Cleo stands firm against anti-Photoshop protest

Cleo is not bowing to pressure from an activist group that wants the magazine to stop digitally altering pictures of young girls.

Last week, a petition was launched by a woman who urged the magazine to stop airbrushing young women. The petition has gained 12,000 signatures.

Cleo’s editor Gemma Crisp responded late on Friday by sending the protester the magazine’s list of guidelines on airbrushing.

The protester, Jessica Barlow, is working on a project to launch her own magazine, Brainwash Magazine, with a focus away from the typical women’s magazine topics of ‘sex, boys and appearance’.

Crisp has not responded to a number of calls from Mumbrella. However, ACP also sent Mumbrella its guidelines on airbrushing by way of a response.

The rules read as follows:

CLEO understands it’s a role model to its readers and takes its use of PhotoShop very seriously, which is why we follow these retouching guidelines:

When it comes to retouching, like most other magazines, CLEO uses PhotoShop to:
• Neutralise colours to appear as close to real life as possible and for consistency
across the magazine.
• Enhance, contrast or brighten colours to bring image closer to real life.
• Extend photos to reach required 5mm bleed.
• Lighten & darken images behind text for legibility.
• Remove any temporary skin marks, such as bruises or scratches (NOT natural lines, freckles, moles, etc).
• Lighten shadows, where the lighting has had too much of an unnatural effect on the skin tone.
• Correct colour casts.

When it comes to retouching, CLEO does NOT use PhotoShop to:
• Change the body shape of any person photographed for the magazine.
• Remove/airbrush natural lines, freckles, or any permanent features, unless
specifically requested by the person photographed for the magazine.

Cleo also pointed out that a large number of images in the magazine are supplied by picture agencies and have been retouched before being supplied. This is “beyond Cleo’s control’, the rules state.

The rules continue:

CLEO cannot reverse any of these changes and effects placed on the images supplied, and there is often no alternative image to use. When it comes to covers, approval to run a celebrity on the cover will not be granted by their publicist unless the image has been retouched.

Barlow responded with a letter asking the magazine to go further than its current rules on airbrushing.

In the letter, Barlow said:

I really appreciate that you have a policy regarding the photoshopping of images and seem to be aware of some of the problems associated with this. I don’t believe it is ignorance that is seeing thousands of people signing my petition, but rather a desire to see you go further than what you currently do.

She added:

I understand that you have little or no control over digital alterations that are made to images you source externally, although you surely have the option of sourcing images from elsewhere or applying your image alteration policy to externally sourced images.

Barlow suggested that Cleo take the following measures to change its policy:

  • A commitment to showing diverse representations of beauty — including images that haven’t been digitally altered – both in your own photo spreads and on the cover of the magazine. I think it is important that ANY girl can pick up a copy and see a girl inside who looks somewhat like her. I’m talking about size, yes, but also diverse ethnicities and abilities.
  • Clearly labelling images, even if sourced externally, that have been digitally altered. This would help young women understand when the beauty we’re seeing is fake, and when it is not. This is important because otherwise we are looking up to and aspiring to ideals that can never be achieved. I’m sure you can relate to how damaging this can be.

Cleo has yet to reply to the letter.

Barlow’s The Brainwash Project website contains a video explaining her stance of body image and young women.

The news comes as a girl has publicly complained about her treatment by Cleo magazine during a shoot for a weight loss program.


  1. Angee
    20 Aug 12
    12:07 pm

  2. Um “a girl” has publicly complained? Way to undermine this whole article.

  3. Just a Girl
    20 Aug 12
    1:02 pm

  4. When I walked in for my work experience at Cosmo, the looks said it all… “what is THAT?!” As a fairly standard size 12 journalism student, I felt that this was about as OTT as their tans, and it literally ended my dream of being Editor of Cosmopolitan. Why would I want to work in a place like that?

    I was also asked, at just 18 years of age and having very little experience, to compile research for an article about giving head. I was not comfortable with this and when my parents asked me what I did during work experience, I could hardly show my dad and hope he would be proud!!

    I say good on you Jess Barlow, the world needs more of you! More women who are aware they can do more than “blow him right” and “perfect a smoky eye”. Women who are confident, strong, smart and capable of choosing what they read, not being shovel-fed loads of absolute CRAPOLA.

