I was so thrilled to be asked to shoot the cover of Virgin Magazine, and even more thrilled to hear they were keen to honour my request for no airbrushing of my face or body. This means a lot and is a desperately important stance to take in honour of the tens of millions of women (at least) who struggle so much with their self-image, due to decades of impossibly demanding body standards being inflicted upon us, and false imagery being used to subliminally manipulate us into a feeling of (needless) disappointment in ourselves.
It’s something I’ve been asking for since my career began 10 years ago. I only sometimes get my way, but I will never stop campaigning for it for these three reasons:
1) It is done in the name of “fantasy”. What message does it send to women (and men) everywhere, that a “fantasy” female is normally only ever one who is impossibly long, and thin, with flawless (and normally lightened) skin, with a thin face, a small nose, large lips, big eyes, and no wrinkles ever, at any age. Why can’t the fantasy ever have some back fat? Or be in a wheelchair? Why can it never be unsymmetrical? Why can it never show the dignified and important lines of a life lived and survived? What is that one, constant, “flawless,” doll like fantasy telling all normal women everywhere? That we are not to be fantasized about? We are excluded from the desirable group? We are the rejected? We didn’t make the cut?
2) The dishonesty of it. There is no mention of alteration, so we are left with the manipulative subliminal messaging that someone else achieved the forever pre-pubescent “fantasy” but we can’t. We have failed. Her breasts have been plumped, her legs lengthened, her skin smoothed. But all in secret. It’s so dangerous to put these images into the world of women who themselves often do not even meet the requirements, without the help of a computer, and say nothing of it. There should either be a detailed declaration in small print of the features altered, or we should see the original image and celebrate the humanity and reality of the subject and her photographer. Who, frankly, may as well not bloody be there if a computer is doing all the work. Where is the dignity in it? For anyone involved?
3) It is offensive TO ME. To be airbrushed, which is never even discussed with you beforehand, is not a kind act. It’s a passive aggressive attack. To see a simulation of myself, a “flawless” version that I myself could never reach in reality, does not make me feel flattered. It explicitly informs me that I was not good enough on that day. Or on any day. What I am, must be covered up, altered and hidden from sight, or else people shall find me harder to look at. When magazines have in the past altered my ethnic nose to look more caucusian and button like, or lightened my skin… I feel racially offended. When I see that my cellulite and stretch marks that I spend my every day with have been deleted, it makes me feel bad about myself when I see them in the mirror. A feeling I didn’t want or need, which I then have to fight and dismiss in the name of feminism and basic bloody humanity. I am human. I have lived. I have been through a lot, and some of those things have marked me, and I do not feel shame about those things, I do not think someone else has the right to make me feel I should.
Airbrushing is not supposed to be used for anything other than removing a stain on a wall behind the model, or maybe even a single hair out of place that ruins the shot. To use it to alter a face and body, to sell a lie to women, which will more often than not hurt the way in which they see themselves, and could well lead to a possibly unhealthy lifestyle in order to achieve the prototype you made with your computer… is a crime against an entire gender. It’s unacceptable. And it has to stop. “Perfect” imagery in magazines hurt me as a teenager, and made sure I never felt good enough. I don’t want to be a part of that for someone else.
If I look tired/wrinkled, or chubby, then I look tired/wrinkled or chubby. Let my worth as a grown woman who has many parts to my existence live without shame for this. If these pictures that will come out of me on this cover repulse you, then what does that say about you? Because it says absolutely nothing about me.
I had a fabulous time shooting for Virgin, with a talented team of artists, and I look forward to seeing what we made together.
This blog also appears on Jameela’s personal blog, and can be read here