#914 Retouchgate – the Sarah Murdoch cover

Image /The Australian Women’s Weekly

The biggest news story flying around Australia over the last week has been the gargantuan controversy that is Sarah Murdoch choosing to grace the cover of pre-eminent high culture magazine The Australian Women’s Weekly with no airbrushing. Her reason – “I think when I’m retouched in photographs it’s worse, because when people see me in real life they go, ‘Oh God, isn’t she old?'” First of all, it must be noted that Sarah Murdoch is not old. She’s 37. Second, she once teetered on the brink of supermodel-dom – in her career Murdoch starred in campaigns for L’Oréal, Revlon, Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent and Estée Lauder, and featured on the covers of Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar (thanks Wikipedia). Did I mention she’s married to Rupert Murdoch’s son? The point I’m making is that when a (still reasonably young) former quasi-supermodel chooses to pose untouched on the cover of a magazine, they’re probably not taking quite the same risk as another non-beauty queen type lady. Imagine if she’d gone with no retouching and no makeup. Now that would be taking a stand.

You want to see real ballsy no retouching? Check out the Mark Sainsbury’s busbacks for Close Up – not a pore is left unseen.

I’m in two minds about retouching. First of all, magazines are supposed to be aspirational. I want to see beauty and perfection. I don’t want to be looking at a close up of someone’s face and see their pimples or the food in their teeth or a dark shadow above the upper lip of an otherwise pretty lady. Women’s Weekly covers are obviously targetting an older female demographic who would most probably have wrinkles, but the same goes for teen magazines – all their cover stars are airbrushed to the point of flawless, poreless skin. Does it make people feel insecure and bad about themselves? Possibly, but those same people are still probably going to feel bad when movie stars and models are more attractive and slimmer than them without the retouching right? Some people are just born to be really, really, ridiculously good looking.

On the flipside, I’m not a fan of overcooking the image. You can go too far. Sometimes you’ll look at a picture of someone’s face that’s been so photoshopped it doesn’t even look like skin anymore.

I contacted Delaney Tabron from NO Magazine for her two cents on retouching cover stars. She said,

“I think it is incredibly irresponsible of magazines to retouch people beyond recognition. I do very minimal retouching on No to remove pimples and temporary blemishes but that’s all. I think ‘imperfections’ make people unique and beautiful. I was once publically criticised for not removing hair on Katy Perry’s fingers on the cover of Issue 4 – God forbid a woman should have hairy knuckles. It’s sad that the media often perpetuates an unrealistic standard of beauty. There is nothing interesting about a world full of people who look like they have skin made of molded plastic.”

Should more models grace the covers of magazines untouched? Sure, maybe they should, it would probably make a nice change to see some flaws once in a while, but then again, most models I know have stupidly good skin anyway.

I’m interested to know if anyone’s challenged the untouched claim of the Sarah Murdoch cover? If you ask me, the skin is a little too perfect and the teeth are a little too white. What 37 year old doesn’t have a single line on their forehead? I’m 25 and I already have heaps.

Either way, respect must be given to Sarah Murdoch and The Australian Women’s Weekly for bravely voyaging into such unchartered waters.


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  1. k says

    I challenge the ‘untouched’ claim. I wonder to what extent the phrases ‘no airbrushing’ or ‘retouching’ reach? I definitely think they have been enhanced digitally. She may not have had her wrinkles taken out, but I’m pretty sure someone’s playing with levels/curves. But maybe that doesn’t come under the umbrella of ‘retouching’? Or maybe it’s just good lighting?

    Very mysterious.

    I love the way they use ‘all natural covershoot’ when clearly she has makeup on.

  2. Gen says

    She might very well not have a line on her forehead – botox anyone? (that said she obviously hasn’t had her crow’s feet done) I’m with you Isaac, a bit here and there doesn’t, hurt but over egging the soufflé is stupid and superfluous, e.g. the Jessica Alba Campari pics: http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2008/12/jessica_albas_waist_hips_whitt.html

    Having worked in the magazine industry and seen final covers vs actual models (especially for a certain sector of non fashion mags) I sometimes wonder why they even bother booking models (especially on retainer). Why not just grab a half decent looking journo from a nearby newsroom and photoshop the sh*it out of her.

  3. says

    Pretty sure it’s not botox, this is from the WW article:

    She said she wonders what young women who get Botox will look like when they’re older.

    “It makes me mad that we can’t embrace the beauty of ageing, because we’re all going to do it.”

    Her husband would be “horrified” if she ever did anything to her face, she said.

    “It’s women competing against women, they’re not doing it for their husbands.

    “It’s because their best friend doesn’t have as many lines as they have, maybe.

    “God forbid if I ever do decide to do something!”

  4. Leonie says

    I think the most telling point about this whole story is the fact that at the “ceremonial unveiling” of the cover,(puhleeze) which featured a 6 foot tall poster of the thing, Sarah was embarrassed, giggling and trying to stand in front of it to cover the bits she didn’t want seen…That sends a clear message to the rest of us that growing older is not only something acceptable but beautiful. No? No!

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