Review by Frank Plowright
Unretouchable concerns Sofia Szamosi’s flirtation with the fashion industry during her teens, and it’s worth noting as a deliberately structured progression, since the opening chapters don’t present her very sympathetically.
Anyone who’s left school and immediately had to find work to pay rent and put food on the table might find the entitlement of the teenage Szamosi difficult to work through over the introduction of her world. Her mother is happy for her to live rent free in their Manhattan apartment provided Sofia attends college, plus she’s a magazine executive able to arrange a paid internship with a fashion photographer, yet this means Sofia will have to be at the studio for 7am. However, although it doesn’t transmit that way, this is all knowingly portrayed.
What induces some sympathy is the introduction of personal insecurities about the way Sofia looks, noting retouching social media posts for something nearer an ideal, although this is in search of the hollow satisfaction of likes. The same superficial attitude applies to journal-like recollections of her internships, which name check, but take a long time to consider process.
Using flat, functional stark black and white cartooning creates an intimacy, enhanced by reference to friends, and by halfway through the dots are being joined. Sofia’s present behind the scenes as glamour is manufactured, and is not only told that every magazine photo is retouched in some way, but about the growing trend for virtual models, some highlighted as such, but others passed off as real people. Revelations about bulimic models follow, as her eyes are opened to the artificiality to which so many people aspire. It prompts a reconsideration of her social media use and of how pernicious the culture can grow to be. Possibly for the sake of some balance a company promoting positive body imaging is also noted.
It’s a turning point, and sympathy is generated when old habits are detailed, and how they can be reframed. A further nice touch is the acknowledgement that some older people have experience of value. Sofia’s mother is presented as a source of good sense, but without ever nagging, and by the end there’s an understanding of life that just wasn’t present at the beginning.
Although it doesn’t seem that way at first, Unretouchable offers sound advice along with information many people won’t be aware of, but never presented as preaching, just as one person’s gradual conversion. As such it’s worth recommending to any social media and image-obsessed young person.