Life in Photoshop: Margot Robbie gets an extreme airbrushing on the cover of US Vogue

By Jennifer Raymont

Published May 25, 2023 at 01:52 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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Yesterday, Wednesday 24 May 2023, US Vogue shared its summer issue’s cover starring Margot Robbie in anticipation for the Barbie movie’s release in July. But did it take ‘life in plastic’ too far? We certainly think so.

 

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From astronaut Barbie to presidential candidate Barbie, New York-based editor and stylist Gabriella Karefa-Johnson takes readers through some key eras in the doll’s history. Everything from the shoot’s set design to props helped to bring the Australian actress into the world of Mattel’s iconic dress-up doll. Barbiecore really is the trend of the summer.

Karefa-Johnson has managed to successfully transform clothes that don’t immediately scream Barbie, like this Miu Miu knit cardigan taken straight from its recent FW23 collection, into something so on-brand for Barbie that we’re mad we didn’t think of it first. When placed alongside a giant flower pot, it gives the impression that she is in fact doll-sized while also proving that Barbie’s wardrobe isn’t just pink.

It is also a breath of fresh air to see Robbie in something other than Chanel. As cowgirl Barbie, the actress wears Maison Margiela, while the cover shot is Versace. Of course, she still had to wear one Chanel look, which makes an appearance in Robbie’s take on President Barbie—suited and booted in a classic (and of course pink) tweed suit.

The excessive use of Photoshop, however, has been polarising. Some argue that the overt airbrushing is thematic and plays into Robbie’s character in the movie. In other words, Photoshop has been used to make her look plastic rather than correcting minor imperfections. For others, however, the extreme editing on her cover has been more of a (re)touchy subject…

There is a constant discourse surrounding the idealised and unrealistic beauty standards both the fashion and movie industry set. Of course, Robbie is undeniably beautiful and in many ways seems like she was born to play Barbie, but it is worrying to think of the impact these images will have on young women. Barbie is a children’s toy after all.

Everything from her nail beds and her skin texture to her thigh gap has been altered. While we understand the use of Photoshop as a creative tool in this instance, the connotations behind this editorial remain deceitful.

 

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Compared to the constant stream of Photoshop fails and extreme Kardashian-esque airbrushing that we so often see online, the creative, thematic approach to the digital tool makes a refreshing change—but we can’t help but think Vogue could’ve tackled this editorial differently.

Yes, visually it works, but the over the top recreation of Barbie is a little on the nose. For an alternative approach, Vogue could have looked at the countless instances of the use of plastic in fashion, LOEWE’s Polly Pocket clothes being one example.

From what we know about Gerwig’s take on an American classic, it’s going to defy expectations. The movie’s tagline “She’s everything. He’s just Ken,” implies that despite little being known about the plot, it’s likely to come with a feminist message. The dollification of a real life woman from Vogue somewhat undermines the film’s potential message.

Along with its star-studded cast which includes Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera, we’ve got the popcorn ready for the 21 July release date. The overwhelming use of Photoshop for this Vogue cover may be an exception given the context of Barbie, but it arguably takes away from the moves towards body positivity some parts of the industry have been slowly undertaking.

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