Former Victoria's Secret Photo Retoucher Shares Just How Fake It All Is

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
Image via Shutterstock

Anonymous photo retoucher blows the lid off the industry’s photoshopping methods

When you walk past Victoria’s Secret and are presented with giant posters of impossibly perfect women, it’s hard to keep in mind that most of it isn’t the real deal. Yet, it doesn’t stop some women from comparing themselves to that model and feeling less-than. It’s a reflex for a number of us and one photo retoucher decided to share her secrets about Victoria’s Secret in an effort to shed light on the truth of the industry.

See what I did there?

Refinery29 interviewed a former photo retoucher from the lingerie giant on condition of anonymity. “Sarah” used to work for Victoria’s Secret retouching photos and still does for other companies, although there are certain things she now refuses to do to images. She explains, “I know what I’m doing is wrong and that’s a huge part of why I’m not doing it full-time anymore.” She decided to expose the business of photo retouching so people can understand just how unreal it all is.

For starters, Sarah shares that the “retouching” starts before a single photo is taken. “The first thing they do is they put in hair extensions. I don’t think I ever was on a shoot with a model that had real hair.” Next come the shaping “chicken cutlets” for a model’s breasts along with other padding. “If you hold up the bathing suit in your own hand, it’s so heavy because they have all this shit sewed into it.”

As Refinery29 points out, the strangest alteration made before the camera starts to click is bras underneath the bathing suits. “They put a push-up bra under the bathing suit. And we retouch out the bra…a lot of [staffers] would complain because they even did it with strapless stuff. When you’re wearing a strapless bikini, in no way, shape, or form [can] you have cleavage. It’s physically impossible with the way gravity works.”

How many times have you tried on something strapless or a bathing suit in general hoping to have even a fraction of the cleavage the model in the window sports only to be sorely disappointed? I’m, um, “blessed” in that region and even I’ve found myself continually let down by how I look in a bathing suit versus how it looked on the website’s model. Nice to know there’s a concrete reason for that other than my sad Mom Boobs.

Then come the big guns. Sarah admits that both nipples and that padded bra are photoshopped out. She was also routinely asked to make breasts look less like actual breasts — to make them rounder, higher and more symmetrical. She says most models weren’t more than an A cup, which is another pleasant revelation as I’ve found myself cursing the gods that I wasn’t blessed with a 23-inch waist along with my DDs. For most very slender women, big, perky breasts aren’t part of the natural package. But the talent of photo retouchers has convinced millions of women that it’s not only possible, but relatively common.

Another thing you probably believe to be real is the unnaturally smooth underarms the models sport. I’ve taken selfies from a high angle after a recent pit shave and been frustrated that there’s still a shadow of gray, even though there’s no stubble. Sarah says the underarm area always looks gray in photos, even if there’s no hair. The armpits are retouched at VS and because of that, many models didn’t even bother shaving. “They come to these photo shoots and, like, they have their arms up in the classic beach pose, and they have, like, hairy armpits. They all have stubbly pubes — all the normal stuff [non-models have].”

I would give a lot to see the “before” photos of models with super hairy pits. I just feel like I need this.

Sarah also says they have to provide extra curves for the models. “Models are thinner than you actually think they are, and we retouch them to look rounder.” And as far as simply hiring curvier models? It won’t sell. She says Victoria’s Secret tried using models with different body types to no consumer response.

So in the end, it’s the consumer that dictates what companies put into print and with the exception of Aerie, who famously swore off retouching a few years ago to positive financial result, most won’t bother because it simply won’t make them money. We speak with our dollars, and as long as Victoria’s Secret sees a profit using incredibly unrealistic images, they have no reason to stop.

Though that may sound bleak, it’s still wonderful that “Sarah” shared this information. It’s not like it’s some huge surprise that they photoshop, but hearing the details might go a long way toward shushing the voice in our head that says we need to look that insanely perfect.

Because as we now know, not even the models do.

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