Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

August 12, 2009

SELF editor gets it so wrong

Filed under: The Fat's in the Fire — Francesca @ 6:58 pm

Francesca does not even know what to say to this terrible blog post by SELF editor Lucy Schulte Danziger , in which she responds to those who criticize the altering of the September cover photo of Kelly Clarkson:

 . . . . When I ran the marathon five years ago, I was so proud of myself for completing it in under five hours and not walking a single step. But my hips looked big in some of the photos (I was heavier then), so when I wanted to put one of them on the editor’s letter in SELF, I asked the art department to shave off a little. I am confident in my body, proud of what it can accomplish, but it just didn’t look the way I wanted in every picture.

 . . . . The same is true of vacation. I keep the pix that show us all happy and glowing and laughing and playing, not the ones where we are scowling or hungry or tired. The ones that make the Christmas card are the best of the best.

 . . . . we allow the postproduction process to happen, where we mark up the photograph to correct any awkward wrinkles in the blouse, flyaway hair and other things that might detract from the beauty of the shot. This is art, creativity and collaboration. It’s not, as in a news photograph, journalism. It is, however, meant to inspire women to want to be their best. That is the point.

 .. . . Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best. . . . Whether she is up or down in pounds is irrelevant (and to set the record straight, she works out and does boot-camp-style training, so she is as fit as anyone else we have featured in SELF).

 . . . . Your job: Think about your photographs and what you want them to convey. And go ahead and be confident in every shot, in every moment. Because the truest beauty is the kind that comes from within.

OK, yes, given that SELF removed Kelly’s arm and a lot of her hips, and, Francesca thinks, some of her neck, Francesca DOES know what to say in response:

1- Notice that Lucy implies that having hips (her own and/or Kelly’s) in a photograph is as bad as scowling, or looking hungry or tired (being fat makes you look unpleasant to be around). Also something that might “detract from the beauty of the shot” the same as a flyaway hair or awkward wrinkles in a blouse (the way a person actually looks might detract from the composition of a photograph of that person).

2- She says that taking pounds off a person is helping them look their “personal best” even though the fat is on the person. That is the person’s body. It doesn’t get any more “personal” than a person’s actual physical characteristics. Making someone look like they have a different body is the same as, say, putting them under nicer lighting or having someone else do their makeup?

3- Kelly works out a lot and is “as fit” as anyone else in SELF, Lucy says. So why isn’t she fit enough to have on the cover exactly the way she is? What, a fit woman can’t have a few more pounds than is cover-worthy? You mean to say that a person might work out boot-camp-style and still not look like a cover model? Really??? (/sarcasm)

4- In light of the above, how can Lucy say the magazine cover is meant to “inspire women to want to be their best”? Kelly is at her best and she’s still not good enough! What you are doing, dear Lucy, is inspiring women to want to be something they can never, ever be.

5- Regarding the last line, it sounds like SELF’s idea, really, is that the truest beauty is the one that will sell covers and which cannot possibly be realized in real life.

6- Regarding my photographs and what I want them to convey: Francesca wants her photographs to convey that she is beautiful and fat and happy and an actual, live, person who exists.


  1. “Kelly is at her best and she’s still not good enough! What you are doing, dear Lucy, is inspiring women to want to be something they can never, ever be.”

    Amen and hallelujah! Kelly’s unaltered picture on the cover could have been a great teaching moment — “See, this isn’t about weight, it’s about being healthy. We think she’s attractive and fit just as she is.” But all they have done here is reinforce that Fat = Unattractive, Unsightly, BAD! (And Kelly Clarkson is not fat by any stretch of the imagination!) How can a woman “be comfortable in every shot” when they’ve given her the message that her body, arguably the focus of the photo, is not good enough as it is? Yeah, nothing puts me at ease like knowing the world is judging me!

    And just what the hell do they mean about inspiring a woman to be their best? I would have a hard time getting to Kelly’s pre-Photoshopped weight/size. Maybe being a size 16 is my “personal best”, but even that’s not good enough for Self editors, though that’s the smallest size I’ve worn since I was 18 years old. By putting a size 2 on the cover, they might as well tell me that unless I make 20 million dollars a year, I’ll never be good enough, because the chances of me doing that are as likely as me being slim enough to suit the editors of Self.