    Cosmo/Cleo et al, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Not only are your magazines derogatory and counter productive to women’s rights but they’re also boring as bat poo.

    I urge girls to boycott this crap like I’ve been doing for a few years now. Their readership is on the decline for a reason and it should continue this way until they lift their game.

  5. cj
    20 Aug 12
    1:04 pm

  6. Obviously there need to be guidelines in place, but the whole thing is a massive grey area. How much digital editing is too much? Is digitally removing a freckle, line or discolouration worse than doing the same thing with makeup pre-shoot? Do we need “no makeup” shoots, or labeling of photos “model is wearing makeup”? “Model exercises for 3 hours per day and consumes a low-calorie, high-protein diet”? “Model did not eat or drink for 2 hours prior to photo shoot”? If you want to start drawing lines around what is acceptable and what is not, where do you draw them?

  7. JC
    20 Aug 12
    1:12 pm

  8. If you want to see images of ‘real people’ read The Big Issue. People (including young girls) buy these kind of magazines because they are a form of escapism, they want to aspire to something more than their own mundane lives. If you don’t like what you see or read, don’t buy it. Cleo’s response to this year 10 communications project gone too far is more than reasonable, as are their guidelines around retouching images.

  9. Tiki Godzilla
    20 Aug 12
    1:28 pm

  10. Hit the sex jackpot!
    Look hotter in 60 seconds!
    Get Richer, Fitter, Happier! for 6.99!!!!

    Wow. If you buy this magazine you are an idiot.

  11. Mel
    20 Aug 12
    1:38 pm

  12. I think Jessica’s suggestions to Cleo are excellent. Good on her for putting the pressure on these mags! They’ve been getting away with lying to women for too long.

    As for me, I threw mine out long ago and I refuse to buy any women’s mag. Making women feel bad about themselves is how they make their money.

  13. SC
    20 Aug 12
    1:47 pm

  14. “Enhance, contrast or brighten colours to bring image closer to real life”….um the photos were taken in real life…so how does adjusting the images make them more ‘real’?

  15. Annabel
    20 Aug 12
    1:59 pm

  16. Did she post the petition on Cleo’s Facebook page? Is that how it got 12,000 signatures? ;P

  17. BW
    20 Aug 12
    3:19 pm

  18. Magazines sell an ideal self. They are aspirational objects where people look at ads and articles and say “I want to be that!”. Sometimes it has a bad affect but also sometimes its good where it drives someone to be better in their life.

    Also remember the celebrities on the cover might want the photoshop. Their careers ride on looking good so if Mila Kunis has been filming the whole night before a shoot maybe she actually wants the photoshop work to help improve her looks. We all dress our work up to make it look as good as possible. We do a nice powerpoint to make a boring graph look better so why can’t actors and models use something to dress their work up?

  19. Junk
    20 Aug 12
    3:36 pm

  20. These mags need a Moody’s rating of `Junk Status`
    Seriously, they are polluting a generation of women

  21. Can everyone get over themselves?
    20 Aug 12
    3:42 pm

  22. @ Just A Girl – had you actually read Cosmo before you signed up to do work experience? What did you think you’d be researching – knitting patterns?

  23. Just a Girl
    20 Aug 12
    5:07 pm

  24. @ Can everyone get over themselves?

    Do you work at Cosmo, per chance?

    Clearly, I wanted to write about knitting patterns – that’s why I went there. And I was simply disgusted by what I found. I simply wanted to help people know how to pearl one, knit three, and instead? This. It’s a disgrace.

    Ps. Can the sarcasm. If you don’t have anything intelligent to say please go back to reading your magazine.

  25. Al
    20 Aug 12
    5:58 pm

  26. @can everyone get over themselves? That is a pathetic and vindictive statement.

    So you expect 18 yr old young adults who have little idea of what the corporate world is about to be responsible for what takes place in the corporate workplace?

    Lets all blame the victims & the powerless – that seems to be your motto.

    I just hope that you are not responsible for overseeing any internships or work experience kids.

