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An Expert’s Analysis of Dove’s Campaign for “Real” Beauty

Posted by: Burth Helm on May 19, 2008

I asked re-toucher Kenneth Harris to take a look at several images. He saw what he thought was clear evidence of retouching on the ProAge shots. His thoughts on two of the Dove photos are below (Dove’s responses follow). It’s a pretty interesting deconstruction of the art of re-touching.


blog dove wendy.png

Harris says he immediately thought this shot had been airbrushed. He points to these features:

Her skin tone
: “The skin is one color without being gross. Look at her hands and the inside of her foot – they should be a lot darker [than the rest of her body], and they’re not. Unless this woman’s been living outside naked all day, there’s been work done.”

Her right foot: “The inside of the heel is a classic area to wipe totally clean. How could the inside of her foot not be lumpy and have veins? Look at the inside of your own foot!”

Her shins: “A person naturally dents up the front of their shin. I can’t find a retouching mark, but it’s just off. Looking straight up her shins, both those shins are smooth.

Her butt: “Her camera-right butt I think would sag more. Transitioning from under the bikini area up someone’s leg, you’d just expect more to be happening, but it’s nice and vague and evenly textured. I suspect her butt has been warped. She’s 70 and there’s just no way.”

Her (lack of) veins: “I would say veins are taken out. You should see veins…and there’s nothing except on the inside of her camera-left thigh.” (Side note: I also hear from The New Yorker that Dangin told their reporter he removed veins. Dangin didn’t return calls from me seeking comment).

More after the jump.

The Underwear Ad

blog dove group.png

Harris said this shot seemed minimally altered. He noticed some basic color correction – the underwear appeared to be a uniform white, and shadows appeared to be evened out. But Harris thought the second woman from the right, Gina, looked odd. “I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with it, but someone got in there. It looks like her head’s been dropped on.”

I asked Dove to comment on these critiques. A spokesperson stated that no veins or wrinkles had been removed from “Wendy,” and “no 'smoothing' took place on her left shin or otherwise beyond color correction for consistency.” In the case of the underwear ad, Dove said, “we did not digitally alter the bodies of the women. This includes Gina's or any of the other women's heads.”

The statement then added

“We have made the commitment not to distort any of our images to create an unrealistic or unattainable view of beauty. As we have said, this does not mean we do absolutely nothing to the images to make them suitable for printing. There is always something that needs a bit of adjustment to meet professional standards - even in the best run photo shoot with the best photographers. Removing or correcting these things does not mean that people don't see the woman as she really is and does not change our commitment to real women.”

The New Yorker
, meanwhile, says it’s standing by its account. What do you think?

Reader Comments

John Caddell

May 20, 2008 10:20 AM

I think they're both telling the truth as they see it. At least Dove didn't attempt the photoshop Botox that most magazine photographs employ. The women look pretty real to me, and I guess that's the point.


May 20, 2008 10:55 AM

I'm not sure how Harris deduced what he deduced because I've been working with graphics for years (doing design work) and have the impression that he's just trying make himself seem like an expert rather than actually being one.

"Wendy" looks minimally touched up. There's some color correction and the lighting from the shoot made her skin look brighter.

However, you can clearly see veins and a lot of them, especially on her thighs, bottom and right arm if you look at the photo about 6 inches away from your monitor. If you look even closer, you'll see the faint, bluish venal outlines on her shins and hands.

Her shins are not smooth and you can see the fibia and the kneecaps protruding ever so slightly.

Her bottom isn't supposed to droop so it leaks onto the floor. It looks just fine. The way she's sitting would naturally roll her bottom so sagging wouldn't be an issue. This isn't a touch-up, just blocking for the shoot. The right side of her bottom is so minimal, making any deductions form it would be like trying to describe a skyscraper from seeing only one floor which is exactly what Mr. Harris is doing here.

As for the sole of her foot, there's not enough of it being exposed for him to make such a definitive conclusion, especially with the back lighting and fill lighting illuminating her toes and making a conclusion on her skin tone an imprecise process to say the least.

For some reason he expects "Wendy" to be ancient and hideous and acts shocked then this isn't the case. On top of that in his "great expertise" he can't seem to see what I can see from a normal flat-screen monitor with no problem whatsoever.

