Real Women/Fake Women

Published May 1, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I want to share a photograph with you all:


This one popped up on my Tumblr last week, and someone else posted a link to it via Twitter as well.  I have been able to find that the model’s name is Natasha Poly and the image is from a shoot by Mario Sorrenti for Vogue Paris.

I want to point out a few things about this photograph, from a high fashion magazine.  Because I believe that the woman in this photograph looks like a concentration camp victim with a fake tan.   Now before you get all angry about that statement, read the rest of this blog post.

I would never presume to comment on another woman’s body, or suggest that a thin woman is unhealthy or ugly or anything else derogatory.  But I am going to say it about this photograph, because what we’re looking at is NOT Natasha Poly in her natural state.  It is not the woman we are looking at, but a fashion magazine’s representation of her.  We’re not looking at a real woman any more in this case.

I want you to look carefully at the photograph.  I’ll point out a few things for you.

Let’s start with the rib cage area.  Can you see the the highlights in the fake tan to define each and every rib?  Look down her right arm.  See the white highlight again, to make her arm look thin?  You will also see them on her left shoulder, collarbone and cheek bone.  And the really worrying bit?  That wee fair spot right on her right hip bone.

It also has darker patches of tan in key places.  Under the cheek bone, between the V’s of her ribcage, on the inside of her thigh, inside of her arms and a streak down the outside of her left leg.

All of this is to make the model, who I am sure is beautiful on her own, look even thinner and taller than she actually is.

Now look at some of the angles of her body.  The angle where her right hip meets her leg.  Or her waist on her left, down to the bikini string.  Take a look at her right shoulder, lifted to her chin.  Now at her right armpit around her inner arm and to her breast.  Look carefully at her left collarbone.  And finally, have a look at the length of her right lower leg.

Can you see the evidence of photoshopping there?  How the parts of her body are out of proportion or at angles that don’t fit with other angles of her body.

And of course, there’s the lighting (both real and photoshopped) that highlights the bones in her body to almost skeletal detail.

Models are beautiful women and they’re the rare examples of human beings that are tall, slim and even featured.  They’re gorgeous, and that’s why they’re models.  But what is happening more and more overtly is the twisting of the features of women in photographs, due to make-up, lighting, tanning products and poses and due to post production work with Photoshop and the like.  Real women are being turned into these ideals that are wholly unreal, and as far as I’m concerned, freak shows.

This is why I believe we have to use the term “real women” – because what we’re being presented is not in any way real at all.

It’s horrifying that even the tall, slender, beautiful models aren’t good enough any more.  They have to be painted and manipulated into taller, thinner, more unobtainable standards that no human can emulate without doing some serious damage to themselves.

What’s next for fashion magazines?  Avatar style CGI work that in no way resembles a human being?

I believe we need to stop worrying about offending each other with talking about bodies in the media and whether they are too thin or too fat, and focus on the work that is being done to images of real women, regardless of their shape and size, that takes them from photographs of real women, to caricatures of women.  Because we women are not characters, we’re people, and we shouldn’t be sold what I think of as “lies of beauty”.  This is not beauty.  Beauty is human and flawed and varied.  It’s not a set of treatments in a photo editing programme.

This is being held up to young women as the beauty ideal.  Looking at images that have been “doctored” like this and expecting their own bodies to look like this if they just stick to that diet, just do some exercise is making women and girls both physically and emotionally sick.  This is one of the reasons why in western culture, girls with perfectly healthy bodies think that they are fat, and why so many boys and men have an unrealistic ideal of the female body.

We are being presented a fake version of womanhood with photos like the above.

Instead of bickering over what constitutes a real woman or not, let’s just draw the line in the sand – real is how any given woman is in the flesh so to speak, even those who have had cosmetic surgery (which I personally don’t believe in, but those who’ve had it are still real women, we didn’t make them up in our heads) or are transgender, and anything doctored, altered, adjusted, photoshopped, edited or airbrushed away from that is unreal/fake/false.

In the case of this example I’m sharing with you, Natasha Poly is a real woman – that image above is not.

I want to see real women in fashion, beauty, entertainment, marketing and the media.  Women that should I meet them face to face, what I see is what was on the page and/or screen, not the unedited version of something that they are not and that nobody could possibly be.

17 comments on “Real Women/Fake Women


    The “standard of beauty” in magazines is nothing short of fiction and a lie. Even the models themselves can be that thin or tall – they have to alter their natural beauty to look like something that is unobtainable. Pity.


    • Thanks Nor – it’s not just fiction… it’s fantasy fiction. Something that is outside of the realm of our world.

