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Body Image in Advertising and How We Perceive Ourselves

Aired April 1, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, body image and how we perceive ourselves. Are women finally demanding truth in advertising?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Tonight, we look at body image and the way we're portrayed in magazines and advertising. It's common practice around the world for photos to be retouched. It usually involves an attractive model who loses a few centimeters off her waist or a few wrinkles here and there. Sometimes her neck grows longer.

But you can also find slimmed-down version of political leaders. For instance, French President Nicolas Sarkozy three years ago, his so-called love handles seemed to melt away thanks to retouching.

But is the search for perfection on the printed page inspiringly aspirational or can it be harmful? One French lawmaker is taking a stand. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports from Paris.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a fairytale world, airy (ph) and elegant, full of beauty and grace, where it's hard to mistake designer's dreams for reality. But a French legislator is concerned young ladies just might. With two teenaged daughters of her own, Valerie Boyer worries that the fashion industry bombards people with images that may encourage anorexia.

VALERIE BOYER, FRENCH LEGISLATOR (through translator): Today we are forced to imitate bodies that do not exist, and this affects people, especially women.

BITTERMANN: Madam Boyer has drawn up legislation that would require all photographs which have been retouched to be labeled as such, which would mean, French fashionistas say, that 99 percent of fashion photos would carry the disclaimer.

At Grazia magazine, the editor says retouching is used to enhance everything from landscapes to dress color and that it's ridiculous to say that it's only used to make already thin models thinner.

YSEULT WILLIAMS, GRAZIA MAGAZINE: The other day, the art director retouched a model not to make her look thinner, but to make her look fatter.

BITTERMANN: Legendary photographer Dominic Easerman (ph), who shot almost every top model for almost every top name in the business, from Chanel to Vogue, says digital photography has made retouching an essential part of image-making.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then, the digital now, you have to find emotion again, not in front of the person, but in front of the image of the person on the screen.

BITTERMANN: She and her long-term friend, designer Karl Lagerfeld, agree that the whole point is to create a more beautiful world, not one that is less so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unreachable beauty is a reminder to make an effort. Maybe you cannot reach what you see, but you can make an effort. But if you see something (inaudible) have to make an effort anymore, so everybody can go (inaudible) it go. I think it's very unhealthy.

BITTERMANN: But Madam Boyer argues that the fashion world is what she calls a frustration factory, based on deception.

BOYER (through translator): Why is lying with words dishonest when we can do everything we want visually without telling the readers? I think it is an ethical issue we have to tackle with the media. How far can you go with images?

BITTERMANN: At least one re-toucher asked the same question. Cristof Uay (ph) says he's gotten out of the business of beautifying photographs and not just because it was so difficult to make someone like an aging correspondent look good, but because the fashion clients were pushing him to go too far, to distort reality in a way that he couldn't live with.


BITTERMANN (on-screen): It's not reality.

HUET: And it won't -- it never -- it never will be the reality. It's only for the eyes.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Using legislation to force labeling of retouched photographs, Uay (ph) believes, is foolish, but debating about what modern photography can lead to, he says, is probably not such a bad idea at all.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


AMANPOUR: Does this make for poor self-image? And is it up to lawmakers to protect young people, mostly young girls, from that? Joining me now, fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg. She's also president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. And Joe Zee, creative director for Elle magazine.

So welcome, both, to the program.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Diane, do you agree with legislators like Valerie Boyer that something needs to be done legally to prevent retouching?

DIANE VON FURSTENBURG, FASHION DESIGNER: I don't think so. I mean, you know, you can also retouch your own photographs now. I mean, you know, the pictures, the snapshots that you take of your family, you know, you crop, you take something away. I mean, that's just part of what we do automatically...


AMANPOUR: So what about the bigger point, that the relentless sight of perfection is damaging to mostly young girls?

VON FURSTENBURG: Well, you know, I don't know. I mean, I think that -- yes, to -- I mean, I think that what is really important is that we don't emphasize on being too skinny and, therefore, to talk about this issue, I think, is very important. And I think to be aware of this issue is very important. And we have taken it in consideration.

