“Unretouchable” is a fictional graphic novel by Sofia Szamosi that follows 18-year-old Olive’s experiences as a fashion magazine intern before she starts Art college. I think any older artist will immediately be able to identify with Olive’s idealistic youthful naivety, as she assumes she could just make art and make a comfortable living out of it. It’s only on her mother’s insistence that Olive reluctantly takes up an internship opportunity at “Fash”, a popular magazine, where she learns how to airbrush and edit models. This stint makes her look at the beauty industry with fresh eyes.
Szamosi’s simple black-and-white illustrations in the book will immediately remind graphic novel memoir fans of works like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Zeina Abirached’s “A Game for Swallows”. And even though “Unretouchable” is a coming-of-age tale too, it has a razor sharp focus on the perils of living in world saturated by digital media. People from all walks of life, especially younger impressionable women like Olive, are constantly bombarded by unrealistic standards of beauty, encouraging them to live a life of filters and insecurities. Like most people around her, Olive is addicted to a multitude of apps and cannot imagine spending a day without her phone. I found the protagonist’s insecurities regarding her appearance, online crushes and struggles with connecting with people quite authentic.
Creator Sofia Szamosi explores the damaging effects of the fashion, beauty and advertising industry on people’s lives through this graphic novel. For example, Olive is shocked to discover that one of the online personalities she looks up to is not real and it leads her to learn about AI influencers and how there’s a rising trend of brands relying on fake personalities to promote their products. If editing already beautiful real models wasn’t bad enough, artificial models are now out to take the already scarce jobs in the highly competitive world.
I remember finding out about AI influencers in 2018, it was after some big news outlet did a long feature piece on Miquela, an AI robot who is quite popular on Instagram. Since then, there’s been an influx of such artificial robots becoming part of every day media. I mean even K-pop band have AI members now, along with real humans! My parents watch a news channel, where the weather reporter is an AI generated woman and my mother hadn’t even noticed she wasn’t real until I pointed it out to her.
“Unretouchable” is a great graphic novel for young readers and might help some of them evaluate the nature of their relationship with social media and their own bodies. The doodle style art is fun and engaging, and since Olive is a young and budding artist, the cartoon-ish comic panels add a youthful charm to the story.
Rating: 3.5 on 5.
Also Read: The Madman’s Library – Book Review (audio version below)