    Damn that makes me mad.

    Comment by Orora — August 12, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  2. Oh, Orora, don’t you know that making $20 million a year STILL isn’t good enough if you wear a size bigger than a 4? Isn’t that what Oprah was publicly castigating herself for ‘allowing’ to happen just a few months ago?

    Your best is what Self editors inform you is your best, and you’d better like it.

    As for me, what I’d like my photos to convey is that I’m happy, engaged with the world and my own existence, and that I’m a hell of a lot of fun to be around. Oh, and that I have a spectacular hat collection.

    Oh, and anyone who shaves my hips off that photo to make me look ‘healthier’ is going to lose an arm and a vital organ. I’m just saying.

    Comment by Twistie — August 12, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

  3. I would get furious at this silly … magazine editor, but I am instead focussing on the intelligence and wit (and wicked style) of Francesca, who wrote this. When I was a teen in the 90s, I was starved for any critical discourse on the magazine/visual pop culture landscape, and this site makes me so happy that there are so many more viewpoints being shared.

    Comment by Margo — August 12, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  4. Hells to the yes. This is outrageous and I’ve commented on it all over the web today. I think the only reason the editor said anything at all is because the retouching was SO obvious that she had to. Otherwise, it’d be business as usual.

    There’s a LOT of noise about this so I hope something comes of it. I don’t want to wish anyone fired, but I would like to see this story on the mainstream (non-blog, non-entertainment) news.

    Comment by Candice — August 12, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  5. You know what, I can work up a li’l snark.

    You’re ashamed of your hips, lady? Try running a marathon without ’em.

    And as for the cover line, ‘Be Hot By Saturday’, spoiler: try smiling, wearing something fierce, and enjoying yourself. Ta da! Saved you $3 and some misery.

    Comment by Margo — August 12, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  6. Spot on analysis!

    Comment by Alexis — August 12, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

  7. There’s a very good solution to Self’s dilemma here: if they don’t think Kelly Clarkson fits their idea of what a fit person should look like, they can just not use her on their cover.

    Oh, but then they wouldn’t get to use her celebrity to move magazines, would they?

    I think they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too.

    But my hips looked big in some of the photos (I was heavier then), so when I wanted to put one of them on the editor’s letter in SELF, I asked the art department to shave off a little. I am confident in my body,

    Doesn’t sound like it, really. And it sounds like she’s projecting her own anxieties onto Clarkson, who’s had the brass ovaries to tell the music industry to fuck off, she won’t be starving herself to fit their preconceived notions of what a star looks like.

    Comment by zuzu — August 12, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  8. Thank You for posting this! I was supremely irritated to hear they took adorable Kelly Clarkson and put her on the cover sans much of her body. And then they add the stupidest reason for it ever. “Well, *I* hated my hips even though I was healthy and fit so I’m “fixing* yours.”

    Here, let me fix your nose for you, editor. (punch) No, really. It’s OK. Your big nose makes your hips look small.

    Comment by Kathy — August 13, 2009 @ 12:23 am

  9. And in the adding insult to injury, whatever they did to photoshop her arms makes them look like Barbie’s: overly shiny, cylindrical, and plastic. I think I’ve seen better photoshopping on JibJab with the little cutout heads.

    Comment by megaera — August 13, 2009 @ 2:47 am

  10. That’s ridiculous. I used to do photo re-touching as part of my marketing/sales job, and there’s a line between acceptable re-touches (I’ve been asked to re-open closed eyes in group shots, for example–just get another picture of the person and use that––or I’ve had people ask me to add a smile to their own pictures), and unacceptable re-touching. The only time you should make a person look “skinnier” in photoshop is if the picture genuinely makes them look bigger than they actually are. Now, particularly with a bad photographer or bad clothing, this can happen––clothing wrinkles to look bad, lighting makes you look oddly larger in your hips. But those things aren’t really how •you• look.

