Your fake face forward

Published: January 24, 2012

Mega fashion brand H&M admits to using images of models so perfect that they do not even exist - literally. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

How often have you walked passed a store window, flipped through the pages of a magazine or fashion catalogue and thought to yourself:

“Why can’t I look like that model?”

While the fashion industry’s role in promoting unrealistic body images of women and girls is nothing new, and appears to only worsen every year, mega fashion brand H&M, the second largest retailer in the world, has taken things to an entirely new level by using images of models so perfect that they apparently do not even exist – literally.

That’s right. The models themselves do not exist.

That is because last year, H&M was forced to admit that they routinely use fake computer generated bodies, photo-shopping the heads of real models onto them. Not that the retailer was embarrassed by this revelation. In fact after the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet exposed H&M, the retailer responded by pointing out that the procedure was ‘commonplace’ in the fashion industry.

Feminist author Natasha Walter explains why this phenomenon is dangerous even if consumers know the images in the fashion world are fake:

“What’s so extraordinary about the H&M models is that everybody would just accept it. That says something about how normal it has become to use artificial images of women. We just brush past them. The worrying thing is it gets into your head, particularly the heads of young women.”

The scary part about this whole scandal is that it is persisting despite having horrific impacts on the body images of women and girls across the board, with the ages of girls trying out diets getting younger and younger. The UK’s Guardian even reports that 35 per cent of girls, aged six to 12 years, have been on at least one diet, and that 50 to 70 per cent of normal weight girls believe they are overweight.

However, could this new revelation – that the fashion houses’ ideas of how women’s bodies are supposed to look, are so unrealistic that they have to use technology to create the physique they want to sell their clothing – present a positive spin for women around the world?

The Huffington Post points out:

“This illustrates very well the sky-high aesthetic demands placed on the female body… just another sign that models should not be looked to as examples of ideal physiques.”

While that could be a positive way to look at the images, the fact is that we are still being sold an image of how our bodies are supposed to look that can only be created by our computers. No amount of dieting or gym time can change that, not even dear Mother Nature.

So even if huge global retailers like H&M admit they use fake model bodies because the aesthetic they are looking for literally does not exist, it does not change the fact that the images are still being sold as an ideal for women and girls to reach for. We are still being told that this is the image we should strive to look like, that this is an ideal, even if it is fake. At the end of the day, the message sent to female consumers is the same.

The fact remains that retailers have determined how the female body should look for too long. I think it is time for us to reverse this reality and have fashion brands use real women to market to real women. Decades of damage to the health of countless women and girls cannot be undone, but we must change the course moving forward.

Take note fashion world and press ‘delete’ on those computer generated model heads. Women have enough on their plate when it comes to delivering society’s expectations of them. Admitting that it is unrealistic is only a very tiny step in the right direction.


Anushay Hossain

Anushay Hossain

A Bangladeshi born, Washington based author of Anushay's Point and columnist for Forbes Woman, Huffington Post, Ms. Magazine. She tweets @AnushaysPoint

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Faraz Talat

    Reminds of a popular joke:

    If athletes can’t use steroids to enhance their performance, models can’t use photo-editing to enhance their beauty. Both are unfair means to advance in your career!Recommend

  • M.Aswad Mehatb

    The Only Fairness Product that works 100% is Photoshop. PeriodRecommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    For real faces to see early in the morning by fajar time aaaahhhhhRecommend

  • Parvez

    Does the everyday female really see this as an issue or is it an issue devised by creative writers to have something to write about ? Recommend

  • Hypocritical

    First, the author needs to understand the difference between fashion and the consumer based glamour world.
    Secondly, using photoshop in advertisements is not something new and the proposal to get rid of it is next to impossible, quite honestly that’s exactly the whole idea behind it. For you it’s the ‘fake’ side but for those in the business it’s a product that is bound to do better.

    The moral argument that it’s brainwashing young girls isn’t strong for me because quite honestly that’s exactly what most girls do – trying to look perfect – perhaps a law of nature since the homo sapiens?Recommend

  • SA

    Thanks Anushay, you’ve made us feel better :)Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I’m so tired of people saying “my natural look” like that’s something sacred. Yes, you’re doing humanity such a massive favour with your all-natural bootha, unlike that person who went the extra mile to look good.

