In Defence of Lena Dunham and Vogue


Lena Dunham Portrait by George Harris. No photoshopping here?

It is strange how some stories come into your peripheral vision. For the last three weeks I have read many articles about Lena Dunham. She is, if you don’t know, an actress on a HBO show called Girls. This show is not targeted for me, I don’t believe and I haven’t watched it just, though  understand it is about a group of twenty something’s living in New York with a comedic dramatic twist. Since it is HBO there are quite a few nude sex scenes in the show.

Why am I writing about this on a blog about photography? In the last week there has been some controversy about Lena’s pictures, shot by Anne Lebowiztz, for Vogue. The controversy is not that a person who by fashion standards is not the personification of beauty, but that Lena was photoshopped.
The controversy has been stirred by the paragon of feminism, Jezebel.  Jezebel is a feminist blog aimed at women’s interests, owned by Gawker media. The minute the pictures were made public last week, Jezebel jumped on them, calling them out as photoshopped images. Jezebel went to the extent of even putting out a reward for the original unedited images for $10,000.

Should we be shocked that Vogue touched up the images? No, it happens all the time and I am sure it happened with all of the previous cover stars and models. Why? They are illustrative images. I am not defending the crazy photoshopping which does happen, more the general tweaking to make an image look more appealing and less awkward is fine. Vogue is a magazine about fashion and beauty. Would you expect to see a model with bags under her eyes because she has a busy schedule or blemish on the skin? No, we expect smooth faces with delicate lighting since we are not really looking at the model but looking at the clothes on them.

These photoshopped stories come up all the time, it was the way Jezebel attacked these images that caught my interest.


Source Jezebel

The image they analysed most deeply was one of Dunham sitting on the edge of the bath while Adam Driver is having a bath.

  • Shoulder/back of neck shaved down, lengthening the neck – this change actually makes the pose look less awkward. In the original it seems that Dunham has hunched her shoulders slightly. With this alteration her pose seems more elegant.
  • Line near mouth on face removed – Normal touch up procedure for a portrait.
  • Jawline sharpened – The jaw line has been made more prominent creating more definition to the shape of the face.
  • Neckline of dress pulled up — cleavage altered, armpit covered – In raising the neck line, the editor has made adjustments to the dress and not to the model. It just happens that the new neck line covers her armpit now.
  • Waist/hip smoothed, made narrower – On the left ironing the bunching up of the dress. On the right adjustments made is similar to that of the neck. Pulling the dress in adds a little bit of elegance to the shape of the dress without thinning the subject.
  • Elbow shadow/dimple removed – not removed just lightened as has the whole left side of shot.
  • Hands smoothed – not smoothed, a mixture of; the overall toning of the image, colour correction, dodging and burning as well as adjustments to contrast, has appeared to have smoothed her hand with the same effect has also been achieved on the rest of her skin equally.

Has the edit actually changed the body type or shape of the model? No. Has the edit made the model look different to how she naturally looks? No. Has the edit changed the perception of the image? No. Compared to Britney Spears “Work Bitch” single cover art, there is no foul, though also compared to nothing, there is no foul as well.


I don’t remember Britney having such a long neck.

Lena Dunham has be edited just like other Vogue cover stars and celebrities. The editing was not as aggressive as with Gwyneth Paltrow (removal of her left clavicle), Claire Danes (missing leg) or Adele (drastically slimmed down). So why has there been such visible outrage against Lena. Because she is an actress who has with her comments and actions been giving a positive message about her body and her looks “(in reference on her nude scenes) …. a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive’ and ‘if you are not into me, that’s your problem.” By many she is seen as a feminist icon and appearing in vogue and having been edited is a sin.

The problem is not that images are photoshopped but that people who admired her for their looks and style are photoshopped. Then what do they expect to be used in the magazine. Straight out of camera, raw images or perhaps  jpegs shot on a smart phone. This is an unrealistic view of reality.
When you read Vogue you are reading a magazine for a reason and our mind is in the space to view images that we know have been edited to extenuate the beauty of the subject. The same as when you read newspapers our mind is in the space for images of truth and reality. We expect certain images to look a certain way. This is not a problem with vogue but with people’s perception of reality. 

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2 thoughts on “In Defence of Lena Dunham and Vogue

  1. This seems to be a perfectly sensible reaction. I would have been amazed if they hadn’t done some retouching. It doesn’t look too drastic. I wonder whether she had the right to approve the final images. I just don’t get the shock horror but then again I have never heard of the show or the actress!

    • I don’t know if she did see them, though she did shrug off the criticism. There is a lot of photoshop bashing at the moment and personally I don’t get alot of it except that it is getting readers and therefore making someone money.

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