Photoshop beauty standards

Image from Aeroyou

Twiggy, circa 1966

Everywhere we turn, we see headlines about the ever-changing status of beauty standards. From Dove’s campaign to celebrate real beauty, to the rising influence of amazing women such as Lupita Nyong’o and Lena Dunham, to the presence of super skinny mannequins – it’s easy with all this chatter to look at photoshop beauty standards as a thoroughly modern issue. As we all know, beauty standards have changed dramatically over the years. And these shifts are one of the reasons wearing vintage is so much fun. But what I wasn’t aware of is the history of the modeling industry itself directing that change.

I found this article in the LIFE archives especially interesting. It focuses on a particular modeling agency in London, known as Ugly Models, which started in 1969 with the goal of seeking genuine beauty – promoting the wonder of every size, every shape, every individual. Their company philosophy sums it up well: “Any beauty can be airbrushed but we want our look to have true character.” Funny how we are coming back to this same kind of mantra, as if it’s new. I love knowing that there’s a lineage to this mindset and am thrilled to report that this agency, with its completely outside-of-the-box manifesto, is thriving to this day. Their clients are seen in campaigns for Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and Cosmopolitan (to name a few).

Photographer Colman Doyle

Linda Ward (O’Reilly) posing in 1962

While Ugly Models Agency does have a sub-label, Rage, which caters to the more “traditional” looks, its main platform stays true to the extraordinary and unique. What does this teach us? That uniqueness is something we can all appreciate and enjoy. That applying a standard, whether it’s crafted with Photoshop or not, is just a bad idea. We are much more inclined to respect people’s personality qualities than their physical appearance. How often have you thought, “wow, she’s so brave” or “it’s cool how he tells a joke?” Let’s all work to apply that same approach to the visual qualities we find in other people (and in ourselves). Celebrate our differences – what makes us all special.


Renee Gunter in haute couture Paris, 1981 wearing Thierry Mugler

I’m certainly not the only one championing for this philosophy. Givenchy, the fashion house whose relationship with the stunning Audrey Hepburn (a unique beauty in her own right) set the stage for retro style, has just announced an exciting partnership. Julia Roberts is the new face for the brand. Riccardo Tisci, Creative Director, has worked to make this iconic label “diverse, edgy and cool.” That means new models. New looks. And this campaign is no different. In the photographs, Roberts was specifically told to not flash her signature smile. How neat is it to see a beloved star in a whole new light? For Tisci, his guidepost is simple – no one should be excluded; beauty encompasses everyone.

I’ll leave you with the final quotes from the LIFE feature. “It’s wonderful to celebrate the Ugly models’ courage and originality. With any luck, one day we’ll be able to celebrate their wonderful normality, too.” Tell me, do you think we’re getting closer to admonishing the dreaded “standards” discussion? Closer to embracing all looks, all styles?

Cause A Frockus would like to thank The Guardian, LIFE, and the people who post images to the public domain.

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