    The modelling industry is based on superficial beauty, and that beauty doesn’t have to be an accident of birth! Hence the make-up, surgery, photo-editing etc..Recommend

  • from India

    radiant glow is more important, which you can easily achieve by regular exercise and healthy diet …rest are god-given and should not be altered artificallyRecommend

  • Lamss

    Unfortunately it does become an issue!Recommend

  • Vigilant

    I think using computer generated models is good for Men in line to get married….. :) more higher standards of physical appearance……more beautiful women to choose…. ;p …’s simple rule if your target is 90 out of 100 marks you will achieve 80……higher standards means more better results……. :) Recommend

  • Atta

    its not just women actually but human beings both men and women are put in a position of accepting unrealistic and non-existing image of ‘beauty’, ‘smartness’ ofbeinng handsome or ‘attractive’
    we’ve let the marketing departments decide for us and define for us ‘ideals’ which don’t even exist, its truely a psychological treachery and theft that we leave ourselves to be victim of.Recommend

  • the daughter

    trust me it does matter. the question does arise in every girls mind no matter how secure they may be…. why cant i look a bit more like XYZ. its human nature. realists accept it as a fact of life and move on. Recommend

  • Aakasa

    @Faraz Talat:
    Considering natural ‘bootha’?
    But you guys are the ones that go ‘aaaahhh…tight’ when you see a model walking a ramp rather than that girl next door who dresses in shalwar kameez and only washes her face before going out excluding the mascara, gloss, foundation, etc. (phew..whatever those cosmetics industry brought to loot my innocent damsels)Recommend

  • Aakasa

    For women makeup is a religion so deter thinking that they’ll give up!
    This is not Eve’s land people !Recommend

  • Syme

    The height and weight ratio (BMI) is almost always out of proportion in case of Pakistani males and female. The whole idea is flawed, I think. Obesity is a big issue but its treated as a non issue just like the population explosion. The trousers aka Shalwars have either cord or elastic, whatever the case, if you put on some extra inches of fat, you can always tie the cord loosely so, you never notice the obesity until its too late.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Lamss & @the daughter – OK, I hear you. Recommend

  • Red

    Maybe men may not notice (but I’m sure they do) but women wear fitted kameezen. I assure you that if I so much put on a pound I notice it instantly. You can’t get fat and fit into your very fitted old clothes, or if you made them a bit loose, you can clearly tell you’re filling them out now. I feel everyone is quite aware of their weight. The problem is not that they are unaware that they are fat till it’s too late. The problem is that it is not considered bad to be fat after marriage for both men and women. The problem, with regards to women particularly, is also the absence of physical activities. I never had anything resembling sports in my school growing up (it was all-girls) and, as a child who loved playing sports, I was very bitter about the fact. Forget school. There is no concept of sports after university for women. Period. Especially team sports. The culture of enabling and encouraging women to take part in physical activities is missing. It is as if women grow up not knowing that they too can be active and sporty. In general too, Pakistan lacks a culture that values exercise. How many times have you seen someone running or bicycling on the road (and I don’t mean because they have to)? Add to that all the ghee se lada hua khana and, viola, instant obesity as soon as you reach an age where your metabolic rate slows down.

    On a side note, I swear if another aunty tells me she used to weigh 98 pounds when she got married I shall puke. The number is pretty constant. 98 pounds. If it’s true (just looking around at the wide variety of weights young women have, I sincerely doubt every woman weighs 98 pounds at marriage), you were underweight, maybe even anorexic, when you got married woman! Not something to be proud of. And I wonder why people live in the past so much anyways? What about now? And about the future? Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Hahahahahaha…… :) …..well said “aaaahhh….tight” we must change our attitude as we all are imperfect….Recommend

  • a 54321

    everyone makes a fuss about how ‘overweight’ girls feel bad because of how thin models are and the media and blah blah and how those curvy girls are ‘real women’. well id liek to point out that even skinny girls are real women. naturally skinny girls, girls with eating disroders, whatever, THEY ARE STILL REAL WOMEN. ok? ok :)Recommend

  • Faraz Talat


    The cosmetic industry provides a service to people, just like everybody else.

    Some people pay an extra buck to get a more delicious steak at a restaurant. Some pay an extra buck to look prettier.

    You may use this facility or not, that’s entirely up to you. Neither decision should be responded with judgement or criticism by the society.Recommend

  • Aakasa

    No doubt we should! We need to get a whip from AL-fresco now.
    ‘aaahhh…tight’ is just nothing, ask a Pakistani girl who has to go through a ‘x ray’ once she steps out with or without makeup. My friend once told me in a typical Pakistani tone ‘yahan har material chalta hai’.Recommend

  • Aakasa


    No doubt they get under the banner of mere notions but again what bugs me is that why are women who do avoid such facilities looked down?
    People can never stop being judgmental.Recommend