body image · media

On Thigh Gaps and Photoshop

A couple of weeks ago, it was a Target junior model in a bikini.  Then, it was a plus sized jeans ad for Old Navy.  What did these two have in common: an oddly suspicious thigh gap.

Let’s start with exhibit one, from Target:

thigh gap photoshop target

If that’s not an example of photo altering gone wrong, then I’m doing an Ironman Triathlon this summer!  The other alternative is that this is how the bikini bottom is supposed to fit.  Gee, I hope not.

The image and commentary went viral. A Target spokesperson later apologized for the “mistake”:

“It was an unfortunate error on our part and we apologize,” Target spokesman Evan Miller said to ABC News, adding that the photo had been removed from Target’s website.

I’m curious what, in their view, the mistake actually was?  Was it badly altering the picture in a way that put Target in the running for worst photo shop gaffe ever?  Or were they truly apologizing for the very idea that they would need to add or accentuate a thigh gap on an already slender junior model?

The thing was almost so laughable as to make people pass over the actual harms of this type of thing.  I myself had an eye-rolling reaction more than a blood-boiling one.  But the fact is, on a junior model, modeling bikinis to an already body-conscious demographic, we could use some body acceptance.  We like to make fun of bad photoshopping, but this photo is evidence of a mindset.

The mindset defines what an acceptable body needs to look like in a bikini.  But no one is going to look quite like that in a bikini (thankfully, not so much because of the thigh gap but rather because if your bikini goes down your legs a couple of inches at the inner thigh, it’s not fitting properly.  If you like that look, you can get a boy short. Just saying.).

Okay, on to exhibit two. The plus sized jeans ad from Old Navy:thigh gap old navyThis one is more interesting because Old Navy denied that they altered the photo. What they did do, they said, is pin the fabric back on their body form before taking the picture. According to this report:

In a statement, Old Navy says the thigh gap was not caused by photo manipulation.

“At Old Navy we strive to show our customers the most accurate representation of how product fits the body. This includes pinning garments on body forms to show how they will actually appear. While we do remove these pins in post-production, we do not use any photo-altering techniques to deliberately distort the actual look or fit of our product.”

Sure, but then the question is this (and you’ll have to forgive me if I sound ignorant of the ways of the fashion industry, because I am):  why not have body forms that fit the clothes you’re selling, or model the sizes that fit the body form you’re using?

Somehow the idea of pinning back excess fabric on a pair of jeans to “show how they will actually appear” just doesn’t sound like the right approach. If I have excess fabric somewhere where it’s not supposed to be in my pair of jeans, I assume (and again, I’m no expert) that those jeans don’t fit me properly.  It’s never occurred to me just to pin the excess back. But that’s just me.

And maybe I’m just so jaded or beaten down by the barrage of photoshopped images that come at me every day so fast that I can’t even process them, but I have trouble even getting all riled up any more.  Instead, I’m just weary and a tad confused.  It was one thing when we used actual models with genetics that put their body type out of reach for most of us. But photo shop has taken this thing to whole new lows of unreachability. Real people just don’t look like that. It’s seriously messed up.

7 thoughts on “On Thigh Gaps and Photoshop

  1. I’m like you, I don’t even notice this stuff anymore or let it bother me, but I know many do, especially those in the junior set, so Target deserves to be called out. My career was in marketing w/ women’s clothing and I have been on quite a few photos shoots–mostly for clothing for women 40+. It is amazing what the photo stylists do to the clothing to get them to fit these models–they are basically pinned up the whole backside–and the model can barely move. I was so shocked the first time I saw some of the very frumpy styles once pinned up, they looked amazing for photography and definitely not like it would look on an average person…I don’t buy Old Navy’s argument. I’m sure they just wanted it to look great, not be an actual representation of fit…..I agree, it’s definitely messed up.

  2. Great post. I’ve always thought of models as otherworldly–like the way you would think of creatures in fantasy novels, beautiful, yes, but not human–and the rise of photoshop makes it even moreso. Why stop at thigh gap? I think wings would be lovely. I’ve always wanted those too. And what’s with these round bulbous ears? Can’t the really beautiful have fun with pointy graceful Elf like ears? And what about gender? Let’s get really playful. No cosmetic surgery, so no harm done. In a weird way photoshop makes it even more clear that it’s not about human standards. So they should either just stop but note then the pressure on real models to look that way, or go wild. I kind of like the wild option. Let’s get really imaginative about beauty and cut the link the human beauty completely. Oh, right. These are ads, for clothes, for humans. I forgot.

  3. Obviously, they do what they can get away with to sell their clothes. If they misrepresent to real “plus size” women that their jeans will make them look like they have a “thigh gap”, they likely will sell more jeans; just like if they do retain by conventional standards, truly beautiful plus-size models to model their clothes in advertisements, they like will sell more clothes to, by conventional standards, average-looking “plus size” women, than if they retained by conventional standards, average-looking plus size women to model their clothes. To put it another way, if they hire average-looking “plus size” women to model their clothes in advertisements, most average-looking “plus size” women will not buy their product, and they’ll likely go bankrupt. So they push the envelope all the time in the competitive world of advertising and become part of the problem for sure. But what do you do if you’re in the business, say, if you’re hired as the CEO of such a company, and you have a board to answer to? All I’m saying is that the aims or goals of business differ significantly in the real world from the goals or aims of social and political growth. But really, suppose you’re now the CEO of a clothing manufacturer or retailer. Put yourself in such a CEO’s place, in actual reality – and remember, you do have a board and stockholders to answer to. And you can’t say – “well, I won’t be the CEO then.” Your job is to maximize profit. What do you, in the real world, do? There’s really no satisfactory answer to this question, as far as I can see. But I’d really love to know if there is an answer. Anyone?

  4. I understand why women want to be slim but I dont’ get the thigh gap. Target is not the only culprit. Last week I picked up the free Fitness First magazine and the girl on the cover looked more like a runway model than a woman who works out. Her arms were like strands of spaghetti. I wont be joining Fitness First anytime soon! Atm, I am struggling to add muscle to my arms and legs, especially the legs and it’s sooo very slow!

  5. Actually, I would really like it if everyone just rolled their eyes and didn’t get riled up about these things. Not because they aren’t heinous and contemptible, but because I’d like for women to stop allowing them into our brains, into our lives, considering that they are relevant to us in any way. It’s that whole “what if they gave a war and nobody came?’ idea. What if fashion magazines published a lot of stupid crap and nobody gave a damn?

    I dunno. There’s value in calling out these things, loudly, so that they don’t seem acceptable and normal. But I’m wondering if that’s as effective a tactic as ignoring them, particularly with our wallets.

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