like any another mode, and not in a good way: photo editing. In many cases, the imagery of ethical brands will mimic traditional fashion when it comes to the people who wear the clothes – typically very young, very thin, predominantly white, mostly cisgender women. And even on the occasion when steps are taken towards inclusiveness, you rarely see human events like acne, wrinkles, stretch marks, or other perceived “blemishes”.
In 2017, France provided a law in force demanding that fashion brands be outspoken when it comes to photo editing, and Norway is now enforce a law require influencers to tag all photos that have been edited. The goal is to improve the body image of buyers and provide them with a more honest experience. But is labeling enough? A 2018 study by Fiona McCallum and Heather Widdows at the University of Warwick titled Altered Images: Understanding the Influence of Unrealistic Images and Beauty Aspirations, found that “the growing visual emphasis on these attributes over the past decades has been accompanied by rising rates of body dissatisfaction, with women and men feeling unhappy with their physical appearance.” What is even more interesting, the study also found that labeling, like what would occur in French and Norwegian law, did not quite have the desired effect: “a growing number of studies do not have found no improvement in the negative effects of media images by labeling, and in fact the opposite may be the case.
It seems like what we actually need is less photo editing, and it could be argued that brands that consider themselves ethical should extend that philosophy to include this aspect. After all, if their consumers don’t feel good about themselves when they shop with them, the experience can hardly be considered ethical.
A brand that established itself quite early on is the lingerie company Aerie, which famous airbrush models discontinued in 2014. Their president, Jennifer Foyle, told Business Insider US that millennials – and supposedly generations after them – were “independent and stronger than ever,” calling for a new policy on model body images, which, Aerie being a lingerie brand, were constantly placed under surveillance. âWe just knew it would really resonate with this generation,â Foyle told Business Insider. âWhy would we even airbrush these models? They look beautiful the way they are.
Foyle’s idea paid off: following this bold move, Aerie’s sales skyrocketed. But critics pointed out that, despite their good intentions, Aerie avoided rework by consistently choosing models that were often already beautiful by traditional standards: white, slim, young, tall, able-bodied, and free from so-called “blemishes.” such as like wrinkles, acne, cellulite or stretch marks. This gave the idea that these women are so naturally perfect that they don’t need an airbrush. Going back to McCallum and Widdows’ study, here’s how labeling has the potential to negatively affect body image: when confronted with the image of a flawless-looking woman and reminds her that she hasn’t even been touched up, she’s just better than you. naturally, it’s no wonder consumers end up with the bitter taste of an unfavorable comparison.
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Some environmentally conscious fashion companies actually include this factor in their ethical philosophy. london mark Birds singing has feminism and sustainability at its heart – and they’re one of the few sustainable fashion brands that refuses to use Photoshop to alter the look of their models. âWe developed this policy in 2014 when we founded the company,â says co-founder Sophie Slater at Eco Warrior Princess. âAs we had a background in women’s charities and feminist activism, our brand has also always been centered around these values. To be honest, at first we never even thought about Photoshop, and as a small team doing everything ourselves, we wouldn’t have known how to do it. Now we can use Photoshop to tidy up the background of the images, but never our models. The models at Birdsong are often people they know, which gives their brand identity a more personal touch: âWe’ve been shooting our friends and the people who inspire us from the start, and we’ve never wanted to propagate unrealistic beauty standards.
Birdsong has some company, albeit very little, in the ethical fashion landscape without Photoshop. Airbrushed clothing isn’t what it sounds like: in fact, all of the images used by this sustainable fashion company are Photoshop free. Founder Mia Lewin told Eco Warrior Princess: âThe brand was founded following personal exposure to the modeling industry, where models were retouched regardless of how it affected. the viewers and even the models themselves.
There is actually a potential harm to women in the industry: Model Amber Tolliver has talked about retouching in ELLE, saying, “Recreating a human being using a computer process is a bit of an attack on who you naturally are.” Like, if I’m not good enough or I’m not good-looking enough, then why did you book me? Although she goes on to say that she “doesn’t care” for a bit of Photoshop in the photos of herself, Tolliver’s words ultimately reveal that consumers aren’t the only ones being wronged by the. unrealistic – and unethical – beauty standards perpetrated by photography. editing. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that these images also hurt those in them.
To move away from a system that views models as part of the product rather than human beings, we may need to broaden our perspective on who a model is, rehumanizing them in the process. Birdsong certainly did. âIt’s just not in our ethics to make someone look different,â says Slater. âWe have deliberately chosen our role models because they inspire us – they are our customers, our people, our community and our friends. “
Cover image via Gorodenkoff.