online shopping

Can Photoshop-Free Modcloth Start a Retail Revolution?

Don't we deserve to know what we're really buying when we shop online?

By Maggie Berardo February 25, 2015

An Aerie ad from 2014

We are living in the era of the Photoshop fail. First there was furor over an unnervingly wittled model in a Ralph Lauren ad. Last year Target manipulated one of their models' bodies so badly that she made a joke appearance on Ellen, freakishly long arms included.

There are entire websites devoted to documenting and mocking Photoshop disasters, but not everyone thinks that the issue is so funny. A group of teens protested outside Teen Vogue offices in New York in 2012, advocating for more realistic depictions of teens in the magazine only to receive a "rude" response from the magazine's editors. Perhaps Rep. Lois Cappe will have more luck— in 2014 she introduced a bill calling on the FTC to regulate misleadingly altered images in ads, pointing to the connection between the unrealistic standards of beauty presented in digitally altered photos and the rise of eating disorders among young girls.

Still, the debate about photoshop in the media continues. At this point, it's safe to assume that every model in every magazine, ad, or online store has been Photoshopped, touched up, and doctored in some way.

Yet does assuming that everyone online is photo-edited into perfection a good thing? While I’ve found my confidence in adulthood, it took me all throughout college to stop looking at pictures in magazines and asking myself, “Why can’t you look like that?” Had some of those models been depicted with the natural bumps at their hip joints, or with little rolls of skin at the armpit, it probably would have been easier to accept these "flaws" in myself.

An unretouched product shot from online boutique ModCloth, the first retailer to sign an anti-Photoshop pledge.

These days it isn’t just teenagers' body image that I am concerned about. Photoshopping every imperfection out of models has practical problems as well. In this era of online shopping, images are everything. Without the ability to try on clothes before buying, customers are left relying on pictures to get the most accurate representation of how an article of clothing will look in real life. How am I supposed to know how a dress would look on my body if I can’t find any images of said dress on a real body? How ironic that in the market which needs the most authenticity is where the most falsification exists.

Fortunately, this is starting to change—slowly. Last year American Eagle's teen-centric lingerie shop Aerie used un-retouched images in their ads, and soon after San Francisco-based online clothing retailer Modcloth became the first to sign a pledge to feature only honest depictions of their models. No touching up or altering the bodies and clothing of their models are allowed on the site, and the shopping experience is notably easier as a result. You can tell if a pair of pants will ride too low on your hips, because there are dips and bulges in the models’ bodies. Shopping for new swimwear is even better, because Modcloth allows you to see all the places that a bikini will hug and squeeze.

The fashion industry is meant to urge us all to strive for fiercer looks and the flawless appeal of waking up like Beyoncé, but it’s just better business to show your buyers what they’re looking at—even if that involves admitting to jean bunching and camel-toe. I for one am refreshed by being able to see a model’s gap cleavage or awkward elbow. It proves that they’re human, and if a real, breathing human can look as fresh as they do, then there’s no reason any of us non-models can’t either.


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