By Rebecca Price
In the upcoming February issue of Vogue, actress, writer and director Lena Dunham is featured on the cover. Dunham has started a revolution with her HBO show, “Girls,” which first aired in 2012 and received a Golden Globe for its pilot season.
Vogue’s thorough personality profile on Dunham celebrates her upbringing, talents and individuality. Not only is this upcoming issue one of the first times that Vogue has featured anyone in the comedy world on the cover of its iconic magazine (besides Tina Fey in March 2010), but they respectfully celebrate her quirkiness and affinity for the awkward, allowing Dunham to stay true to herself during her photo shoot with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.
However, the feminist site Jezebel was not excited for this breakthrough for female comedians.
Instead, they were entirely preoccupied with the images of Dunham in the Vogue, which they believed to be heavily edited. They even went so far as to offer a $10,000 reward for the unedited images, which they quickly received.
According to Jezebel, the changes made to these images of Dunham were: shoulder/back of neck shaved down; neck lengthened; line near mouth on face removed; jawline sharpened; neckline of dress pulled up; cleavage altered; armpit covered; waist/hip smoothed, made narrower; elbow shadow/dimple removed and hands smoothed.
While this might sound drastic, it’s important to note that Annie Leibovitz has not only documented celebrities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, but she has worked for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and now Vogue. Needless to say, she is very competent, trustworthy and — dare I say — infallible.
Furthermore, Jezebel seemed to create this uproar because they believed that Dunham, who is known for her curvy figure, was slimmed down to look more attractive and, thus, more Vogue-appropriate.
However, upon looking at the before and after photos, which Jezebel posted on their site, I have concluded that Dunham’s shape looks entirely unaltered. So the idea that Vogue was embarrassed of her shapely figure and tried to cover it up is entirely out of the question.
It’s also imperative to remember that, whenever you pick up a magazine, the photos will always be edited in one form or other. Perhaps the subject’s skin will be smoothed over to get rid of those unsightly pimples or maybe entire limbs will be replaced, as has been the case on multiple, much-more scandalous occasions than the February issue of Vogue.
In 1989, Oprah Winfrey was featured on the cover of TV Guide looking ever-so slim. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that TV Guide had composited the body of Ann-Margaret, a ‘60s celebrity, onto Oprah’s head. Neither woman was asked before this cover was published.
Even more scandalous was the image of OJ Simpson on the 1994 cover of Time magazine.
This issue of Time was dedicated to the aftermath of Simpson’s arrest; the scandalous part, however, was that they had considerably darkened the image to make Simpson look more sinister, deadly and guilty.
Another instance of racial profiling was on the cover of the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2001-2002 undergraduate application, on which a black student was literally composited into a crowd of otherwise white faces in order to make the school look more diverse.
These blatant abuses of Photoshop were inappropriate because they changed the way readers felt toward the subject of the photo. In Oprah’s case, it misled the reader to believe that she was much slimmer than she actually was. The composited photo also abused the image of Ann-Margaret, who had no knowledge of her publicity shot being used in this manner.
As for OJ Simpson, it’s painfully obvious that Time magazine was trying to persuade readers that Simpson was guilty — regardless of the truth of that statement, it’s bad journalism to unfairly persuade your readers without giving them all of the facts.
And let’s not point fingers before we think of our own digital manipulation. If you have ever taken acne off of your skin before posting a photo to Facebook, made your Instagram look ever-so sepia-toned or even untagged unsightly photos of yourself where your chin is just nowhere to be found, then you are guilty of this same “crime.”
In fact, Dunham herself responded to Jezebel’s outcry with a shrug. This was her response as stated on slate.com: “I felt really like Vogue supported me and wanted to put a depiction of me on the cover. I never felt bullied into anything; I felt really happy because they dressed me and styled me in a way that really reflects who I am. And I felt…that all the editors understood my persona, my creativity and who I am…. I know some people have been very angry about the cover and that confuses me a little. I don’t understand why, Photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl could be a bad thing.”
The fact that Vogue is embracing not only the comedy genre but plus-sized women is a reason to applaud Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and the rest of her staff, not to shame them out of ever doing so again.