Tag Archives: photographic manipulation

Open Letter to World Wildlife Fund: Good Causes Don’t Justify Racist, Sexist Imagery

Debbie says:

Edited to add: It does appear that 1) the ad I was complaining about is part of a campaign that includes two other ads with male models, and 2) they may not be actual WWF ads, but either potential ads which the WWF isn’t using, or isn’t yet using, or possibly ads done with an overseas (Brazilian) partner. See the comments for more details.

These things make a difference, and at the same time I still think the image is disturbing, inappropriate, and worthy of criticism.


Dear World Wildlife Fund,

As a supporter of the same causes you promote, I was horrified to see this advertisement as part of your fundraising campaign.

black woman as jungle animal

I have three major objections.

First, women (of any ethnicity) are not wild animals. Conventionally sexy women are not prey, and your ad reminds us that they are often seen that way. If your point is that humans’ lives are endangered by the loss of the jungle, why not do the ad with a paunchy middle-aged white man with glasses? He could be sitting in an easy chair in the jungle, just to pick one idea. Or you might do a variety of people in clothes and with props appropriate to a variety of daily lives, rather than portray them as animals.

Second, why is this woman dark-skinned? By using a dark-skinned model, you are reinforcing the cultural assumption that black people closer to the jungle, “less human,” more animalistic, more exotic. If you drop a white woman into this picture in the same pose, you’ll find that many more people (perhaps including whoever is reading this letter) find the ad more uncomfortable, more upsetting. That’s a big clue that it’s not right to use a black woman there. Any place where a picture of a white woman is disquieting and a picture of a black woman is less so, that’s because our unconscious racism and racist visual stereotypes are interfering with us seeing the problem. Giving her an Afro haircut is an odd and disturbing touch: a tiny measure of “black pride” overlaid on this deeply inappropriate and dehumanizing image.

Finally, every time you use a model whose picture has been photoshopped to remove flesh (of any race or ethnicity), you’re sending a message to girls and women everywhere that they can’t/won’t ever meet the ideal body shape they see in photographs. This leads to eating disorders and an extraordinary level of self-hatred in women. Trust me, people who hate themselves are not going to work effectively to save the planet.

Please withdraw the ad and issue a public apology for its inappropriateness.

Pantryslut found this first.

Pores, Wrinkles, and ‘Unwanted’ Facial Hair: How to Photograph a Real Human Being

Debbie says:

The Republican Party has invented a whole new way to insult a candidate (or at least to claim that a candidate has been insulted): print an honest picture.

Here’s the picture:

close-up of Sarah Palin on the cover of Newsweek

Let’s start by stating two things up front: first, I have absolutely no reason to believe that Governor Palin has been in any way upset or offended by this picture. In fact, I believe there’s some indication that she doesn’t consider this a problem.

Second, Laurie–who isn’t available to blog this with me–has devoted her photographic career to the proposition that “making the invisible visible,” photographing people as we are is important social change. I’ve been working with her since before she started taking photographs, so in one sense I’m not the least bit surprised. (If you don’t know Laurie’s photographs, look here, here and here.)

Ordinarily, I don’t like to embed sources I deplore, but in this case, the Fox News excerpt is worth watching, because it’s worth analyzing.

Note that the clip has two talking heads, other than the newscaster, who hardly has a “fair and balanced” view of the question. On the right, with the title “Republican Media Consultant,” we have Andrea Tantaros, who is outraged. “This cover is a clear slap in the face to Sarah Palin. Why? Because it’s unretouched.”

Tantaros goes on to claim that the cover highlights “every imperfection that every human being has. Pores, unwanted facial hair, wrinkles.” Later in the clip she says of herself that if someone took a similar closeup of her, “it ain’t pretty.”

On the other side, we have Julia Piscitelli, from the “Women and Politics group at American University.” So we don’t know if she’s a student, a professor, or what her role is. Tantaros is a professional; Piscitelli may not be. It will not escape Body Impolitic readers that Piscitelli is also fat. Anyone think that’s a coincidence?

The clip rapidly turns into an arguing match, with the newscaster both agreeing with and giving precedence to Tantaros’s side. At one point, the newscaster says that retouching photographs is what magazines do.

I see three things going on here: first is the photograph itself. Ironically, Tantaros is very very close to right in how she describes it. The picture is unretouched. Once upon a time, before Photoshop, we would have called it … a photograph. Notice that there isn’t any easy way to describe an “unretouched photograph” without using a negative adjective. It does show pores and a few wrinkles around the eyes. Now, pores are not only something that everyone has, they are essential to life. Your skin breathes through your pores. If you don’t have any, that doesn’t make you a high-def porn star, or Miley Cyrus: it makes you dead. As for wrinkles, well, Governor Palin is 44. (The minimum legal age at which she can run for VP is 35.) Many people in their 30s have wrinkles around the eyes, more pronounced when they laugh or smile. As for “unwanted facial hair,” who says it’s “unwanted”? If it was truly unwanted, couldn’t she pluck it, or wax it? Maybe she likes it that way. I would think she would have people around her who prepare her for photo shoots; they could easily have removed any unwanted hair.

Second is the question of the caption, and comparable pictures of Barack Obama. Here, I think the critics have somewhat of a point. The “and that’s the problem” tagline of the caption is not complimentary to Governor Palin, and if you want to hook it to wrinkles and pores, I guess you can, although I doubt it’s what the magazine was trying to do. The comparison cover photo of Obama shown in this newscast is a completely different kind of photograph. I don’t think they’ve given him a halo, but they have gone out of their way to dehumanize him, just as they’ve gone out of their way to humanize Palin. Is one kinder than the other? More fair to a candidate? Less of a slap in the face? Questions worth pondering, if you think Newsweek covers are important enough to ponder. If I were going to examine this in depth, I’d want to look closely at covers not of Obama but of Hillary Clinton. (You can see one here, that looks as though it may be retouched, but also shows wrinkles.)

Third, and most important, is the underlying question of “what is a flaw”? Both Tantaros and the newscaster repeatedly say that “everyone has these flaws.” They also repeatedly say women will be shocked and horrified to see them. By an easy extension, this means that every woman is shocked and horrified every time she looks in the mirror and that every woman really wants to believe that the people in the pictures–movie stars, models, and apparently politicians–don’t have real skin and real hair, that somehow fame confers what Tantaros would call “flawlessness.”

Bottom line: hatred of pores, wrinkles, and facial hair is self-hatred. Tantaros says it herself, when she says a close-up of her “ain’t pretty.” I can only hope that her lovers, friends, and family like looking at the real Andrea Tantaros better than she likes it herself; and that they tell her frequently that they think she’s beautiful the way she is … unretouched.