We’re all guilty of trying to showcase our best life on social media — whether that means traveling an hour out of our way to capture our OOTD in front of a trendy mural or forcing our bestie to take a million selfies before finally capturing the perfect one to post. But for CEO of Darling Sarah Dubbeldam, there’s a difference between curating an aesthetically pleasing Instagram theme and retouching every aspect of your face and body. As advocates for natural beauty, the executives at Darling made the amazing decision to no longer retouch the bodies or skin of any of the models in their magazine. Now, Darling has partnered with American Eagle’s Aerie to create a YouTube series and forthcoming documentary about the hidden dangers of retouching — and the battle for self-esteem that happens every day on our smartphones. We recently got the chance to catch up with Dubbeldam and chat about all things social media, photo retouching, and self-confidence. Enjoy the full interview below!
Brit + Co: How did you first decide on Darling‘s no-retouching policy?
Sarah Dubbeldam: It was really a moment of profound realization for me. I was having a meeting with my staff and I looked around the table at each and every one of them — all beautiful and amazing women by the way — and realized that not ONE of them had perfect skin, no wrinkles or scars or redness… and I said: “This is how we all look in this very moment; none of us look like the Photoshopped images in magazines, so why should we be adjusting reality as the women behind a magazine with the intent of healing women from the pressure to be perfect?” And then we all decided in that moment to never digitally alter the bodies or skin of the people in our magazine. (Photo via Darling Media)
B+C: In your own words, why do you believe that photo retouching has a profoundly negative effect on women’s self-esteem?
SD: I believe it’s negative because when it boils down to it, it’s a lie, and lies in life never produce anything real, lasting, or healing — lies always bring deception, shame, and regret. And since as humans we are so visual, it’s really hard, no matter how strong your mind is, to divorce the pressure to be perfect from what you’re constantly taking in with your eyes. Women are hard enough on themselves as is — apart from seeing perfect images — so it only adds insult upon insult to be presenting “perfect” images that make them think about the “real” things about themselves that should be “altered.”
B+C: Can you describe your partnership with Aerie and what inspired you to create the “Self(i.e.)” campaign?
SD: Our partnership with Aerie is a dream come true for me. I’d been waiting for so long to find a large brand that would also take a stand on this issue, so when I realized that their internal team genuinely cared about the well-being of women like we do at Darling, it was magic. We’d been creating content together for about a year, so when we opened Darling Studios, the natural progression was to do something in video together. I had always wanted to do a feature-length documentary about the facts of retouching and its effects on women of all ages, so we were ecstatic to tackle the project together!
B+C: What is the difference between filters and retouching? Would you consider something like the “soft wash” or “flower crown” Snapchat filters problematic?
SD: Some filters only change the color tone of the image or adjust the contrast and light balance, but they aren’t capable of changing the surface of the skin or the shape of the face. But some of these Snapchat filters are definitely problematic because they are getting rid of blemishes or smoothing the skin entirely — which is presenting an untrue reality of yourself, which again is a deeper-rooted issue.
B+C: With the rise of fashion blogging, Instagram modeling, and big brands using social media for their primary advertisement platforms, it’s clear that social media as an industry is encountering the same retouching phenomenon that print media has encountered for years. Have you witnessed this trend? How do you think these influencers and big brands are using and abusing retouching practices on social media?
SD: Yes, I have witnessed this trend. No matter the artistic medium, any place that people are presenting themselves will be subject to the aspect of insecurity in self-image. I know some brands that are less about retouching and some that abuse it, and the same with influencers. The funny thing is though, I think it’s so obvious from the outside when you see this porcelain-like skin in every single photo, and the conversation around the issue is elevating. There is a growing trend toward authenticity and showing the “real” you, so I hope that only escalates.
B+C: How has this industry trend of retouching eventually trickled down to the everygal who is just using social media as a tool to connect with their friends and family?
SD: It has trickled down because the power now lies in the hands of the everygal. Before, retouching was only done by professionals; now, you can not only alter yourself through a plethora of apps; you can buy a phone and set it to a “beauty level,” and it will retouch you without you lifting a finger. It’s a temptation for every woman because deep down we all want to be our best and ideal self, but until we realize that the solution lies far beyond altering ourselves, we will be stuck in this negative cycle. (Photo via Getty)
B+C: We’re sooo thankful to hear that there’s actually some good news to share. More celebrities, media companies, big brands, and even stock image hubs are refusing to retouch their photos than ever before. Do you believe that this is causing a disruption in the social media industry? What are some of the effects we are seeing from this shift in perspective, and how can we ask our favorite brands to jump on board?
SD: YES! I am so encouraged by this as well. And YES, it’s causing a huge disruption — it’s making it cool to be authentic, real, and satisfied with yourself, and fake to be perfect. I see women every day releasing themselves from this pressure and posting encouraging, raw images and captions on social media. I see people starting to wake up to the weight we’ve been under as women for so long and fight back. I think we should continue as individuals to do our best to be our most authentic selves and call brands to meet us there as consumers of their product.
B+C: Finally, what are some ways that the everygal can fight the stigma that retouching is normal? Give us some homework!
SD: First, we have to believe that it’s NOT normal, which comes by educating ourselves on the actual process and tools used (watch Self(i.e.) for a real picture of it!). Second, we need to check our motivations, which comes through asking questions such as: Why am I posting this photo? Is it to get affirmation that I need right now? Is it because I don’t feel pretty today? Is it to encourage someone else or brighten their day? Is it to make someone else jealous? Am I my true self in this image? Why am I feeling pressured to fix something about myself, and where is that coming from? Lastly, be kind to yourself and remember that every woman fights her own mental battles about her personality and body… so we need to come together through corporate encouragement and ban comparison. Just because another woman is beautiful doesn’t negate your own beauty — practice saying: “Yes, she’s beautiful, but so am I.”