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How To Tell If This Picture Has Been Photoshopped
Posted by richard | October 26, 2010

Kate Moss is in trouble again, this time for looking too good.

After photos of her new campaign for Brazilian lingerie label Valisere appeared here and elsewhere on the weekend, numerous critics mocked both Kate and Valisere for releasing apparently airbrushed images meant to conceal defects in the wizened supermodel’s 36-year-old body. (Do a Google search for “Kate Moss photoshopped” to see what all the fuss is about.)

Frankly, I find most arguments in this debate to be both silly and condescending.

Silly because the answer is obvious and unequivocal: all fashion shots are retouched. Photoshop is the makeup of the digital world, as essential to the creative process for photographers, art directors, models and magazine editors as blush and mascara are to a teen on prom night. Its principal role is not to distort, but to enhance — to make the subject appear most favorably.

And condescending because the complaints presume that a woman of Kate’s age couldn’t possibly look so thin or unblemished. There’s a weird kind of reverse cultural stereotyping at work here — ie., women over 35 should look like hell — that is as objectionable as stereotypes related to weight, height, bust size and even skin color.

That’s a recent photo of KM on the right, looking like any hard-living but well-tended supermodel might look before the makeup crew and photo techs get their hands on her. Are the Valisere photos retouched? Of course. Could she possibly look that good at her age? Again — of course.

All of this comes at the end of a rough year for the fashion publishing industry, which has come under increasing attack for the practice of manipulating images to make models look younger, lighter, thinner and sexier.

Some fashion labels (Ann Taylor) issued public apologies for doctoring models’ photos, while others (Canada’s Jacob) promised to stop retouching photos altogether. Crystal Renn got chopped down to a size 2 in French Vogue, while girl-next-door Jenna Fischer from The Office found herself whittled down to Barbie proportions on the cover of Self (next to an ironic headline that read, “Lose Inches All Over!”)

Examples like this — and there are many more — have created a kind of hysteria among some critics and fashion bloggers, who have turned searching for bad photoshop jobs into a kind of modern-day witchhunt. To what purpose is anyone’s guess.

The photoshopping issue isn’t going to go away (although in Britain, some MPs have threatened to bring in legislation governing the manipulation of advertising images). In the meantime, how is an average consumer supposed to know if the fashion images they are looking at are “real” or Photoshop fakes? And why should they care?

Here’s a few pointers for dealing with fashion images that make you suspicious.

Telltale Signs of a Bad Photoshop Job

  • anatomical irregularities (long necks, stretched legs, ultra-thin arms)
  • enlarged or glinting pupils
  • lack of lines on neck
  • lack of blemishes
  • lack of veins
  • no bulges
  • uniform skin tones
  • blurred or smudged edges

Remember, where image manipulation is concerned, if you have to ask, the answer is always, always yes.

When Is It Wrong?

  • When a dark-skinned subject is lightened, ask why. When a plus-size (or average-size) model is magically trimmed down, ask why.
  • These practices are common and have been shown to undermine the esteem of “real” women by elevating unrealistic and unachievable standards of beauty.

Where To Learn More

  • Check out Jacob’s website to see how their no-retouching policy affects its campaign imagery. (Look for telltale hip and waist bulges).
  • Visit Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty (keeping in mind these people are selling soap, not just “educating women”).
  • Watch the video below, titled “The Evolution of Beauty” to see what retouching does to (and for) a typical fashion model.

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