You know, I mean, one of the things that we do with the CFDA every season is we -- I write to the designers and I said, remember, you know, beauty is health, healthy beauty. And, therefore, we emphasize that we do, you know, not to hire people who are clearly anorexic and really make sure that, you know, they -- they get food out.

I mean, so I think that to promote health as a vision of beauty is extremely important. But...

AMANPOUR: Joe, do you agree?

ZEE: I absolutely agree with Diane, because I think you're talking about two separate issues here. You know, I think when we sit here and talk about retouching, we're not ever sitting down saying, "We're going to retouch this, for her to be thin." That's not...

AMANPOUR: But we're going to retouch her to be perfect, whether it's arms, whether it's her waist...

ZEE: I think -- but I think, you know, perfection is a very loosely defined term. I think, you know, my ultimate goal, I think, with any image that we have, especially in the magazine of Elle, but we want girls to look healthy, and that is an ultimate goal. So we don't use girls that are too young; we don't use girls that are too thin, but that we want them to look beautiful.

I mean, we are talking about fashion. You know, this is fashion. It's dream. It's fantasy. It's aspiration.

AMANPOUR: Which is what Karl Lagerfeld said...

ZEE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: ... that there must be something to strive for. Do you agree with that?

ZEE: Absolutely there's something to strive for...


ZEE: ... you know, because we are talking about this industry, where we have always used, you know, younger girls who are six feet tall. You know, that isn't generally the norm, but it is a world of portraying what the fashion is about.

AMANPOUR: Right, so there's this picture that was quite controversial. It was the Ralph Lauren ad, and it was about a young model who looked unnaturally skinny. We're going to put it up...

VON FURSTENBURG: But she didn't look attractive, actually.

AMANPOUR: Well, no.

VON FURSTENBURG: They made her much too thin.

AMANPOUR: Well, look at it now. Look. I mean...


VON FURSTENBURG: I mean, that is -- that is -- but that's ridiculous. I mean, that's -- that's...

AMANPOUR: But who did that? Is that...

VON FURSTENBURG: I have no idea. I mean, it's not pretty. I mean, I'm surprised it went through.

So I think to raise the issue and to raise the discussion is very healthy. But I also think that we retouch our own pictures. I mean, sometimes what you do is something that's in the background or whatever.


ZEE: But, you know...

AMANPOUR: Did you carry that ad? Did Elle carry that ad?

ZEE: I -- you know, to be quite honest, I can't remember. But, I mean, I think the reality is, like, can this go overboard? Yes. I mean, we live in an age of technology, and technology allows everyone to have a hand in this. And I think, as Diane says, you could be home retouching. You know, it comes on your Mac computer.

VON FURSTENBURG: That's right.

ZEE: It's that easy.

AMANPOUR: Well, can I play you the Dove campaign, which is all about...

ZEE: Sure.


AMANPOUR: ... which is all about a beauty campaign with a twist?



AMANPOUR: So that is very directed and very deliberate to say that our perceptions are distorted because of those kinds of distortions. I mean, the most obvious distortion was raising the neck a few centimeters.

ZEE: Of course.

VON FURSTENBURG: Which we all would love to do.

AMANPOUR: Sure. Sure, we would. But is it appropriate? And I'll tell you why I ask you.


AMANPOUR: Because, according to these Dove campaign statistics, only 2 percent of women describe themselves as beautiful, 63 percent strongly agree that society expects women to enhance their physical attractiveness, and it goes on and on. I mean, these sort of statistics, these -- these feelings that women have are promoted by that kind of thing.

ZEE: I mean, I -- I -- I believe that, like, you know, you have to understand that also retouching isn't a new concept. This has existed way back into the '50s. You know, pictures you've seen of Marilyn Monroe, they've been retouched, albeit by hand in a different way.


You know, things have existed. One of my first jobs was with Richard Avedon, and he was such a master of this. You know, he could cut up arms and legs and legs and hands and move them around in a picture, but it wasn't really to make the girl's body image be unattainable.


ZEE: It was really about finding a beautiful picture and, you know, a way to portray fashion in a way that was really beautiful.

AMANPOUR: Well, do you think one got away from that, then the attempt to portray beauty, and it's become much more an attempt to portray a certain figure and a certain body image?

