Nordstrom Explains Photoshop Policy: It Doesn’t Have One

Late last week, came under fire for photoshopping a model’s waist to what we called “alien-like proportions.” Nordstrom, somewhat to their credit, responded quickly, tweeting: “Our policy is not 2 thicken or thin models. See original photo. We smoothed wrinkles, nipples & upped colr.” Unfortunately, the image accompanying their tweet didn’t do much for their argument — and now the retailer has released a second, far more thorough statement outlining their so-called retouching policy. Which is to say: they don’t really have one.

In an email to Tavi Gevinson, of The Style Rookie fame, who has been guest-blogging for and who first posted on the controversy, Nordstrom apologized for their trigger-happy tweet response:

“When we first heard about Tavi’s blog post, we wanted to be responsive so we quickly posted what we thought was an accurate statement about the photo in question and our overall approach to retouching. We’ve since learned that we misspoke and we want to take this opportunity to correct what we said.

For the sake of clarity, as we previously mentioned, the orange t-shirt photo was indeed retouched: we smoothed out the model’s nipples, removed a few wrinkles from the pants and shirt and punched up the shirt’s color. In addition, as some of you pointed out, we also smoothed out her left hip (something that we neglected to originally mention). After taking a closer look at the final image, we think the smoothing was a bit heavy-handed and we’re disappointed with the result.”

It’s a good statement. It’s rare for a brand under fire — ahem, Dove — to so thoroughly admit a mistake with so few excuses. So what about their retouching standards?

We also said in our response that we have a policy against “thinning or thickening” models. That’s not the case. It turns out that we don’t have a consistent policy on this. Actually, there have been times when we have “thickened” or added weight to a model or “thinned” a model by smoothing out bulges that may distort the shape of the clothes. It’s not a common practice for us, but we have done it on a case-by-case basis when we think it will make an image and the clothing we’re featuring look better or more true to life.

Using retouching to make an image and the clothing featured in it look more true to life is a bit of an oxymoron, if you ask us, but let’s not punish a company for actually adhering to an honesty is the best policy.

As for their future photoshopping plans, Nordstrom keeps their promises to a minimum:

Bottom-line is this: our goal is to best represent the merchandise we offer for our customers. We recognize that there are many opinions on how to accomplish that. At the end of the day, we are humans who are reviewing and editing the images so we will never be perfect. Sometimes mistakes will be made.

It’s clear through all the feedback we’ve received that this is a subject our customers care a lot about and we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the conversation. We’re working to make sure we have a more clear internal standard for our approach to retouching. We’ve learned a lot over the past few days and we’ll continue to look for ways to improve in this area in the future.”

But that said, we can’t really blame them. It’d be pretty tough to make an all out “no photoshopping” guarantee and most likely set them up for nothing so much as failure. And while we’re no fan of Gumby-waists, we think other companies might do well to take a page from Nordstrom’s book. Backpedaling gets you nowhere.

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