By Sean Carroll | December 21, 2005 12:20 pm

Retouching Via Marginal Revolution, a link to the Girl Power campaign of the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Click here and wait for it to load; it’s a Flash demonstration of how you turn a photo of an (already attractive) young woman into magazine-cover material.

The campaign is supposed to draw attention and criticism to the overly sexualized nature of advertising and the media more generally. It suffers a bit from the self-undermining impulse of many such campaigns, by itself relying on overly sexual imagery to get attention. But it’s nice to help people distinguish media fantasy from reality.

Update: the site was also linked at Feministe, who point to a couple of other examples — Greg’s Digital Archive and Glenn Feron.

  • Dissident

    Splendid example of state propaganda knocking itself out. Needless to say, pushing this or that ideology (e.g. feminism) on the citizenry is not a legitimate use of tax money. And then people doubt that Sweden is going to hell in a handbasket…

    P.S. Sean, what are you doing hanging out on Swedish sites featuring scantily clad blondes? 😉

  • citrine615

    How much reason does it take to outweigh atavistic responses??

  • Dissident

    Dear citrinze615, would you be happy if your tax money weer used to push, let’s say, Intelligent Design? Or maybe fundamentalist Islam, complete with man’s superiority over women? No? Then why do you approve of tax money being used to push ideologies which you agree with?

    When the state gets into the propaganda business, it goes from being the citizen’s servant, as it should be, to being the citizen’s master. Upon further consideration, you may realize that authoritarian rule is a pretty steep price to pay for a feminist campaign, no matter how dearly you happen to embrace feminist views.

  • Richard

    Dissident, you are Swedish, aren’t you? I have long suspected so. Zurich? 😉

  • Richard

    But seriously, if it’s not ok for a government to use tax money to try to push their ideas, then why is it then ok when a libertarian government uses its power to push their ideology by decreasing taxes and telling people to get a job or suit yourself? Or when a social democratic government does the opposite based on their ideology?

    What’s the difference?

  • Dissident

    Political parties and/or candidates push ideologies. Elected officials implement them. These are two fundamentally different things which need to be kept separate for democracy to survive. That’s why there are laws regulating freedom of expression, campaign financing and the use of public facilities for political purposes (e.g. making it illegal for Al Gore to solicit Democratic campaign contributions using a White House phone, if you remember). Without them, the ruling party can occupy the state, approprating its resources, and become almost impossible to remove from power. That’s what did Sweden in.

  • Richard

    Well, I’ll give you that – the other political parties in Sweden are kinda not on the map. A bit like the liberal democrats in the UK.

    You are right about how it should work. And sure, I would be very upset if they were pushing fundamentalist anything. But I’m not upset about this campaign because I agree with the idea. I guess that makes me a hypocrit.

  • Sean

    Okay, enough threadjacking for the day. Further comments about governments pushing ideologies will be silently deleted; that’s just the heavy-handed crypto-Communist way we work around here. Those who chafe under our paternalistic meddling are encouraged to run off and start yer own blog. It will be hugely popular, I promise.

  • Dissident

    OK Sean, but… hmmm… what ARE we supposed to be discussing in this thread, exactly?

  • citrine615

    Then why do you approve of tax money being used to push ideologies which you agree with?


    Nowhere in my post did I say that I agree with the ideology. I was merely questioning the effort to use reason to counter what seems to appeal to many human beings.

  • Eugene

    Why do people find such touched-up pictures (even if they didn’t know they were retouched) attractive? To me, they are all a bit Barbie-doll fakish to the point of being a turn-off. (I thought the non-retouched girl in the picture is more attractive than the retouched girl.)

    But, don’t listen to me, I hate make-up of all kinds. So there.

  • Dissident

    #10: Sorry citrine615; since your post appeared four minutes after mine, I thought “atavistic responses” was a reference to it. I guess we could have an interesting discussion about what’s most atavistic, disliking authoritarianism or liking retouched blondes, but I dare not challenge the Wrath of Sean any further tonight (whimper).

  • Maynard Handley

    “Why do people find such touched-up pictures (even if they didn’t know they were retouched) attractive?”

    Well duh. This is something as old as the hills. You make art that shows an especially attractive woman (or man) by stripping out the “masculine” aspects of the model and pumping up the female aspects, to get something that is essentially 150% female (or vice versa). This has been going on since at least the Chola bronzes of India (11th century CE) which not only do this with respect to the physical bodies of the sculptures, but also with respect to their posing, which is, once again, taking the difference between how female and male bodies can move and pushing it to beyond what is physically possible.

    I’m not going to comment on the issue of whether or not worrying about magazine covers is a sensible use of swedish govt funds, but lets not
    (a) pretend this is some new pathology of the 20th century
    (b) pretend that the results are not successful. Yes the original model was cute, but I am happy to admit that I find the touched up model even more attractive. If you want to claim that I am evil for finding this type of art successful in its intentions, go ahead, but don’t expect me or most of the rest of the world to take you seriously.
    Neither is it especially useful to move from this claim to some blanket statement about how “men hate their womenfolk bcs they don’t look as hot as magazine covers” without providing a whole lot of evidence for this claim.

  • Jane

    Sex sells and that is the way it is.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    Classic example of Baudrillard’s hyperreality.

  • Pyracantha

    will they do this for women scientists too?

  • citrine

    This is a rather unusual posting, but on the topic of the media (and society in general) overwhelming validating only one “model” of femininity, I believe that the following book needs to get more publicity:

    Carrie Pilby (Red Dress Ink (Numbered Paperback)) (Paperback)
    by Caren Lissner

    Now that Christmas is just around the corner and if you are still looking for a gift for a cerebral teenage girl, I suggest this book. (Disclaimer – I do not benefit in any way from the sales of this book. I really enjoyed reading it and have taken upon myself to give it more publicity.)

  • Dissident

    Here’s an observation about that image which even Sean may have a hard time disagreeing with: because of the way it’s constructed, finding it more attractive than the original is actually quite healthy. Why? Because the original turns out to be not a woman, but a 14 year old child. The modifications which have the largest impact on my perception at least – making the nose thinner, removing frontal shadows, adding a lateral one to make the cheekbone more pronounced, making the jawline more defined, removing acne typical of the early teens, pumping up the breasts – all amount to turning that child into a young woman in her late teens to early twenties.

    Now, I don’t know about Swedish feminists, but normal men do indeed find young women more attractive than children. Should we really be sorry?

    Corollary: if that cover had actually been a commercial production, a competent photographer would have selected a woman rather than a child model, and saved most of the retouching work demonstrated in the download. Never trust state propaganda.

  • Suz

    1. Isn’t her head too big for her body? (i.e. the Photoshop job is kind of obvious)
    2. I just don’t get it. How does this draw attention to the issue or help girls with their images?

  • Suz

    Ok, I commented prematurely. I understand the point is to show how an image is retouched so girls realize the images they see on magazine covers aren’t real.

  • Dissident

    #19: Yes, or rather, the lower part of the body looks disproportionately small, because she was given a more adult body shape (larger hip/waist ratio) by reducing the waist only. That should have been followed up by enlarging the whole thing a bit. The way she is now, if I met her on the street I’d probably think “transvestite?”.

    #20: But the example is really, really bad (i.e. artificial) since most of the modifications would not have been needed had they simply used a model of the right age. The result is not all that sensational either. Given half an hour to walk around campus, Clifford could probably take snapshots of 5-10 better looking women with that ubiquitous camera of his. 😉

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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