VON FURSTENBURG: You know, I believe -- I mean, my whole philosophy in life and in my work and everything is to enjoy the woman that you are and to believe in it. And, I mean, I'm one of the few women I know of my age who has not done anything in terms of Botox and blah-blah and this and that, because I really believe that I'd rather be me, because the more I will try to enforce (ph) other things, I will -- I will then -- that will make me more insecure and not more secure.

AMANPOUR: Well, what about age in advertising, age on the catwalk? I mean, here you are, a splendid example of a woman of a certain age...


AMANPOUR: ... and proudly so, and yet your models are definitely reed thin and very, very prepubescent.

VON FURSTENBURG: Yes. But that -- it's -- it's -- it is, you know, because that's what you do. You use, you know, pretty young models, but it doesn't mean by no means that -- you know, that you -- you have to be perfect.

What you have to do is believe in yourself and like yourself. And so I think I am glad this happened, because, I mean -- to be -- to want to be too thin or too perfect is -- is not something to achieve.

So I think the conversation is great, but I think that, as he says, retouching has always happened, even in paintings.

AMANPOUR: And, Joe, actually, we're talking about, do women want to reclaim their real image? But I've heard that many of the models or actresses or ordinary people who are interviewed absolutely want to be retouched in their magazine profile.

VON FURSTENBURG: Well, I mean, I think people want to look the best that they can absolutely look, and I think that people...

AMANPOUR: Even if it's not really them?

VON FURSTENBURG: But I don't think we're ever not really them. I would never put a picture or print a picture in our magazine where we drastically altered anyone. We would never change...

AMANPOUR: So look at the front -- as you talk to me about this, look at the front of -- I believe it was W with Demi Moore on it...


AMANPOUR: ... where there's a great chunk of hip that's simply been scalpelled off.

ZEE: Well, I can't be the spokesperson for the entire industry...

AMANPOUR: No, I know.

ZEE: ... but I think, for what we do, especially at Elle magazine, you know, we really believe in healthy, and I would never drastically alter someone's body, change their hair color, you know, move a neck or whatever it is. It really is about cleaning up skin tones and looking beautiful.


ZEE: And I think, you know, if women are doing this at home with their vacation photos, it's just the idea of wanting to look the best that you can look.

VON FURSTENBURG: You know, and the truth is, Demi Moore is absolutely gorgeous on this picture. But the truth is, she's more beautiful in real life.

AMANPOUR: Precisely.

ZEE: Yes.

VON FURSTENBURG: So it's not a question of -- it's lighting. The most miraculous thing in photography is lighting. You know it.

AMANPOUR: I know it.

VON FURSTENBURG: I know you do. I know you do. And, therefore, lighting, with the proper lighting, you can be from hideous to beautiful.

AMANPOUR: It's very true.

VON FURSTENBURG: So it's just a matter...


AMANPOUR: But there are some really serious issues about what it's doing to young kids, and we'll talk about that when we come back. So next, reality versus illusion. What's acceptable in the modern age? That, when we return.




MERYL STREEP, ACTOR: Would you hand me my robe, please? And turn around.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Why do I have to turn around?

STREEP: Because the last time you saw me standing up naked, I was in my 40s. Things look different lying down. Just...


AMANPOUR: One of the most wonderful films out right now, that was Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in "It's Complicated" by Nancy Meyers. And, of course, talking about an older woman having an affair with a man who happens to be her ex-husband, but nonetheless, talking about the perils of aging and gravity on the body.

Diane Von Furstenburg joins me again, along with Joe Zee.

So you're a woman. That's Meryl Streep. She is now 60. She plays a 60-year-old person in that film.

VON FURSTENBURG: It could be me.

AMANPOUR: But isn't it -- there's a very -- there's a real lack of those kinds of roles and that kind of celebration of that age.

VON FURSTENBURG: Well, but you know what? It is -- obviously, one happened. And now, because they'll raise the attention to that, there will be more. I mean, these are things -- all of a sudden, you all talk about this, and then somebody else says, "Oh, nobody talks about that." So, I mean, I think that's remarkable, and I think that's great.

AMANPOUR: She's had huge success, Nancy Meyers, with these pictures, yeah.

