The cast of "Pretty Little Liars," as they appeared in GQ Magazine. (GQ/Ellen Von Unwerth)

Step away from the Photoshop!

Two embarrassing incidents this week show the perils of a retouching too far


Mary Elizabeth Williams
May 23, 2014 10:47PM (UTC)

It's a short ride from Sexy Town to Uncanny Valley. This week, GQ, no doubt trying to recapture the glory days of its controversial Terry Richardson "Glee" spread of a few years back, unveiled a semi-clad spread of the cast of "Pretty Little Liars" frolicking sexily. But instead of sending pulses racing, the photos instead set off a wave of commentary on how weirdly, overly Photoshopped the whole thing appeared. (Discerning readers may, for instance, question why the otherwise normally proportioned Ashley Benson's head is wider than her waist.)

It didn't help matters that the enthusiastically tinkered with GQ spread also happened to arrive in the same week in which Ann Taylor received a heavy dose of public mockery for featuring an awkward swimsuit photo of a slim young model whose waist – but not hipbones – were aggressively whittled away. The company later explained that the photo "was actually only minimally retouched to remove a tattoo." (And maybe some ribs and organs, from the looks of it.)

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The Gloss quickly called the GQ pictorial a "Photoshop Hack Job" – strong words for a spread by one Ellen von Unwerth, one of the most renowned fashion photographers in the business – but perhaps fitting, especially when you consider Ashley Benson herself has spoken out against the use of "Way too much Photoshop" in the past. But actress Troian Bellisario gave a strong rebuttal to critics on Instagram, including with it her own casual snapshots from the shoot. "Many people have said that we were Photoshopped... OF COURSE WE WERE! That's a very specific type of photo shoot. And looking very blown out and perfected was obviously what they were looking for. Great. Cool. As long as we acknowledge how it was achieved so we know it's not real," she wrote. And she added, "It's the same way on the posters of our show and even in women's magazines. This industry seems to invest more in perfection than in flaw. But flaw and individuality, to me, are what make a human being interesting, they make our stories worth telling. (Unfortunately the flaws don't usually sell products or magazines) I'm proud of my body and the way it looks… but my hips and thighs are a part of me (even though they magically weren't in some shots!) I get those things from my momma. And I'm happy to shake what my momma gave me."

When you consider that plenty of us use software to spruce up our own photos – and fully expect apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram to work their magic in making ordinary images artsy and sexy, it's absurd to pretend that a fully unretouched image is always the ideal – especially in the fantasy world of fashion. But here's a note to professional photographers and magazine and catalog editors: There's no sin in a pretty little lie. Just don't go nuts, OK?


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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