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Dove's Photoshop action for reversing retouched photos backfires

A free Photoshop action that promises to automatically retouch images? It was too good to be true, and a marketing campaign for Dove.

Commentary: Over the past few years, beauty and cosmetics brand Dove has gone to great lengths in its crusade against digital photo manipulation.

Thanks to tools like Photoshop, retouchers across the world have been responsible for some pretty unrealistic representations of models and celebrities. Dove's numerous campaigns have seen the brand use videos and still images to raise awareness of the disconnect between the models we see advertising products and the real people themselves.

Perhaps the most famous example is the Dove Evolution time-lapse video, which shows the extensive retouching and manipulation of a model, including lengthening her neck and widening her eyes.

Recently, the brand took this one step farther by trying to stop the deception at its source — the retouchers themselves. A Photoshop Action was released on Reddit, promising to "enhance skin tone and give skin a beautiful glow while hiding all the imperfections".

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept of targeting the retouch artist. But the execution failed for a number of reasons. The action posted twice on Reddit, and, after there was little to no interaction on the original posts, most of the commenters praising the action soon deleted their accounts.

Next, the retouch artists themselves are not entirely to blame for a culture of overly manipulated images — they just bring the talent required for us to believe that these photos could be real. It's marketing plus the magazines and brands themselves that really drive this culture of perfection. On top of this, can we really believe that a talented retouch artist would use a pre-made action from Reddit to actually work on their images?

The Photoshop action itself wasn't particularly destructive, either. Though the video showed the action reverting the image back to its original state, according to The Verge, which took it for a spin, the action didn't make any real changes on multi-layered images, beyond slapping the banner on top.

The Campaign for Real Beauty has also come under a lot of scrutiny in the past few years, with accusations levelled at the brand for retouching their ads as much as any other fashion magazine would.

According to the retouch artist himself, Pascal Dangin:

But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.

Photo retouching has become a hotly contested subject over the past few years. Israel has banned the use of underweight or retouched models in any advertising, and has been passed as law. In Australia, a petition against Cleo magazine demanding an end to digitally retouched images of women was successful.