As for the underwear ad, his "I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with it" line is telling. He has no idea what's wrong with it, but thinks somebody did a Photoshop Body Swap. The second woman from the right has a head that looks smaller than it should be, but so do the first, second and forth women from the left and the woman over the URL on the far right. This is most likely caused by the angle at which the photo was taken and not any sort of touching up.

I would be more than happy to highlight any of these things I noted in Photoshop for easier examination, but if you really look at the pictures and take a few moments to think about how photos are taken to begin with, you'll see that Mr. Harris either hasn't seen the images for loner than a few moments or is trying to jump on board of a hot story by feigning expertise. Either way, I know what re-toucher not to consider on my next design project...

Jason Koller

May 20, 2008 9:31 PM

I disagree with "Random". I've been in the business for years and agree with almost all of Mr. Harris's comments. Random, it's one thing to be in the business for years, and it's another to work on the high end jobs where one is forced to be able to see these things, which I'm guessing either you can't or that you maybe you work for Dove?


May 20, 2008 11:52 PM

How many of us have seen a person nude? Looked closely and studied the detail, the texture, the information present in the skin at any age. I do not know Wendy so I cannot judge her from a photograph. Perhaps the casting for the add was done with a pure mind. The only way to settle this is to release the film negative/transparency or the digital raw file. Photographs do not lie, as that is a human trait. They only convey an intention.


May 22, 2008 8:26 AM


In case you haven't noticed I pointed out the things Mr. Harris considered defects as still present. It's bizarre when someone who says he was in "the business" (an disingeniously amorphous term) for years is so upset with someone noticing defects. Which is what they're paid to spot and touch up. And then says that "being in the business for years" is irrelevant, it's all about "high end jobs." (Yet another obtuse and amorphous term.)

So let me get your point right. You agree with Mr. Harris because you've been in "the business" for years. But that doesn't matter, it's being in the high end job where you're forced to see "things." Not sure I understood why you qualified your commentary and then just as soon, disqualified it. And I'm not sure what things you're talking about. The spots, lumps, blemishes and lighting that film and video editors and graphic designers have to train themselves to spot? I didn't say I worked "in the business." I said I worked with graphic design. I did touching, re-touching, cutting, cropping, compressing, editing and even a few photo shoots. If you won't take time to look at the image and invoke (then disqualify for some odd reason in the next sentence) some sort of amorphous experience and then insist that I have some sort of hidden agenda and I'm an employee of Dove, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you didn't evaluate the images yourself for more than a few seconds.

You don't know what I do, who I work for or my level of experience with digital media so your comments on my employment and whether my evaluation is qualified or not are also taken out of nowhere. I could take the same stance with you and say that because you disagree you must be an employee of Mr. Harris. How do I know? I don't, I'm just poisoning the well. Same as you.


May 22, 2008 10:54 AM

After I have a pedicure, my feet look uniformly the same color, the heal doesn't have dead skin, and is no longer darker (i guess this is from the dryer tougher skin that is then removed).

I'm guessing the women had pedicures and manicures before the shoot and I don't consider that artificial.

I also just looked at my shins and there aren't any dents. I had a photo taken of me in the Wendy pose just to see, and while you can make a couple of veins out, I don't see a droopy but (i'm fatter than Wendy), nor any of the other things the first guy points out.

I think they picked someone who at 70 is in great shape and is generally very beautiful, gave her a pedicure and manicure, maybe a little body makeup and did the shoot. What's wrong with that?


May 23, 2008 12:55 PM

Given everything I have read about this
"Dove Campaign issue" with apologies to Shakespeare, its much ado about nothing. Thanks, Mary for your bona fide female body expert opinion. guys leave it alone.


November 29, 2008 8:55 PM

I have to say that this woman is totally drop dead gorgeous, irrespective of any consideration of age.

If age enters into the discussion at all, then all I can say is that I hope I photograph half as well as she (re-touched or not) at 70 (or even 60)

It is regrettable that any woman over 25 must be dissected and micro-analysed for appearing in a photograph.

Major kudos to Dove. You have my business (you had it anyway, but this campaign simply re-affirms my standing impression.)


January 1, 2009 8:41 PM

i think wendy looks great for 70. why do men think that women over the age of 60 is ugly.wendy is hot an i hope to look that good at 70


June 23, 2009 9:22 PM

Just like some kids don't want to stop believing in Santa Claus, some adults apparently don't want to believe that Dove mission is to sell products, not provide free feel-good therapy. Face it: if untouched photos had been used, not a single bottle of magic firming goop would have been sold.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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