  27. James
    20 Aug 12
    7:53 pm

  28. This chick is starting her own magazine? Great. Lotsa luck honey. Maybe it’ll be another Frankie. But you shoulda have done that in the first place instead of insisting Cleo run their business to your demands.

    Thanks again for so richly demonstrating that when it comes to Gen Y’s sense of entitlement, the sky is the limit. We deserve to be CEOs and we want it now!

  29. Just a Girl
    21 Aug 12
    9:14 am

  30. @James – Are you Gen X, per chance?

    Gen Y doesn’t have a sense of entitlement, we have a sense of what it is to dream, to create, to start something amazing. We have a little life left in us, and you are trying to taint it with your negativity and sarcasm.

    I wonder what sort of excellence *you* aspire to, or is your main claim to fame bagging out young people who try to make a difference?

    Jealousy’s a curse, you know.

  31. Bob
    21 Aug 12
    9:52 am

  32. Only one thing to do – sit back and watch the results. No point judging now.

    Maybe she’ll succeed and her mag will become an international hit, while Jessica Marlow becomes a household name for a new form of women’s media.

    Or she doesn’t make it and her mag will just be another crumpled stack of A4 pages used to mop spills in the uni cafeteria, and the episode is soon forgotten.

  33. LW
    21 Aug 12
    11:19 am

  34. Can @James and @Just a girl go on a date and report back to us? I sense fireworks…

  35. Just a Girl
    21 Aug 12
    1:30 pm

  36. @LW – haven’t you learnt anything?! It’s not all about sex and boys, geez. Besides I don’t date James’.

  37. Dina
    21 Aug 12
    5:11 pm

  38. It really is up to us as parents to teach our children about advertising, magazines such as Cleo are not exactly an academic journals, so why should they be judged or received in that way? They’re just entertainment ‘fluff’, that’s all.

    I understand that we all need to to take a socially responsible role, and I am strongly adverse to pics of women with eating disorders, but debating against retouching images to remove a freckle? I mean really what’s next. Let’s ban make-up? Where do you draw the line?

    As one who has been in the industry for 20 years, and a mother of two, my daughters are very informed on the capitalist interests of advertising. It is my job as a parent to teach them that and the determination of our consumerist world, not Cleo’s.

    Aesthetics will always sell, that is the bottom line.

  39. LW
    21 Aug 12
    7:11 pm

  40. @Just a Girl, I didn’t mention sex, especially not on a first date! What kind of girl are you? Probably quite popular I imagine, you minx 😉

  41. jean cave
    21 Aug 12
    7:23 pm

  42. I think it is a shame that nowadays there is less child-hood for everyone and indeed decades of adolescence for some. However it opens up the combination role for grannies as the wise super-parent and occasional stand-in child, which I personally relish.

  43. Just a Girl
    21 Aug 12
    9:51 pm

  44. @LW Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number – so call me, maybe?


    Ps. Are you hot?

  45. LW
    22 Aug 12
    4:11 pm

  46. I’m ridonkulously super-hot @Just a Girl, but I don’t date girls… If you want to convert me though, try 1800-DREAMSAREFREE…

  47. Just a Girl
    23 Aug 12
    10:32 am

  48. @LW – I fear we have deviated from the topic. And please note, I have picked the word DEVIATED for a very good reason.

    I tried to call that number but it seems to be disconnected… and please note I’ve picked the word DISCONNECTED for a very good reason.

    Until next time… xoxo

  49. Ashlee
    24 Aug 12
    12:05 am

  50. What a bullshit way of getting attention. If you want a magazine without the sex, without the models, without the material on men, without the fashion, without the make-up tips, then here’s an idea: DON’T READ IT. It’s a women’s LIFESTYLE magazine – the audience is people who fit into the lifestyle. And I guess you don’t, or you’re not interested, which is fair enough, but why try to change it for the rest who enjoy it? There are plenty of more publications out there that caters to a particular sub-culture or personality (health, alternative etc.) Buying CLEO is a luxury – it’s not a mandatory school book so I’ll say it again – don’t like it? Don’t read it! SIMPLE.

  51. Dina
    24 Aug 12
    10:22 am

  52. @ Just a Girl and LW……LOL!!!

