Photo-altering apps a 'rabbit-hole' for young girls, Teen Vogue editor says

Elaine Welteroth tells Sydney writers’ festival she once tried photoshopping herself, but the desire for adjustments was never-ending

Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth has called photo editing apps and Photoshop a “rabbit hole” for young people, which can be damaging to their self-esteem – “especially now when plastic surgery is somehow an option for a lot of young people”.

Speaking with Slate’s editor-in-chief Julia Turner at the Sydney writers’ festival on Friday, she admitted to trying do-it-yourself photoshopping one time herself, downloading the Facetune app, which allows users to easily digitally alter their selfies and photographs: “I had to take it off my phone because I fixed something on my face ... and then I wanted to fix something on my nose, and then – you just get down this rabbit hole and you start hating yourself. And you’re like, ‘How did I get here? I felt really good like 10 minutes ago’,” she said.

“I do think that the desire to permanently alter your body is triggered by this easy access to Photoshop on your phone.”

Welteroth became the first African American beauty editor in Conde Nast’s history when she started at Teen Vogue four and a half years ago. Last year, the 29-year-old became the youngest editor in the publication’s history; and in April, she was promoted to editor-in-chief.

The magazine changed strategy about 18 months ago, broadening its coverage to politics and social issues. This shift got widespread media attention in December, after a political commentary from freelance writer Lauren Duca, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America”, went viral.

Did not expect this exegesis of gaslighting and its relationship to current day politics from Teen Vogue https://t.co/cwNhZ6wvJH

— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) December 10, 2016

She said the widespread surprise that the article generated showed how “grossly underestimated” teenage girls were. “It’s only shocking to the uninitiated that Teen Vogue would have the audacity to be political and style focused ... This is a tradition that existed well before Teen Vogue,” Welteroth said. Teen Vogue sold more magazines in December than it did in the entire year.

While the teen magazine is “very careful about retouching” young girls, particularly on their covers, Welteroth said it could be a double-edged sword.

“Recently – and I won’t name who – but we did put a celebrity on our cover who we lightly retouched, as we would with any other cover. And then we got the phone calls from her – their – agent, who was like, ‘Why wasn’t this retouched more? We need this to be retouched!’ You can’t win for losing. If we had retouched her more, then we would have, you know, been dragged on the internet.”

In 2012, a 14-year-old girl accrued 25,000 signatures on a petition to ban photo alterations from Seventeen magazine, leading to a promise from the editors not to alter girls’ faces or bodies. A few months later, a 16-year-old and 17-year-old started their own petition to Teen Vogue, and staged a mock runway show outside the publication’s offices in protest of “the digitally enhanced, unrealistic ‘beauty’ we see in the pages of magazines.”

“We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty,” they wrote on Change.org.

Welteroth, who was not working at the publication at the time of the protest, said on Friday: “[Teen Vogue has] always been very careful about retouching; our creative director has a very firm stance on it, even makeup. She doesn’t really like to use a lot of makeup on young girls on our covers, and retouching is very, very light ... we’re talking to young girls and our job is to show them, to represent them.”

That responsibility extended to body shape, she said, citing the magazine’s first “plus-sized” fashion shoot. “We didn’t call it that; it was just a beautiful back-to-school fashion shoot. It was amazing actually showing that to Anna [Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue], getting her blessing – again, not knowing how it would be perceived, and Anna loved it. And she said, ‘We should be doing more of this’. So that was great.”

The panel was attended by a mostly younger audience, who asked some of the day’s best questions. One question related to the #askhermore hashtag, which celebrities and others have been using to protest against the vacuous questions about clothes and beauty levelled at successful women on red carpets – but which has been criticised for diminishing the value of fashion as a force of self-expression.

“I really don’t like Ask Her More,” Turner said, laughing. “It’s like, it’s Oscars night, I wanna hear about her dress. Ask her more some other time!”

“To each her own,” Welteroth said. “If you feel that it diminishes your intelligence to be asked about your fashion choices for an evening on the red carpet, so be it. It’s your prerogative to say, ‘I’d like if you could move on to the next question’ – and then certainly the reporter [will hopefully] have another question to ask.

“But you know, I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of about being a woman who loves fashion. Fashion is a vehicle for self-expression, it tells the world who you are and how you want to be seen. If you use it as a canvas for creativity, then you might want to talk about it, you know? And I fully embrace that.”

Sydney writers’ festival continues until Sunday 28 May

Contributor

Steph Harmon

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rabbit Hole burrows into our ideals
David Cox: As this psychologically accurate child-loss drama suggests, the nuclear family isolates the grieving when they most need support

David Cox

07, Feb, 2011 @1:39 PM

Article image
Andrew Solomon: 'Figuring out how to love someone who seems unlovable is very familiar to me'

The books interview: Andrew Solomon, winner of the Wellcome prize, talks to Hadley Freeman about the people who helped him write Far From the Tree, and how their struggles inspired him to start a family of his own

Hadley Freeman

01, May, 2014 @2:49 PM

Article image
Jessica Friedmann: 'I was opening a door into a world I always knew was there'
In our series Beauty and the books, we chat to those who love both books and beauty products. Here author Jessica Friedmann talks about vitamin B serum, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and her hunt for a new red lipstick

Interview by Bridie Jabour

17, May, 2017 @2:41 AM

Article image
Don't feed the trolls: a survival guide for teen girl writers
Clementine Ford, Nakkiah Lui and other writers sit down with school-aged girls to share what they know about persevering, handling harrassment, and empathy

Brigid Delaney

23, Jun, 2016 @7:21 AM

Article image
‘I was 23 and a Vogue editor when I fostered an orphan girl’
When young fashion magazine editor Lisa Lovatt-Smith fostered a five-year-old girl in Paris, her friends and family thought she was crazy. Here, she looks back on a relationship which has changed both their lives

Lisa Lovatt-Smith

23, Nov, 2014 @9:30 AM

Article image
Bikinis on young girls – why is that a problem? | Natalie Cox
Natalie Cox: Surely the problem is not Gwyneth Paltrow's bikinis for pre-teens but a social association of skin exposure with sexual availability

Natalie Cox

25, Apr, 2013 @3:18 PM

Article image
‘Put down our chisels and pick up our watering cans’: how to raise girls in a challenging world
Appearing at Guardian Australia’s Zoom book club, authors Kasey Edwards and Madonna King shared their research and wisdom with Lucy Clark

Natasha May

19, Feb, 2021 @6:43 AM

Article image
Linda Jackson: When I was young, I wanted to be everything
The artist and designer on buying too many Japanese martial arts movies, the debt she owes her parents, and the power of family

Alexandra Spring

28, Oct, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
All the trains in my son’s train podcast ranked by how much I hate them | Ben Jenkins
Living in lockdown with small children means distracting them with the same thing, over and over again, until you – like Ben Jenkins – are driven insane

Ben Jenkins

23, Jul, 2021 @2:42 AM

Article image
Odette: I hadn't read many books with a young strong female character
For our series Beauty and the books, the singer-songwriter discusses her love of Keats and why she’s glad to be giving up mixing her own foundation

Interview by Alexandra Spring

10, Jan, 2018 @11:23 PM