Airbrushing–and not just a little airbrushing, a whole lot of airbrushing–has become so common in magazines and ads that it’s pretty much expected. Women who are famously proud of their bodies are digitally slimmed (and placed next to headlines about “total body confidence”). Women of color are lightened. Though we generally notice the more egregious offenses, when a magazine cover barely resembles the celebrity it’s supposed to portray, we’re so jaded that we let it fly, much as we accept that a Picasso is going to kind of look just about person-esque.
Now scientists at Dartmouth can identify precisely how cubist a cover photo has become on a scale of 1 to 5. Computer science Professor Hany Farid and doctor student Eric Kee can not only figure out how much retouching has taken place but can also draw up a nice little map with indicators of exactly which parts have been pumped up, slimmed down, colored, smoothed, or full-on replaced. A photo of Fergie–not an uncurvy woman to begin with–shows, thermography-style, a rainbow bulls-eye over her digitally augmented breasts, as well as patches on her torso where imaginary waist flab and back fat have been removed.
“Impossibly thin, tall, and wrinkle- and blemish-free models are routinely splashed onto billboards, advertisements, and magazine covers,” Farid wrote.
He said these highly idealized images have been linked to eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children.
Farid and Kee said they are seeking a way for advertisers to truthfully and accurately characterize the extent to which an image has been altered, allowing the public to make informed judgments.