VON FURSTENBURG: Yes. And -- and -- and I think Meryl looks amazing. And -- and -- and that is -- that will do exactly -- everybody will say, "Oh, great." You know, I mean...

AMANPOUR: So do you think, then, girls need that kind of role model, even young girls, because Meryl Streep not only looks great and portrays that role...


AMANPOUR: ... in -- in that film, but she's also said for herself what you said, that she doesn't want to touch around surgically or do anything like that.

ZEE: Absolutely. But I think, you know, even within the world of celebrity, even for younger celebrities, there are different role models. You know, I work with celebrities all the time. They are not model size. You know, they are of all different body sizes and different age ranges and different ethnicities.

VON FURSTENBURG: And, by the way, they don't think they look ugly, anyway. I mean, when you -- every woman thinks that she doesn't look beautiful.

AMANPOUR: Does it concern you, though, when 81 percent of 10-year- olds say they're afraid of getting fat, this according to the Dove campaign statistics? And I've seen children talking about being fat and worried about it.

VON FURSTENBURG: Yeah, that's not -- that's not good. And I think that should be part of education...

ZEE: I agree.

VON FURSTENBURG: ... and that should be a part of education. And, I mean, I think that any 9-year-old who says I'm too fat, unless she really is fat, because at that point I think it should be addressed, I think that's ridiculous.

ZEE: But I -- you know, but I -- on that point...

AMANPOUR: When you say fat, do you mean obese?

VON FURSTENBURG: Yes. I mean, I think that, you know -- I mean, I know my mother -- you know, I mean, I think that one has to be healthy. And, therefore, if you have a tendency to be actually too big and so on, you should be aware of it, not -- you know, it shouldn't be a complex, but I think you have to deal with it.

ZEE: I agree. But I think, you know, you're really looking at a big social issue. You know, you cannot put all of that blame onto the fashion industry and that world, because you're talking about going to any restaurant and there's calorie counts on the menu. You're talking about watching, you know, a Saturday morning cartoon and there's diet cheese, you know, whatever it is that -- these messages are coming to you from all angles.

VON FURSTENBURG: But by the same token -- but it is important. I mean, it's also -- healthy food is something that should be part of education, and that is important. And for years and years and years, they give you sugar, sugar, sugar. All of a sudden, we said, you know what? Sugar is not that good. That's good, too.

AMANPOUR: So we're going to throw to another clip. It's from "The September Issue," which is the documentary about Anna Wintour, the editor- in-chief of American Vogue.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible) large and pretentious (inaudible) blind people.

I'm not crazy about this one.

This I don't think we should do.

These are all (inaudible)

Look, no.


AMANPOUR: So that might be some selective editing, but it certainly shows the editor-in-chief of the most popular, best-selling fashion magazine. Nothing is satisfactory. Somebody looks pregnant. Somebody doesn't look good enough. That is a high standard, isn't it?

ZEE: It is a high standard, but there are different standards that you set for yourself, like I set the standard for Elle magazine wanting our models and our girls to look healthy, you know? And that has always been the standard from the day that Elle launched in America that it was always about that athletic image on the beach.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that you are satisfying the 75 percent of American women or women around the world who wish that the media portrayed more diversity, including age, shape and size?

ZEE: Do I think I'm personally satisfied...


AMANPOUR: Your magazine.

ZEE: I think -- I think we definitely contribute to that, absolutely. I think we try to showcase as many, you know, varieties of women as possible, you know, whether it is on an intellectual level, on a creative level, you know, on a fashion level, definitely, absolutely.

VON FURSTENBURG: But I also think that censorship should not go the other way around. And all of a sudden, you need -- you know, I mean, the creativity, you want to create a movie, and you have to make sure that your diversity and this and that. I mean, there's like -- we go too much on the other side of the pendulum.

AMANPOUR: So is there a point -- is there then a sort of medium level? And who should be responsible for it? Should the fashion industry? Should the magazine?


VON FURSTENBURG: I think -- I think that the media, the thing everybody -- I mean, to raise the issue is what we need. So I applaud you for raising the issue, but do I think there should be a censorship? No. Do I think there should be a law and to say everything is -- is -- I mean, we -- we can't go -- you know, we can't go all the way. And yet there's an answer to that.

