But I Need My Kneecaps

As written for The Daily Dose on MSN

Over at Forever 21, they’re whacking kneecaps. Not like they might on The Sopranos, mind you, but in a manner suited to the more vicious realm of women’s fashion.

As Buzzfeed has noted, the apparel retailer is altering images of women’s legs in shorts and skirts to remove the apparently unsightly gathering of skin on a kneecap. Nature only smoothed out the back; it takes Photoshop to wipe the front clear.

On most people not made by Mattel, extra skin gathers on an extended knee or elbow. Even 21-year-olds need to use their knees on occasion, don’t they? Or has bending gone completely out of style? And just look at this model’s lower half — even her shins look hungry.

By now, most people know that the images we see in fashion magazines and advertisements are routinely doctored. Consumers have become more savvy about the digital editing of images, and know that the face staring back from a magazine cover may have been retouched to have blemishes removed, cheekbones heightened, and eyes brightened. An art director sitting in front of a computer can make any model thinner, brush her cellulite away, pluck every unwanted facial hair, and change her eye color.

To a degree, we’ve come to tolerate digital airbrushing and the subtle insult that comes along with it. Cosmetics maker Helena Rubenstein pushed it too far recently by so completely overhauling an image of Demi Moore that she looked like something out of Avatar, save the blue skin. Certainly we’re learning to trust less and less of what we see. For protection from deception, some airbrushing practices have been banned, and last month Arizona was considering consumer alerts that would obligate advertisers to include disclaimers about altered images.

But the unspoken and potentially more damaging aspect of the practice isn’t the digital trickery. It’s that the continuous parade of perfected faces and bodies makes people — real people, who are the targets of advertisements — feel lousy about themselves. So please, advertisers, don’t give us another reason to look in the mirror and regret the body nature provided. You’ve already made it tough enough to live with midsections that don’t reveal ribs and eyes that don’t emit beams of light. Allow us some skin on our knees. We may have more bending to do.