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Liam Mitchell-Dolby


Liam Mitchell-Dolby is a designer at Ideafuel, a creative-led graphic design, marketing and branding agency based at the Think Tank in Lincoln.

In the run up to Christmas, retailers and brands have come under fire over Photoshopped images of models and goods, but I’m not convinced it’s a problem so easily solved.

As the Christmas advertising enters into full swing, the industry once again has come under fire for over-perfecting images to help sell products.

The race is now on to overload the senses with flawless images of perfect products – or perfect people selling perfect products. Our society is constantly barraged with these images on TV, in magazines, on the internet and in endless other sources.

As someone who works in design and advertising, I guess I’m part of an industry that can (on occasion) enforce the stereotypical, unrealistic impression of beauty and glamour. On a day-to-day basis, it’s an issue that I must consider from both a professional and personal perspective.

I’m not here to argue whether it’s right or wrong, as I wouldn’t consider myself qualified to discuss the effects of how over-glamourizing our public view of beauty affects our self-esteem or expectations.

However, I would like to explore how airbrushing has become so intrinsic in society that it may prove difficult, if not impossible, to break out of the practice.


Airbrushing is sadly nothing new. For centuries, artists have focused on portraying the human form at its most perfect. Portraits commissioned by nobles were done so with the understanding that the artist would produce a favourable impression.

Skin was always pale, as the rich would never work outside. There were no blemishes to be seen, even though (due to health conditions) this was very unlikely. Some would argue that this was one of the earliest forms of marketing, to “sell” the importance of a noble.

Image editing is as old as images themselves, and it wasn’t until Oliver Cromwell famously asked Sir Peter Lely to paint him “warts and all” that there was really a true insight into the appearances of the noble classes.

This week, I had an interesting meeting with a prospective client in the beauty industry. We had quite a lengthy conversation about how airbrushed images help sell products better than images that haven’t been Photoshopped. When you compare the two, the altered image will likely appeal more, as it looks more perfect.

Although a company that avoids Photoshop may win the moral high ground, it may lose customers to a better-looking product. It only takes one company to use this marketing edge in order for it to spread.

Sadly, no matter how sophisticated we have become as consumers, seeing something we may want to buy as “warts and all” doesn’t necessarily have us reaching for our credit cards.

I wish we could sell products with a simple photo: we would live in a less pressurised and more honest world. However, rarely does the truth sell. Aspiration sells, and it is always rose-tinted.

Liam Mitchell-Dolby is a designer at Ideafuel, a creative-led graphic design, marketing and branding agency based at the Think Tank in Lincoln.