  • I think certain uses of the term “real woman” are very problematic, but I think you’ve nailed when it’s exactly the right time to use it.

    The issue isn’t that the model posing for the picture isn’t a “real woman.” She is. It’s that the image we’re being shown of her is NOT of a real woman.

    • Lori there is so much bickering over the term “real women” within the fatosphere in particular that it detracts from the general message we’re trying to get across.

      It’s crystal clear for me. If the woman is standing in front of someone she’s real. If it’s a doctored image (in any way), then it’s a fake.

  • Now that you’ve pointed all those things out, this picture really grosses me out. It’s like a funhouse mirror. Actually, it’s like in this spiderman video game my brother used to have when spiderman fights a villain in a funhouse and all these spidermen come out of the mirrors and they’re all amorphous and gloopy. blech. also, if they had just hired someone with some sort of artistic background, at least the legs would both be the same length!

    You’re right, that looks deformed.

    • The point is not that it’s gruesome though – it’s that it’s being held up to us as the “ideal” for women, and it’s an ideal that we can never, ever meet. The artistic merit isn’t the issue – it’s the fact that women are trying to emulate something that isn’t even real, because that’s what we’re told “beautiful” is.

      • yes, i do know that, actually, and in fact it’s part of the reason I’m grossed out. I focused on the gruesomeness because I started out thinking that picture was attractive, and then as you pointed out all those things that were wrong with it, it planted a seed of revulsion in me until I looked at that picture and wondered what I had been thinking. So that was foremost on my mind because it was kind of a miniature paradigm shift for me. Of course I recognize the social impact behind it; that’s part of what’s so gruesome about it, to me, because women do all sorts of terrible things to themselves in pursuit of an image that is not only unrealistic, it’s grotesque. I mean, seriously, what is up with her arm? it looks like what happens when you’re dehydrated and you pinch a fold of skin, and it doesn’t go back down like it should. Why would anyone want to look so seriously unhealthy?

        Ack. I keep going back to the picture itself because it grosses me out so much, but trust me, I do get what you’re saying.

  • It really is sad that women spend years and years of their life trying to be something that is just not achievable. No amount of dieting or exercise is going to satisfy them. It’s sad that so many women spend these years unhappy and unfulfilled when they shouldn’t. The amount of pain and desperation that goes hand in hand with this strive to be what the mags tell us we should be is so fucking ludicrous.

    The industry that produces these pics only does so, so you’ll feel like shit when you look in the mirror and see nothing like those pics so you’ll go out and spend the money you worked your arse off for on crap that won’t do shit. (Profanities, fuck yeah!)

    ughhhh, ~fashionable types~.

    • Profanities welcome here anytime (unless aimed at me!) Well, I’d let you get away with a FUCKIN’ AWESOME!

      And it’s not just the fashion industry. Everywhere – media, marketing, gossip, you name it.

  • Because I believe that the woman in this photograph looks like a concentration camp victim with a fake tan.

    I’m genuinely surprised that you feel this way about the this woman. I see a slender young woman who yes has been photoshopped but easily retains human form.

    Taking her body on it’s own terms-I notice the way her legs are quite solid for her build and even with the bones evident in her torso, you can still see a slight ‘double belly’ that many women are encouraged to flatten to nothing. Although she is leaning forward.

    The thing that invokes dislike in any visceral sense is the stupid peek a boo boob thing-crudely done.

    I understand your point about women seeking to imitate this body type, but I cannot quite understand why the seperation is not made between us and professionals doing a job.

    I’m just not convinced that it is the fashion industry, on it’s own has the power to police women into eating disorders and rigid emulation of this body type.

    I think that’s done more social and especially class mores and that there is an element of displacement and mis-direction about blaming the rag trade, because then people don’t have to examine the real causes such as the disemination of their own hysterical fat hatred.

    Look at the way crisis wallahs refuse to own the eating disorders mayhem they’ve sewn all around.

    The “real woman have curves” thing was I thought about working class/blue collar women saying, “if you have to work all hours, in and out of the home, you can’t live in the gym are going to look different from those who can” and that tends to be about class.

    It’s actually an answer, because of the latent questioning of these women and an expression of pride by them, as they are often grossly misrepresented by crisis dogma and many who should know better.

    I don’t even think it was about being fat, though yet again we are made to feel on the defensive about something that didn’t really come from us as such, in order to, yet again dis/prove something. Namely that we don’t hate thin people or whatever.

    Those “sensitive types” -often not sensitive enough not to snatch offense where none was intended and conflate that with rabid fat phobia, need to accept that we are being treated extra badly and stop trying to make us feel guilty about that.

