Declaring "My body is a size 8, not a size 4," an Australian model and daughter of a body-image expert is blasting a swimwear company for posting a photo she says was "drastically altered" without her permission.
After collaborating Aug. 5 with underwater photographer Pip Summerville to model a two-piece bathing suit by Fella Swim, Meaghan Kausman said via Instagram that she was “extremely shocked” to see what the company had done with Summerville’s picture when it was posted online.
“They had drastically altered my body, thinning out my stomach and thighs in an attempt to box me in to the cultural ideal of beauty,” Kausman on wrote Aug. 15, posting two versions of the same photo, side-by-side on her Instagram account.
“Above is their version, below is the real version. My body is a size 8, not a size 4. That’s my body! I refuse to stand by and allow ANY company or person to perpetuate the belief that ‘thinner is better.’ All women are beautiful, and we come in different shapes and sizes! This industry is crazy!!!! It is NOT OKAY to alter a woman’s body to make it look thinner. EVER!”
“As a photographer, I understand the importance of editing to bring out the best in an image,” Summerville wrote Aug. 22. “I am the first to admit that Photoshop allows creativity to be showcased to a higher level. The use of Photoshop to alter body image in order to portray a stereotype is all (too) common in this industry. This particular Photoshop of the image is a breach of copyright as there was no permission sought before manipulating it for their advertising means. These situations are not of an isolated occurrence in the industry, and are all (too) common, highlighting the unrealistic expectations of beauty and body image.”
The message was one echoed by the model’s father, Dr. Rick Kausman, a director of The Butterfly Foundation, whose mission is to prevent, treat and support people “affected by eating disorders and negative body image;” and a supporter of Endangered Bodies Australia, described on Facebook as an “activist movement dedicated to challenging visual culture and the harmful multi-billion dollar diet industry.”
On his Facebook page, he thanked his daughter’s supporters.
“Firstly taking someone's photograph and altering without permission, then publishing it (is wrong)," he wrote. "Secondly (there is) the broader and the hugely problematic issue of photoshopping images and the incredible harm this does to so many people, particularly young girls and boys, but so many others irrespective of their age, with respect to their body image and feelings of self-worth.”
On Sunday, the father, daughter and photographer discussed the controversy on the Australian version of “TODAY.”
“I saw that they had practically cut me in half, so, it was pretty mind-blowing,” said the model, who claims she emailed Fella Swim before posting her complaint on Instagram. “I think my jaw dropped for about five minutes. I was really, really taken aback that they felt the need to do that, and that they could take mine and Pip’s creative property and alter it to what they thought what would fit into their cultural ideal of what ‘beautiful’ was.”
She added that she felt the need to speak out, especially since she grew up in a household that fostered healthy body-image narratives.
“It’s kind of been drilled into me to have a good, positive body image,” she said. “It’s just the way I live my life. So, I felt like it was so important to tell everyone what happened, just because people need to know that that’s not what people look like. Magazines and photos, they’re altered. It’s really important for young girls and young guys to know that that’s not something for them to strive for, because that’s a photo of me, and it doesn’t even — it’s not me, because it doesn’t look like me.
It’s both a professional and personal issue for Summerville, who said she suffered from anorexia as a teenager. “Altering someone’s body image like that is just not heard of, in my work,” she added.
On Monday afternoon, neither version of the photo appeared on the company’s Instagram page, which has almost 13,000 followers.
Australian newspaper The Courier Mail says the model provided a screenshot of Fella Swim’s apology, which reportedly appeared beneath the swimwear company’s Instagram post.
“Meaghan is actually incredibly beautiful and we love the original image by @seagypsea_photography,” read the comment, according to The Courier Mail. “We meant no disrespect for Photoshopping the image and apologize that it has offended some people here...Apologies to @meagsk you have made a point of us and we will remove the image. If we knew this would upset you, we would of sic] never posted it.”
Fella Swim spokeswoman Lia-Belle King told TODAY.com in an email that the company does not promote negative body image.
"Fella does not believe in glamorising skinny models, nor do they support an unhealthy body ideal," King wrote. "This is further demonstrated in the designs within the FELLA collections as they include a variety of styles that cater to a range of body shapes."
King did not comment on who had edited the photo, but confirmed the company had apologized: "When contacted regarding the image, FELLA sent an immediate apology to Meaghan Kausman and Pip Summerville and notified them that the photo would be removed out of respect."
But that explanation wasn't good enough for Summerville, the photographer. "This particular Photoshop of the image is a breach of copyright as there was no permission sought from myself before manipulating it for their advertising means," she told TODAY.com.
Dr. Kausman agreed, telling TODAY.com via email, "The swim wear company took what wasn't theirs (the photograph) and altered the photo, and, of course, altered a picture of a perfectly healthy, and healthy-looking young woman to look like an image they felt would be more 'marketable' for the public for selling their swimwear. So, firstly, it wasn't their image to alter, and secondly, and the bigger picture, is that enough is enough."
King said Fella Swim's decision to post the image was to "draw attention to the beauty of the shot, and encourage others to also follow and support Meaghan and Pip's work."
The younger Kausman told TODAY.com she was disappointed in Fella Swim's response. "They haven’t responded to the email I sent them over a week and a half ago, and have blocked me and any other person who has stood up for the cause from their Instagram," she added.
However, the model said she's been thrilled with the response from people who have followed the story online.
"I am extremely humbled and thankful for all the messages, comments and emails I have received," she wrote. "I am so happy that I have given so many people a voice in this industry."
This story was originally published on August 25, 2014. It has since been updated.
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