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Last Thursday, my roommate tried and failed to upload a picture of the two of us to Instagram. I say “tried” because she did and “failed” because I immediately demanded she remove it.
“Take that down!” I yelled when the unflattering image in question appeared on my iPhone’s illuminated screen. “I look ridiculous.” Oh, and also: sweaty, messy, and slightly cross-eyed.
Being the good friend that she is and also because I know where she sleeps, she eventually complied. But no sooner had my socially mediated anxiety abated than the very same photograph cropped up on my Facebook page. Well, at least, it seemed the same. Sort of. In truth, the aforementioned image was basically unrecognizable. What had once been mortifying evidence of the previous evening’s festivities was now rather nicely saturated and rendered in suddenly high-contrast hues. The combination of effects was almost . . . attractive.
“What did you do to it?” I marveled.
“X-Pro II,” she replied, smugly stipulating her Instagram filter of choice. “Plus, I blurred it. A lot.”
She was clearly satisfied with her amateur Adobe efforts, and even I had to admit that the photo looked good. Perhaps this otherwise unremarkable anecdote accounts for my interest in the very public outcry currently engulfing Kate Winslet and her recently revealed Vogue cover.
Earlier this week, Vogue unveiled a windswept Winslet preening atop its November issue. Heralding “Amazing Kate,” the magazine’s cover lines also touted “her new movies, new love, and new life.” One thing they didn’t mention? Her apparently new face. As interpreted by Vogue, the award-winning actress bears little resemblance to her respectably 38-year-old self. Never mind an errant wrinkle or telling trio of crow’s feet, this version of Winslet seems to lack her usual rosy-cheeked glow.
The question is neither whether the digital doctors at Vogue have given Winslet a figurative face-lift nor whether she’s any more striking for their handiwork. The fact is they have and she isn’t. Still, I wonder just how much their obvious intervention matters.
After all, isn’t a degree of “unreality” exactly what we crave from Vogue and its highly stylized peers? Season after season, approximately 90% of my would-be mood board is ripped straight from Vogue’s decidedly aspirational pages. Ironically, it’s Kate’s spread in this very issue that has most recently captured my attention. The shoot is as thrilling for its dramatic staging as it is for its refreshingly respectful depiction of the actress’s pregnancy. She looks as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her.
For me, fashion and fantasy have always been gloriously intertwined. The transformative capacity of clothing is what makes Karl Lagerfeld’s runways so arresting and Alexander McQueen’s latest ad campaign unforgettable. It’s why so many of us once played dress up and some of us still do. The right outfit or undergarments or even shade of lipstick can be metamorphic. Sure, Stella McCartney and Céline have made minimalism more appealing than I ever thought possible, but it’s precisely the delicious fiction of fashion that I’ve always found most captivating.
It’s easy to denounce newsstand magazines for their relying on retouching, but aren’t we guilty of the same practice? Aren’t filters and Photoshop just two sides of the same digitally modified coin? At the very least, don’t our literally overexposed Instagram feeds suggest as much? You heard it here first: mine does.
The year is 2013 and Photoshop is officially as prevalent as foundation. But how should art departments use what’s essentially their version of cover up? I think we can all agree that an accidental amputation (a la Doutzen Kroes) doesn’t do anyone any favors, but what about more ostensibly “aesthetic” airbrushing? What about Winslet?
Let’s talk about it.