  53. Just a Girl
    24 Aug 12
    10:35 am

  54. @Ashlee – well that’s a typically ill-thought out knee-jerk response.

    And please note I’ve chosen the word jerk for a very good reason.

    How about, if you don’t like what she’s doing – don’t read it?

  55. Bob
    24 Aug 12
    11:02 am

  56. @Just A Girl: And of course, if you don’t like what Ashlee wrote, you don’t have to read it either. And so on, etc.

    Fact is, Cleo appeals to its audiences, otherwise nobody would be paying for it. If this Jessica person wants to launch her own grl power magazine, good for her – whether she succeeds will be up to the market.

  57. Just a Girl
    24 Aug 12
    2:32 pm

  58. @Bob – Are you hot?

  59. Ashlee
    24 Aug 12
    5:33 pm

  60. Look I think it’s great that she wants to launch her own magazine. That part I applaud her on 100%.

    I just heavily dislike the fact that she wants to change something that’s great for other people to cater to HER and her friends – all because they have some self-esteem issues.

    In another comment, I said it all comes down the individual person. I myself do not look like a model or a celebrity but I have been reading CLEOand Cosmo for 10 years now and have never once let these magazines affect how I feel on myself. If you look at CLEO’s Twitter, Facebook or their letters section, VAST amounts of readers ALWAYS express how excited and happy they are when they see a new edition on the stands. In fact, certain stories make them feel better about themselves.

    But Jessica Barlow and co says these mags make her “feel bad” about herself – why? Has anyone questioned how she has chosen to interpret the articles and images? If you had poor self-esteem and confidence and looked at ANY image of a glamorous celebrity or model (online or print) and compared yourself and beat yourself down in a negative manner, then of COURSE you’re going to “feel bad”. MY opinion is that Jessica and her friends in her video have bigger issues and blaming a magazine will not SIMPLY solve them. There is a bigger culprit and trigger than a glossy magazine for self-esteem.

  61. LW
    25 Aug 12
    12:10 am

  62. @Just a Girl, I can’t believe that just because my number was disconnected you left me for Bob. What does he have that I don’t? Aren’t I worth a second chance? Try 1800-BETTERTHANBOB…

  63. Just a Girl
    26 Aug 12
    5:25 pm

  64. I suppose so… but it’s going to cost you! A girl like me don’t forgive for free!

    Try Tiffany’s. 😉

  65. Dina
    28 Aug 12
    12:26 pm

  66. Jessica Barlow could be pulling a publicity stunt, not a bad way to launch a new mag.

    @Just a Girl and LW – gosh you two, get a room :)

  67. Just a Girl
    28 Aug 12
    12:44 pm

  68. @ Dina – we pwn this forum now. Hahaha.

  69. Where have I heard that before...
    29 Aug 12
    2:42 pm

  70. @ Just a Girl…

    Are you for, or against Cosmo & Cleo?
    You might actually like this months issue:

    “Should you date a James? What his name says to you!'”
    “Is he hot or not? Ask the question!”
    “Got a better offer? Know when its time to trade in your man!”
    “Don’t forgive for free! Tiffany’s really says sorry.”

    but then again, who would relate to that kind of stuff….

  71. Just a Girl
    29 Aug 12
    3:33 pm

  72. @Where have I heard that before – There’s just not enough space on the internet for me to explain what’s wrong with everything you just said.

  73. Registered Nurse
    29 Aug 12
    10:34 pm

  74. I think that people need to look at the statistics of these magazines and eating disorders. I nurse many young girls who starve themselves and you know the one thing they all have in common? They all read trashy magazines. I would gladly go without seeing these magazines (they don’t affect me) so that others who may have body issues not be dilluted by certain images. These girls dying in hospital of such illnesses are someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s mother. Wouldn’t you go without (if you are perfect in your body image) for the sake of others who struggle?

  75. Registered Nurse
    29 Aug 12
    10:54 pm

  76. I understand that these images don’t affect everyone, but for a few other’s that it may affect wouldn’t you go without? I know they are not mandatory to read, but lets face it, these images are everywhere. You can’t even do your grocery shopping or go into a petrol station without being bombarded with these images. Take a look around you. It’s everywhere. Just because it’s been going on for a while doesn’t make it right.