V Magazine, which is a very hip magazine right now, has pictures of heavy -- heavier women, beautiful. And it emphasizes the beautiful, the very Rubens-like beauty. That's great. That's another way of looking at beauty. Therefore, raising the issue is a good idea.

ZEE: And I think raising the issue allows for discussion, and I think that's what it is. It's personal choice. And if you look at the fashion industry, our own perception of what the trends of beauty has changed so much. In my own time doing this, it's gone from Amazon supermodels to waifs to buxom Brazilians, you know, to now sticks (ph) and Eastern Europeans. And, you know, these things change. It's a cycle.

And, you know, I've seen all the controversies happen as these things were going.

AMANPOUR: Is there a point beyond which you won't go in your magazine? Are there red lines?

ZEE: Absolutely. We will not feature somebody who is deathly thin. That's not who we are, and that's not what we want to represent. I don't think there's anything glamorous about that. Someone who's way too young, you know, we won't alter anything, you know, drastically to a point where it's, you know, unrecognizable.

AMANPOUR: Any point beyond which you won't go? I mean, you're known, actually, for your incredibly wearable clothes for ordinary women in an ordinary shape. Did you do that consciously?

VON FURSTENBURG: Well, what do you mean? I hate the word "ordinary." Nobody wants to be ordinary.



AMANPOUR: What is the right word then, Diane?

VON FURSTENBURG: Every woman is special. I mean, that's the way I do it, you know? : I mean, so every -- you know, I really think every woman is special and every woman has to like herself. That is the most important thing, that you like yourself.

AMANPOUR: We mentioned what you did as -- as president of the Fashion Council and, in 2007, saying there needs to be an end to these stick-thin runway models. Has that happened?

VON FURSTENBURG: Yes, it has happened, and we also have said we don't -- you know, we do not want them to hire models that are younger than 16. And we have -- and it has happened, and we had meetings with casting agents and everybody else, and everybody, little by little, is respecting it.

AMANPOUR: You say that you have been sort of on the cutting edge of so many of these different trends, whether it's Amazonian to Eastern European rail thin. Where do you think it's going next?

ZEE: Oh, wow. If I could predict that, I'd be...


AMANPOUR: Or are you on the cutting edge of something?

ZEE: You know, I really think there is, actually, that return to that athletic body. And I think if you really look at these great girls that even dominated the page of what Elle was when it launched, it was about the Rachel Williams, the Ashley Richardsons, that were the strong, you know, healthy, athletic girls. And I think there is actually a real draw to that right now. At least that's what I feel like it's going towards and...

VON FURSTENBURG: And I also think that there will be a return of looking a little bit more real.

ZEE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: OK. Who do you think right now in the public sphere is the realist, most public, healthy-looking woman role model?

VON FURSTENBURG: It's not -- but it's not about healthy. I mean, I think that, for example, Meryl Streep in this movie, that will do a lot. That will do a lot for people. And when very often now you walk into a room and you see a lot of modified faces, and all of a sudden you see one of them that is not modified, and to some...

AMANPOUR: Is that -- is that a euphemism for non-surgical?

VON FURSTENBURG: Yes, whatever. And -- and all of a sudden, somehow there is an attraction to that. And fashion is -- fashion is not about clothes. Fashion is a reflection of your time. And things change and mood changes, and you can't really understand why, and nobody really decides it.

AMANPOUR: Thank you both very much, indeed, Diane Von Furstenburg, Joe Zee, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

And next, we have our "Post-Script." How digital retouching extends far beyond the fashion world. We'll show you some of the top doctored photos of all time, when we return.



AMANPOUR: Now our "Post-Script," continuing our focus on re-touching photographs. The process may seem like a modern art, but photographers have been manipulating images since the 19th century, and it's not always just about beauty.

This iconic portrait of the U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, from the 1860s is a composite of his head and someone else's more athletic body.

Hitler had his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, airbrushed out of this photo after Goebbels fell out of favor in the late 1930s.

And in 2008, Iran added an extra missile to this picture, take a look, after one of them failed to launch in a test firing.

So as you can see, photo manipulation is about power and politics, as well as about beauty and bodies. So tell us what you think about photo re- touching, re-touching women, and also self-image. Go to our Facebook page,

That's it for now. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.