Body of evidence shows the photographs that give a false image

Just for a moment, it seemed the fashion world might be about to go au naturel.

The likes of Madonna and Kelly Brook have both recently posed provocatively for shoots, reportedly ditching the digital air brush, and just last week the girl guides waded into the debate.

In a move away from collecting badges and making WI-style homecrafts, the group's mission for 2010 is to clean up the business of airbrushing with a campaign calling for warning symbols to be stamped on altered pictures to curb a rise in eating disorders.

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More than 20,000 people are expected to sign the guides' online petition, which comes amid research indicating 50 per cent of teenage girls would consider cosmetic surgery. The health warning is unlikely to come to fruition, but taking a stance against airbrushing has almost become a marketing tool in itself.

"Many fashion houses and celebrities are now stepping forward against digital retouching," says Richard Colvill, creative director of marketing agency Turn Key. "Recently, Debenhams released a swimwear campaign banning airbrushing to lay bare the models' natural imperfections. This could be a stand against the negative impact the 'search for perfection' has on our image-conscious society, or just an interesting way of creating publicity."

The debate first began to hot up in 2003, when Kate Winslet revealed the truth behind her slimline GQ cover image.

"The retouching is excessive," she said. "I do not look like that and, more importantly, I don't desire to look like that." So far so good, but the first glimpse of the glossies' crucial September issues, which set the trends for the season ahead, suggest the art of airbrushing is still very much alive and well, even if it's not immediately obvious.

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"The aim for retouching or airbrushing is to make it unnoticeable," says Colvill, who has cast his own expert eye over the forthcoming issues. "Insiders, however, can spot the signs from 10 paces.

"Take Emily Blunt, who is gracing the cover of Elle. She is a beautiful English rose with her auburn hair, pale skin and rosy cheeks, but you can see her skin has been lightened and softened to create an even complexion.

"All fine lines and shadows have been removed, which makes her face look impossibly perfect.

"Even images which look natural have often been given a little helping hand. Kate Moss is Vogue's September cover star and there are visible creases and shadows on the skin, which are most noticeable around her throat.

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"However, I do suspect Kate's legs have been airbrushed to appear smoother and leaner around the thigh area. She's been photographed sitting on a stool which, for any normal person, would cause the legs to misshape and look larger.

"Elsewhere there's Rachel Bilson on InStyle where her right upper arm appears thinner than her left and the overall silhouette is too fluid to be natural. On Tatler, January Jones's armpit has been smoothed out, her eyes have been whitened and the peachy skin on her right hand appears to blend into the green grass around it."

Still, there is hope on the horizon. Marc Jacobs fashion house is in talks about producing a range of clothes for size 14s and up and with size-16 model Crystal Ren, the toast of the catwalk, the fashion industry may be slowly waking up to the fact that there is a whole other lucrative market out there.

"It is unrealistic to think retouching could be banned but I feel it needs to have guidelines so the public could have an understanding of retouching," says Eleni Renton, founder of Leni's Model Management, which is dedicated to promoting a realistic image for women.

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"Most images you see have been changed slightly, even if it's just a light variation to tweak an image. But when magazines start changing body shape, it becomes unhealthy.

"Young girls should have images presented to them that are aspirational, not images that would see the majority of them becoming ill in order to achieve.

"I think anyone looking at pictures of models and celebrities must remember that these photos have been altered. The celebrity or model will have spent hours in hair and make-up with hundreds of shots taken and only the best image will be seen by the public."

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