Unretouchable: An Interview with Author Sofia Szamosi

In the new YA graphic novel by debut author Sofia Szamosi, readers follow Olive as she spends the summer before art school at a coveted internship helping one of the fashion industry’s elite digital-imaging specialists. After a glamourous New York photoshoot, she learns that taking pictures is only the first step andis thrown into the world of image retouching software. Soon she is fixating on her own appearance and pondering the ethics of her work behind the scenes. Unretouchable is a window into a hugely influential world of fashion photography and a tribute to self-acceptance.

Today we welcome author and illustrator Sofia Szamosi as she shares her greatest influences, the themes of the book, and what she thinks of the current fashion industry.

What was your inspiration for the book?

Unretouchable started out as a zine I made in 2016 about my experiences doing an internship with my photo retoucher friend in New York City. While doing the internship and submerging myself in the world of digital image manipulation, I became increasingly alienated by the world of fashion, advertising and social media, and eventually decided to take a year + long digital media hiatus.

What are the big questions the book asks?

The internship and resulting soul searching lead me to question a lot of the images I see around me and ask myself: “how and why am I marketing myself to the world? How and why am I being marketed to? How do these images, especially of women’s bodies, influence how I see and relate to my own body?”

How do you see things having changed in the years since your internship?

I did the internship that inspired this book in 2016, wrote the book in 2018-19, and will see it come out in 2022. In this 6 year period, the world of digital images, social media, advertising, and the representation of bodies has already evolved in a lot of ways. It seems like the manipulation of images that shocked me at the time has by now become naturalized to the point where it’s barely questioned. We are marketed to more than ever through our phones and social media, retouching apps and beauty filters are even more ubiquitous, and artificial intelligence has evolved to the point we can never be certain if the digital images and videos we are consuming are real or manipulated. Though I do think we see more kinds of bodies and gender identities represented today, these images too are being reconfigured, packaged and presented for our consumption. It’s interesting to me that young people in 2022 will be even more entrenched in a culture of image manipulation and self-marketing… to the point it may have lost some of its shock value. Hopefully we can still question this process, and I would love if Unretouchable could be part of that.

What is something you discovered while researching or writing the book?

I had always assumed photo retouchers were maniacal woman haters, preying on women’s insecurities to get rich . . . but, I discovered that wasn’t quite right. They were real people grappling with the conundrums we all face in an image-obsessed culture.

How would you describe your main character?

The book’s main character, Olive, is facing the toxic aspects of social media and the reality that it is very hard to live outside of it completely. I wanted her to grapple with these issues in a way that was relatable- not as a role model, but as a fellow young person finding her way in the world… stuck inside these systems but doing her best, figuring out how to be a conscious consumer and creator of images.

Praise for Unretouchable

“Olive’s journey to seeking balance on the social Internet is important. The black-and-white drawings contrast well with Szamosi’s plot that grapples with the gray areas of contemporary life.”—Booklist

“Szamosi employs witty narration and stark b&w ink to deliver a sincere, offbeat cautionary graphic novel of social media’s pitfalls, including its effect on mental health and body image.” –Publishers Weekly

Connect with the author

Sofia Szamosi is an artist, author and zinester from New York City. She is obsessed with analog photo booths and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and three-toothed pomeranian named Breakfast.

For more author and illustrator interviews click here!

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