    • I’m going to disagree with you here Wriggles. I think it’s a grotesque parody of a human form. Even the naturally slenderest of souls has flesh covering their bones – this image has pared that back until it is just skin over bone in parts of the body. Some parts of the image have been left alone because whoever has produced the image has deemed them “acceptable”. As for the belly… the shading under the navel so that it looks concave between the hip bones literally makes me feel ill. There’s nothing “double belly” about it – that’s shaded to look concave.

      The “slender young woman” that is the real model is beautiful on her own (a Google image search will show you lots of natural shots) without being turned into that caricature in the picture above.

      And you’re right – it’s not about being fat at all. It’s about never being good enough, even when you’re a stunning, tall, slender, fair, blonde, beautiful woman like Natasha Poly.

      I don’t understand how you can consider the work done on images like these as “professionals doing their job”. What images like these are doing is creating an ideal that is impossible, but keeps women reaching for their credit cards for snake oil treatments to get that way. It’s an unobtainable ideal that keeps women focusing on their bodies, their looks, their clothes, their beauty rather than living their lives happy, confident and strong.

      Nobody is commenting on the model herself – it is what has been done to her in this image that is an example of everything that is wrong with the current body politics and it’s impact on femininity in the western world today.

      Nor is anyone pointing the finger solely at the fashion industry. As per the post above, and I quote:

      “I want to see real women in fashion, beauty, entertainment, marketing and the media.”

      While we continue to allow the manipulation of bodies in all arenas to something they are not and could never be, we’re going to have women and girls trying to emulate them, which is only continuing the body hate and disordered thinking and behaviour that is not only messing up their lives, but literally killing them as they try to do it.

      • Okay, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I used to be very thin myself-when I was a very young child and yep, my ribs showed through some of my clothes.

        I find it interesting that she is Russian and it could be similar conditions to those which created say Twiggy’s ‘postwar’ physique.

        I know that we do emulate what we see, up to a point, but we also can separate from it too and respect our own bodies. It seems that we are finding it harder to do this, which is strange given feminist consciousness.

        In Japan, people didn’t become fat because they worshipped their Sumo idols. We are not these women and they are not us, they are professionals that serve a purpose and we are ourselves and have our own purpose.

        I cannot understand why women feel so lead around by these images unless they mean something to them, if not, we’d become disengaged from them and they’d become increasingly irrelevant.

  • I’ve seen photos of this model in a more natural setting (backstage and on the street), and she really is that emaciated. What makes me angry is that she didn’t start out that way. She really was considered a “curvier” model in the beginning of her career – but then she got popular. Slowly, she thinned down to the point where she’s at now – I rarely see a photo of her in a magazine where her ribs aren’t protruding. She’s a darling in the fashion word because of this new “figure.” I feel bad that she’s been reduced to this point in the name of some “ideal” in the fashion industry. I’m sure she’s being amply compensated with a six digit salary, but the impact of her work is damaging to the rest of us. It’s no surprise that Poly pops us in “pro-ana” communities – a simple Google search is pretty disturbing on that point.

    • I agree Body of Reason, she has whittled herself away over time (though I don’t agree she’s anything like what the above looks like) – but that’s a whole new topic for a whole new blog post.

    • Thanks Ashley. It’s not even subtle, but we’re shown it time and time again, so we kind of get dulled to how things are manipulated away from reality.

  • Actually Wriggles, even Twiggy herself has said that she would be considered fat by today’s modelling standards, but of course, in her day, photoshop wasn’t the standard for production in photography in fashion.

    But yet again, we’re not talking about the model herself, we’re talking about the distortion of the image of her.

    You might be able to divorce yourself from the images shown in the media, but most women can’t. You’re in a minority there and it’s unfair to assume that because it doesn’t affect you in that way, that others should just get past it.

    While I am able to divorce myself from the distorted reality being sold to us by all areas of media, marketing, fashion etc, but it has taken years of therapy, recovery from eating disorders and a whole lot of self esteem to get there. And it’s hard work to keep that momentum going forward. This blog is one of the tools I use to give myself, and hopefully by proxy other women who read it, a reality check about the lies we’re being sold by those agencies as to what women look like.

    Why do you think things like the pro-ana communites that Body of Reason mentions, the diet industry, and all the other things that we use to try to change our bodies to something they are not proliferate?

    Simply because women DO see these images and think that if they just diet some more, just exercise some more, just buy that shake/powder/pill that they will also be like that.

    And not to mention that feminism isn’t entirely forefront of many women’s minds, even today.

    I’m pleased that you have a healthy relationship with your own body, but the whole point of this post, and countless others I have read elsewhere, is that most of us don’t.

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