May 11, 2007

Photoshop makeovers -- so what?

Via 2blowhards, here's one of many clips showing how "easily" an expert Photoshopper can mold a fat, ugly dog into a slender, stunning fox. Apologies for the scarequotes, but they're there to contradict the facile conclusions that many non-slender non-foxes draw from such YouTube demonstrations -- namely, that we shouldn't believe our eyes when we see a Victoria's Secret ad, given how airbrushed it must be. "No one is that beautiful in real life," the likeminded Dove Real Beauty ad campaign implies.

Well, maybe not that beautiful, but the margin of error is likely to be negligible, and the reason (as always with such whining) is very simple: if the ad agency has a particular goal "look" in mind, they will choose models who are closest to the goal without Photoshopping, in order to minimize cost and effort (Cindy Crawford in her prime might have required no touching up, to a first approximation), as well as to maintain credibility were the model to make a public appearance attending an award show, promoting the brand on a talk show, and so on. To check this hunch, let's have a look at a few professionally touched up photos taken from real published work. Here are two safe examples (one, another), as well as a more provocative, full-body one. Drag the mouse pointer over the image to see its "before" look: most of the changes are accounted for by changes in lighting and contrast, not severely warping the woman's form as if it were Play-doh. The women "before" are clearly all very good-looking. (To see more examples, substitute other numbers just before the ".html" part of the URLs above.)

The logical error in casting aspersions on print models is confounding "the possible" with "the common." Rather than commit this fallacy, attempts at consciousness-raising should highlight how a typical viewer will be lured into thinking that flawless bikini models are common due to the quirks of human reasoning: even when we know that a group of 20 women has been selected to be hot babes, it's hard to perceive them as a non-random sample, leading us to believe that such alluring women are an order of magnitude or more common than they actually are. As we can't will this quirk of ours away, the best we can do is simply not consume these materials in the first place. Readers may be expecting me to say something like, "After all, it won't kill you to listen to a Bach concerto rather than stare at your idiot box," and while this is true, you can find plenty of more mundane ways to entertain yourself other than watching TV or visiting celebrity-themed internet sites. Work on your car, bake a batch of brownies -- anything, really. Of course, the male sex won't mind looking at an unrepresentative group of gorgeous women in the first place.

Added: For examples of the "facile conclusions" I referred to above, just look at the comments on the YouTube video (click "Oldest" to skip the bickering):

"This video really makes [you] think about what there is behind all the photos with those super-thin-and-beautiful models..."

"Makes you wonder if any pictures you see online are true to your eyes! good job on video!"

I know -- I feel like Plato's prisoner who has realized that all he has seen before were mere shadows on a cave wall! Puh-lease.


  1. "a slender, stunning fox"

    WTF? Her face is still scrunched up like shit. You Americans do have lower standards, seems as long as she isn't Godzilla go get the Trojans.

  2. In each of those three linked examples I thought the unretouched lady was more appealing than her retouched version.

  3. nowadays photo retouching is just about everywhere, from the product catalogs to the cinema. It is all about marketing.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."