Cleo bows to pressure over retouching policy with ‘open discussion’ online

Cleo's response on Facebook

Girls magazine Cleo has responded to mounting pressure to stop airbrushing images of young girls by holding an online forum next week to discuss the matter.

The decision to respond to the petition, started by a woman who wants to launch her own photoshop-free magazine a fortnight ago, was announced on Cleo’s Facebook page.

The response reads:

As you guys may have noticed over the past few days, there’s been a lot of discussion on our Facebook page about retouching. Please be aware that we have been listening to what everyone is saying. We realise this is an issue that many of you are passionate about, however we feel that the voice of some of our regular readers is getting lost in the discussion. So we’re taking this opportunity to announce that we will be holding an open discussion about CLEO’s retouching practices. This discussion will take place online on Monday September 3 2010 from 1-2pm at Look forward to talking to you then.

The petition, started via, has raised more than 15,395 signatures and its own Twitter hastag, #RealGirlsCleo.

The woman who started the campaign, Jessica Barlow, said that she hope Cleo’s response “isn’t just a PR exercise.”

She said: “It’s taken 15,000 signatures on my petition and hundreds more Australians posting on Cleo’s Facebook page, but the magazine has finally begun to respond. If Cleo is serious about having a genuine discussion about their photoshopping policies and the lack of ‘real girl’ images in their magazine, then they should be congratulated.”

She added: “I really hope this isn’t just a PR exercise, because there’s a huge amount of momentum behind the call for Cleo to act responsibly on body image issues. It will be really insulting if they get feedback and then don’t act on it.”


  1. I'm glad this is happening
    31 Aug 12
    4:21 pm

  2. I don’t like retouching at the best of times – I think it’s way overdone – but when it’s applied like this, with such a negative influence on girls, I don’t think it’s good for anyone.

  3. Damn The Maps
    31 Aug 12
    10:16 pm

  4. 2008 – My sentiments exactly –

  5. Tony
    2 Sep 12
    2:38 pm

  6. Most of the time it’s not the publication, it’s the celeb or model that demands the retouching and wants approval for the final used image.

  7. jeni
    3 Sep 12
    9:05 am

  8. Funny how cleo don’t allow us to register to join the forum although they had mentioned we could join in the discussion on photoshopping

  9. Anonymous
    3 Sep 12
    10:25 am

  10. Shame their forums don’t seem to be operational. Fingers crossed for an ‘open’ discussion but not holding my breath. Emails, tweets, facebook messages requesting help with this so far remain unanswered. Come on Cleo, let’s do this properly…

  11. CLEO
    3 Sep 12
    11:17 am

  12. @jeni & @anonymous – As stated above, the forum for this specific discussion will be open at 1pm. We look forward to chatting to you then.

  13. Sally R
    3 Sep 12
    11:52 am

  14. Really it’s just so silly the way magazines are always the ones targeted (even more bizarre that it then becomes one magazine – my sympathies, Cleo, though I’m sure you’re more than capable of dealing wiht it.). If we’re going to play this old blame-everyone-else for my own non-acceptance of self, how about shows like Home & Away, how about any ad with a good looking person, how about any movie where a star is made to look more beautiful than she might be wihtout makeup. My neighbour looks prettier and thinner than me – she should NOT be allowed to wear makeup as well and hide flaws cause it makes me not like myself as much – is that the logical extension? The only gripe I have about the fashion industry is using those really thin broomstick leg models and inferring that is a good look – which I don’t think Cleo does anyway. Otherwise. Jesus. Look for other ways to boost up your sense of self and don’t go off course on this whiney blame thing.

  15. Ashlee
    3 Sep 12
    6:45 pm

  16. @Sally R – couldn’t have said it better myself.

    What I would like to see is Jessica Barlow grabbing the current issue and pointing out page by page exactly what she deems is ‘photoshopped’.

  17. Jessica Barlow
    3 Sep 12
    7:45 pm

  18. @ Sally R, thanks for sharing your opinion. There isn’t just one cause of body image problems and eating disorders, no. But magazines do play a significant role, research has proved this. While Cleo is certainly not alone in their responsibility to let readers know what is photoshopped and what isn’t, they are capable of change and are on of the magazines out there that I feel is letting down their readership. We need to have one publication start promoting positive body image and beauty diversity for the rest to follow. I am confident that the first publication in Australia to do this will be Cleo magazine.
    @ Ashlee, thanks for your comment. I can easily point to the images in the current issue of Cleo that I believe are photoshopped. Rather than write out a very long list I can summarise by saying that most, if not all, of them are photoshopped in some way or another, this is stated in the Cleo Photoshopping guidelines. My problem is with images that are photoshopped to change the appearance of the person. Most images like this appear in advertisements approved by Cleo. But with digital alteration it is often very hard to tell what has been altered and what hasn’t. That is why a disclaimer is so very important for readers.
    Sincerely, Jessica Barlow.