    I’m putting this kind of badly, so let me try to sum it up. Acceptable re-touching: Making someone look more like themselves. We’ve all had pictures taken where we think “um, that actually does not look like me.” It’s acceptable to fix the lighting that was giving the subject red skin, pink eyes or weird shadows that emphasize parts of the body we do not wish emphasized (I don’t just mean “fat”––sometimes angles or shadows add non-existent bumps to the nose or, as in one case where I re-touched, draw the viewer’s eye to chest when her chest were not what the girl in the picture wanted emphasized). It’s acceptable to smooth wrinkles in clothing that shouldn’t be there or look awkward. It’s acceptable to do some “skinnifying” if the picture genuinely makes the person look bigger than they actually do––but you cannot skinnify them below what they actually are.

    Anytime someone comments on Photoshop work, that means you went too far. Photoshop re-touching can be extensive, but it should never be noticed––you should look at a picture and think what a great picture it is of that person because it looks like that person, not wonder if they’re really that skinny.

    Comment by Genevieve — August 13, 2009 @ 10:05 am

  11. The only thing this editorial decision has inspired me to do is not buy Self magazine. Kelly is a doll just the way she is.

    Comment by Ash — August 13, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  12. Her head looks too big for her neck, her arms look plastic, and they left her with that hair – and then claim it was to help her “look her personal best”? I want some of whatever it is they’re smoking.

    Comment by Jenna — August 13, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  13. Oh, I love it when defenders of excessive retouching use the “but don’t we ALL wish we could retouch our family photos!” line. I mean, sure, we’ve all seen some candid photo a friend took of us and thought, “where did those extra 50 pounds come from? where’s my photoshop?!”, but there’s a major, major problem with using that argument to defend a cover shot: this is NOT a candid photo.

    It’s not like Kelly here was in hour five of auntie Gertrude’s birthday bash and her little cousin snuck up behind her with a disposable Kodak and caught her in a rare moment of poor posture with punch on her blouse. This was a PHOTO SHOOT, people. There was a costume person, and a makeup artist, and a set designer, and a professional photographer, and probably some kind of art director whose job it is to make the photo look presentable and flattering. And I’m sure Kelly’s had plenty of practice posing for photos and knows how to look good in front of a camera. All of which is to say, this photo was designed to make her look “her personal best” from the ground up. If that’s still not good enough, well then the problem isn’t the lack of retouching, it’s your ridiculous expectations.

    Comment by Evie — August 13, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  14. With article titles like “Get Flat Abs Faster” and Erase 8 Pounds” on the cover, I suppose they thought a skinny Kelly would encourage their demographic to want to lose weight and “Be Hot by Saturday” and rush to buy Self. It’s always about the money folks. Completely reprehensible, of course, but I bet it’s sellin’ like carrot sticks at a fat farm. Shame!

    Comment by gemdiva — August 13, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  15. I’m so glad you wrote about this! I read this mish-mash of an explanation/defense on Shine, and I could hardly stand how hypocritical it was. Don’t claim your magazine is about being your best self, and then erase half of the person you want on the cover. (A person, incidentally, that is hardly the QEII to begin with.) This is ALMOST as annoying as Anna &(%^! Wintour pressuring cover models like Oprah to diet before allowing them on her cover… and then still editing the hell out of them. Thanks to papparazi shots, television, etc., we all know what these women actually look like, so stop messing with their pictures! There is no point, except to make everyone feel worse about themselves.

    Comment by Kara — August 13, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  16. That’s… incredibly disappointing, as a woman, and as a runner.

    Comment by Jelly — August 13, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

  17. So does this mean that I can photo shop my big butt (which I personally love, ’cause it makes my waist look smaller) down to a size 4, post it on a dating site and say that it is what I look like? And it would totally be OK, since I’m just making my self into my personal best? Yeah right. That woman is crazy. I’m not saying I’ve never been photo shopped but I wouldn’t ever say that that’s how I look in person.

    Comment by Jessica — August 13, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

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