It’s hard not to feel an inkling of dismay looking at Vogue’s September cover featuring the iconic quartet of Cindy, Linda, Christy, and Naomi. The immediate cue? Focus where their heads seamlessly transition to their necks. The age-old trick of the trade—splicing a head from one image onto a body from another—seems at play.
Being a woman of experience and grace, approaching my sixth decade, I champion the representation of seasoned faces on influential magazine fronts. Yet, the evident digital manipulation, making them almost indistinguishable, doesn’t sit well. Wouldn’t a portrayal, more true to their real selves, be equally captivating, if not more? Based on my years navigating the magazine industry, while readers might claim to desire authenticity, they’re often drawn to enhanced perfection. However, this particular rendition could have benefitted from some genuine touches.
Retouching, particularly for a cover, is a tricky domain. One minor adjustment leads to another, and before you realize it, the original essence is lost. This resonates more in times when the success of a magazine was gauged by its physical sales, with the September issue being the golden goose. Let me share an anecdote from my past that I’m not particularly proud of.
A decade ago, at Lucky, we were thrilled to have Jessica Simpson grace our September issue. Quite a catch for us. However, upon receiving the photographs, it was evident that Jessica was a radiant size 14, a size which might be common and celebrated by many, but was an anomaly in the glossy realms of 2010.
Idealistically, I should have championed her natural beauty and gone with the original. Reality was different. Under the overwhelming pressures of the industry, I succumbed. We digitally downsized her figure to a version much leaner than her reality. Our readership, astute as ever, took notice. And the cover’s headline, “Jessica Simpson on Finally Loving Her Own Body,” stood as a jarring paradox. The ramifications? I was let go a few weeks later. That cover might not have been the singular cause, but it added fuel. Looking back, the only alternative, albeit disheartening, would have been to not choose a model of her stature for the cover, given the industry’s biased standards. The controversial final product was gravely unfair to Jessica, and reports suggest she was rightfully unhappy about it.
The trajectory has improved over time, but the media world is still grappling with showcasing beauty’s diverse forms, especially as it matures, or when it doesn’t align with so-called ‘norms’. The moment we view this as an obstacle, we falter.