'Let's show the beauty of true female skin': Charli Howard shares her powerful manifesto

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the benefits of going Photoshop-free.

02 Jun 2019

In a world of Facetune, porn and Barbie dolls, just how important is it to see ‘real’ bodies in the media? With figures showing that more and more young girls feel inadequate with their bodies - and especially as the use of social media becomes further engrained into our way of life - perhaps it’s time we started to look at the benefits going Photoshop-free can bring to women as a whole.

Throughout my life, I’ve only known a world of Photoshop. If, like me, you grew up in a time before social media, you’ll probably recall the feeling of picking up a magazine and feeling inadequate: images upon images of smooth, cellulite-free bodies on every page. Fashion models were alien-beings that the majority of us could only dream of becoming - their bodies so perfect, that you wondered why your body didn’t look that way, too.

I didn’t understand what Photoshop was, entirely. It wasn’t like there were lessons about it in school. The average person has no idea just how much editing goes into an image after a shoot and I truly wish they could. As I grew up, I genuinely believed I was the only girl with cellulite in my class at school. By sixth form, I couldn’t bear to wear anything that showed my legs, terrified that people would judge my cellulite and ‘banana rolls’ - a term for the rolls below my butt cheeks that I’d discovered on Google. I just couldn’t understand why, even after excessively dieting and going to the gym, my body didn’t look like the models in magazines.

Even at 21, when I finally achieved my dream of being signed to a modelling agency, I STILL believed the dimples in my thighs were ‘bad’ - that I was an oddity and a fraud, and by no means beautiful. As though my teens weren’t bad enough, I continued to spend my early twenties hating my body, constantly comparing myself to the women I saw on and magazines - forgetting that all these concerns could be zapped away with a click of a button.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m now a curvy, ‘body-positive’ model who proudly flaunts her flaws on social media. I say ‘flaws’ as though my cellulite and tummy rolls are a bad thing, when in reality, I know I’m not flawed. For the most part, I’m normal, and I know that a lot of women look like me. I know that the average size of a British woman is a size 16 and that cellulite is normal (95% of women have it, despite how much exercise they do). It has taken me a lot of soul-searching and hard work to get to where I am, but one thing’s for sure - I don’t want another teenage girl feeling as inadequate with her body growing up as I did mine.

We’ve become so disillusioned with fake bodies that when we post unretouched photos of our bodies online, people see it as revolutionary. My biggest gripe is when I post a bikini photo and people describe me as ‘brave’. Brave?! For what?! For showing a normal body? If that doesn’t reiterate just how warped our brains have become over years of viewing unrealistic imagery, I don’t know what does.

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And if you think the damage lies solely with women of my generation, then think again. Photographer Rankin recently created a series of work entitled “Selfie Harm”, where he asked a group of teenagers to edit photos of themselves on an editing app. The results were shocking, with the teens editing themselves within an inch of their life. The characteristics that made them beautiful and unique were eradicated with just a click of a button.

So when GLAMOUR asked if I wanted to do a Photoshop-free shoot last year for their Spring/Summer issue, I jumped at the chance. (Let’s be honest, I’d also be daft to turn down an opportunity to shoot in the Maldives, wouldn’t I?). I wanted to show girls reading the magazine that a few bumps and lumps ARE fashion-worthy - that you can wear a bikini on the beach at a curvier size and feel proud doing so.

I stood on the beach that day feeling a sense of pride of how far I’d come in respecting my body. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly worried that some readers would judge my body after seeing it non-retouched, but for the most part, I was past caring. My body is AMAZING. It may never be aesthetically perfect, but few bodies are. My body has kept me breathing for 28 years; kept going when I’ve beaten it up and abused it in every way possible.

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It took me till the grand age of 25 to wear a bikini for the first time, terrified that people would be judging me on the beach for not being perfect enough, and here I was: not perfect, but fine with that realisation. And this is the message young girls need to be taught. Magazines have the ability to influence consumers in more ways than I think they know possible. Let’s continue the conversation by showing the beauty of true, female skin in as many magazines as we can.