She was the ultimate feminist icon for today’s young girls. A feisty natural redhead who railed against her parents’ pleas to marry early, rebelled against established gender rules and became a mean shot with a crossbow in the process.
Now, fresh from her battle against society’s expectations, she’s become the unlikely poster girl for the fast-growing anti-airbrushing movement after undergoing an overzealous digital makeover that raised tempers across the globe. Oh, one more thing. Did I mention she’s animated?
That’s right. The Hollywood leading lady I’m talking about is not a human, in the usual way of airbrushed femme fatales, but Disney heroine Merida from hit cartoon Brave. And, as unlikely as it may seem, it is with her appearance that the argument against the overuse of Photoshop has reached its zenith.
Recently, you see, Merida became the 11th female character to be crowned formally as a ‘Disney Princess’, joining the likes of Snow White, Cinderella and Ariel The Little Mermaid. ‘Excellent’, cried many who had celebrated Merida’s lack of cookie cutter characteristics during her starring turn at the cinema. ‘Hurrah’, shouted the mothers of young girls who left the movie believing there was finally more to being a ‘princess’ than twirling in a pretty skirt. ‘What on earth?’ they yelled, incredulous, when the unrecognisable royal incarnation of their heroine was revealed post ‘princess’ makeover.
For Merida had changed. Gone was the crossbow and the unruly head of curls, replaced with a teeny waist, enlarged cleavage (no, really), slimmed down legs and a sleek new bouffant hairdo. In becoming a princess, Merida’s individuality was gone. And boy, did her fans let Disney know they weren’t happy about it.
At the time of writing, a quarter of a million people had signed a petition calling for her original form to be reinstated, forcing Disney to quietly return her bow and arrow before releasing a terse statement, insisting, “Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate and confident, and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.”
It wasn’t enough to appease Brave writer and co-director, Brenda Chapman, however, who wanted the character to be a different type of role model for her own young daughter. She says, “Merida was created to be a different kind of princess – a princess with a strong will, a stubborn streak and a lot to learn. She makes mistakes along the way and learns from them. But she is not obsessed with what she wears or focused on looking good to attract a man. She is an individual who has her own interests. Why on earth does that image need to be changed?”
It’s rare that one individual case of Photoshop gone mad creates such a furore. But as the row rumbles on, there have been signs the impact has spread beyond the merely animated. Hollywood’s living and breathing women are fighting back, led by none other than independent woman Beyoncé.
Hot on the heels of the Merida debacle came the case of the H&M airbrush – or rather, lack of it. There’s no doubting Mrs Carter looks simply sensational in the new campaign images for her swimwear collaboration with the clothing giant. But what really got everyone’s attention was the news the star had demanded any airbrushing be reversed.
As a source close to the singer told UK newspaper The Sun, “When Beyoncé found out they had edited the way her body really looked, she hit the roof. She’s a true diva and was furious that she had been given such a snubbing. Her people refused to give the pictures the green light so H&M were forced to use the originals.”
In turn, a spokesman for the firm admitted, “As with all campaigns, there are discussions on which images should be used. Both H&M and Beyoncé are very happy with the final result.”
OK, so if the images are indeed one hundred percent natural, it only goes to show that Beyoncé may well be superhuman. But as she’s recently been outspoken about the hard work it took to regain her figure after giving birth to daughter Blue Ivy last year, why shouldn’t she let everyone know how amazing she looks without alteration?
As she recently proclaimed, “I didn’t have a lot of time to lose the weight because I scheduled a show three months after I gave birth, which I would never do again! I’m not a person that is naturally very thin. I am a person that has to work at keeping my body in shape. Not everyone is supposed to be the same. Be healthy and take care of yourself, but be happy with the things that make you, you.”
All of which made it even more baffling when fashion giant Roberto Cavalli was forced, less than a fortnight later, to clarify the motives behind his firm’s release of an image of Beyoncé stretched beyond all recognition.
Rather than paying attention to the purpose of the fashion house’s press release – that he had designed a stunning gown for her Mrs Carter world tour – fans jumped on the fact that the accompanying image showed Beyoncé as a six foot tall, size zero catwalk model.
The following morning, Roberto himself took to Twitter to dampen the furore, proclaiming, “We would like to clarify that the image of the gown created by Roberto Cavalli for Beyoncé is a sketch and not a photo, and therefore it is only meant to be a stylised and artistic vision.
“Roberto Cavalli loves women and more than anyone else has always exalted and highlighted the female shape with his creations, building his signature style on the glorification of sensuality and femininity.”
So that’s Beyoncé two, fashion giants zero. Throw in a frizzy haired princess and it seems the tide might actually be turning...
‘We’re not perfect!’
They make their living on the big screen, on our TVs and on the cover of magazines, where they are never less than stunning. But what do Hollywood’s most beautiful women really think about the way they are portrayed?
Kim Kardashian barely flinched when a US magazine accidentally published her un-Photoshopped image on its website, sharing it with her online fans instead. “So what: I have a little cellulite. What curvy girl doesn’t?” she asked, adding, “How many people do you think are photoshopped? It happens all the time! I’m proud of my body and my curves and this picture coming out is probably helpful for everyone to see that just because I am on the cover of a magazine doesn’t mean I’m perfect.”
Emily Blunt admitted she has previously asked photographers and editors not to make certain changes to her shots. “I told them not to make me thinner. I hate when your legs are three times the length they actually are. I can understand there are things like shadows they need to fix after a shoot, but it’s unfair to represent an image of yourself if it’s not true. They’re gonna see what you look like on film anyway, so why try to cover all your wobbly bits in a photo?”
Liv Tyler recently admitted that some images of herself and her peers are almost unrecognisable, saying, “I know what people look like, I see what pictures look like before they’re airbrushed - my own and those of my friends - and every image is so manipulated. They’ll take a hair off your arm and get rid of a pore or freckle on your face. Personally, I find imperfections and flaws charming and beautiful. I like it that all people don’t look the same.”
Kate Winslet caused controversy in the UK when she criticised her own image on the cover of GQ magazine, blasting “The retouching is excessive. I do not look like that and more importantly I don’t desire to look like that. I actually have a Polaroid that the photographer gave me on the day of the shoot… I can tell you they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about a third. For my money, it looks pretty good the way it was taken.”
Jessica Simpson was photographed make-up free and without the aid of Photoshop for US Marie Claire magazine to launch her A Beautiful Me campaign to promote body confidence. On her decision, she revealed, “I don’t have anything to prove anymore. What other people think of me is not my business,” before admitting she finds the use of Photoshop “interesting”. “It’s the perfect version of yourself according to each editor. You think, ‘Oh they don’t like that mole, or that bump in my nose.’ Even I look at an airbrushed photo and wish I was as beautiful as that picture of me.”
Keira Knightley says her physique is regularly doctored to add curves, while even her face is subject to editing. “Somebody goes, ‘Gosh, you’re pretty’ and you want to say ‘Thanks, I’ve got good genes!’ Really, OK, I’m on the cover of a magazine but somebody else does the hair and the make-up and airbrushes the life out of me. It’s not me, it’s something other people have created.”
Jennifer Lawrence is fast gaining a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most down-to-earth stars, not least after the Oscar winner refused to allow claims she was too big to play the ration-starved lead in The Hunger Games upset her. “In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. But I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed. I want to look like a woman and not a prepubescent 13-year-old boy… I’m so sick of people thinking that’s what we’re supposed to look like.”