  19. LW
    3 Sep 12
    8:46 pm

  20. “Most images like this appear in advertisements”. Well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish isn’t it? I assume, when you start your magazine Jessica, that you will insist all advertisers supply unretouched advertisements or you will refuse to take their money and pay the printer with some delicious home-made muffins instead.
    On a less sarcastic note, you are honestly targeting the wrong people – why aren’t you kicking up a stink with companies like L’Oreal and P&G?

  21. Sally R
    4 Sep 12
    1:04 pm

  22. Jessica I’m alllll for helping young women, esp teen girls, to feel good about themselves and to prevent eating disorders, I just think this kind of campaign is an extraordinarily narrow way to expend your energy for the cause. I do find it an interesting area too; and the real life cases I know who had this problem refer very much to real people (ie. pretty schoolfriends, for example) that they’ve gazed at or tried to emulate. And externalising the issue to simply get mad at mags, or anyone/thing, about a pretty well-known practice like photoshopping, ultimately doesn’t seem to be a particularly empowering thing to do. Seriously, there are plenty of attractive people in day to day life on the bus etc who will always have the potential to make us feel crap about ourselves if we are wont to feel that way.
    THAT’S the reaction and the fallout we have to address.

  23. Ashlee
    4 Sep 12
    8:59 pm

  24. @Jessica Barlow – I’ve done a ton of industry experience with various magazines, the majority of them being big titles both at ACP and Pacific and yes, one of them was even CLEO. I even spent some time with the retouchers years ago, and on one particular day, they were ‘editing’ the cover for DOLLY (back when current CLEO editor Gemma Crisp was editor) and I can tell you it was VERY simple retouching. No bodies were ‘photoshopped’ and “completely changed” to make them appear thinner or whatever else you’re accusing them of.

    Jessica, I work in the e-commerce industry, and EVERYTHING needs to be retouched. I am talking about products such as FRYPANS and sofas – the thing is that when things are photographed, a lot of things factor in – lighting, location and equipment (or lack of) ALL contribute to how a picture may turn out. The cherry red sofa needs to be retouched to look as as red as it is in real life, and the details on a rug need to pop out out because the studio lighting didn’t suffice or whatever.

    I also followed some of your comments in the forum. You mentioned that even if CLEO followed through, their advertisements needed to change to or else it would be “confusing”. You say you want to start up your own magazine, but it appears that you lack of knowledge of magazine production. Without advertisers, there’d be no magazines. Advertisements provide a vital amount of funding for the publication to produce what they do every month/week. Welcome to the real world.

    I’ve read both CLEO and Cosmo for over six years now and I’ve kept every issue to date. My self-esteem never plummeted due to these publications. As I said before, I applaud you 100% for starting your own magazine. That is great. What’s not great is that your unrealistic demands to change something that other people enjoy. In your video, you complain that the content is ONLY about sex, men, fashion, make-up and . Have you stopped to realise what these magazines have actually done that’s POSITIVE? Before these magazines and before the internet, sex was taboo, men were aliens and the people clueless about their health and diet. Have you stopped to think there are plenty of women out there who look to women’s lifestyle magazines are as a source of information for these topics? Have you stopped to think there are women out there who are in entering relationships or trying dating for the first time? Or there are late bloomers who are clueless about sex and too embarrassed to ask? Or people who eat shitty food, don’t exercise and feel sluggish, but they don’t really know where to start to change their unhealthy lifestyle. Or what about the girl who wants to feel more confident in a new outfit, but doesn’t know where to shop? Because that’s what it is. A source of information. There are plenty of other magazines out there that might suit your needs, but it really annoys me that you choose ONE publication to attack and attempt to change, because YOU don’t want to read about it. CLEO/Cosmo are not compulsory school books. No one is forcing it down your throat.

    You say you feel bad about yourself but like I said, I’ve never missed an issue in six years and I’m the most confident person you’ll ever meet. And I assure you, I don’t look like a celebrity or a model. To reinforce what Sally R said – wherever you go in life, there will always be someone more fashionable, better looking, thinner, more glamorous etc. Eliminating this from the news stand will not solve your self-esteem issues. I’m not about to write to a health magazine and complain that their promotion of healthy eating habits and daily exercise “makes me feel bad” and perhaps they should put a greasy cheeseburger in there so I feel better about myself.

    There really is all shapes and sizes in the mags. I noticed that Cosmo even started incorporating plus size models in their fashion spreads. And a simple sift through BOTH magazines this month can prove that there isn’t a bony model in sight with jutting hip bones or a concave chest. It’s time to re-do your homework.