The Face Behind the Photoshop: Celebrities

One of the most common groups when we think about heavy uses of Photoshop is celebrities. Many celebrities refuse to acknowledge how they really look, instead working on controlling the media so no one finds out what they look like without makeup or Photoshop. Recently Lorde spoke out against Photoshop, reminding fans that the images they see aren’t always real, and its ok to have flaws.

"Flaws are ok"

“Flaws are ok”

I love this tweet so much, it reminds her followers that she’s not perfect, even if some people like to edit her photos so it seems like she is. Lorde has a massive fanbase and a simple tweet like this can go a long way in reassuring them they are ok as they are and the images they see in the media aren’t real.

Another artist who has taken a stand against Photoshop is Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is the queen of costumes and characters but she recently criticized Glamour for her overly edited cover image on the December 2013 issue.


In reference to the image, Gaga stated “I felt my skin looked too perfect. I felt my hair looked too soft. I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning”. She called on the magazine for change, stating “when the covers change, that’s when culture changes”.

We can talk about change all we want but nothing will happen unless action is taken and these women are using their status as celebrities to raise awareness of these issues by calling out instances of Photoshop and owning the fact that they are not perfect and thats just fine.


Raising Awareness

There are many creative Photoshop awareness campaigns that help drive home the prevalence of altered images and the degree to which images are altered. A few of my favorite is the Photoshop Parody Beauty Ads, which highlights how much Photoshop changes an image in the advertisement style images.


The above image points out the absurdity of basing out beauty ideal off of what we see in magazines, reminding us these images are far from real.

Another awareness piece that has caught massive amounts of attention is the video below.

The video shows start to finish just how much makeup, lighting and finally the computer can change a person. It’s another good reminder that everything we see is not real!


Though discussion is a powerful force, the one most powerful avenue for change can be legislation. In the US and especially around the world laws have been discussed and enacted to help protect citizens and reduce the effects of Photoshop.

Israel’s “Photoshop Law” (Source: Time)

In the spring of 2012 Israel passed a law prohibiting models considered malnourished by the World Health Organization’s standards, with BMI’s 18.5 or below. The law also requires advertisers to inform consumers if the images were digitally altered to make the models look thinner.

Critics of the law have complained the law persecutes women who might be naturally thin, and the law should focus on overall health, not BMI, which is not always accurate. However, overall health is much more difficult to pin down and regulate. Also, the law does not come with criminal consequences, however it provides grounds for people to stand on if they wish to sue advertisers or designers and hopefully the threat of a lawsuit will keep the media in line.

At this point the law seems more like guidelines than rules, but it’s a step in the right direction and bridges the gap between being too restrictive and too controlling.

Makeup Ads in the United Kingdom

The UK has tried, unsuccessfully, to ban Photoshop from advertisements completely and instead has banned multiple makeup adds for being misleading. The BBC reported on two advertisements, one featuring Julia Roberts for Lancome and another featuring model Christy Turlington for Maybelline, both being banned for not accurately representing the product.

banned ads

The banned advertisements

Guy Parker, the chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority explains to the BBC, “if advertisers go too far in using airbrushing and other post-production techniques to alter the appearance of models and it’s likely to mislead people, then that’s wrong and we’ll stop the ads.”

Though the ASA operates on a case by case basis, and therefore can not catch everything, simply by banning some advertisements they raise awareness for the problem as a whole.

In the United States

It’s no secret the US is big on free speech and some may argue laws regulating the use of Photoshop and the sizes of models restrict that free speech. However, other advertisements in the past have been outlawed due to the effect they had on the public’s health. Ads glamorizing cigarettes are illegal and most people think nothing of it. How is Photoshop any different? Though the connection is less direct between its use and the public’s health, the connection is still there.

Removing Our Humanity

Looking at airbrushed images, the perfect skin and slender figures jump out at first. Look deeper and you’ll notice just how wrong these altered images look, in removing all our lines, wrinkles and imperfections, the computer is removing our personality and our humanity.

BBC published an article in the fall of 2013 asking “What does it feel like to be airbrushed?” in which the author, Tulip Mazumdar, pictured below, underwent a makeover courtesy of Photoshop.

The woman moves from natural to almost alien with all her perfections removed.

Mazumdar moves from natural to almost alien with all her perfections removed.

As the picture is edited the flaws that make her human and add warmth disappear. The image left is cool and almost calculating, all traces of her original personality gone. Her face is more narrow, her skin lighter and the wrinkles around her eyes are almost gone.

Before and after

Before and after

The original images on their own look perfectly fine but compared to the digitally altered one, as Mazumdar says, “suddenly the original images that I was quite happy with at the start, looked old, tired and a bit chubby. Looking again at my airbrushed images, there’s something else I lost – any sign of a personality. I look like a clone, almost inhuman.”

Georgina Wilkin, a former model, has suffered from an eating disorder due to the job and recognizes the feeling.  Wilkin says; “I’ve had a few times where I’ve worked for a magazine and the magazine’s come out and I hardly even recognise myself. My legs have been skimmed off, my pores have been eliminated, my nose has been straightened … I felt awful – you feel that what you are as a human being isn’t good enough.”

The side by side comparison highlights all of our flaws and completely overlooks our strengths. All you can see is what was wrong and what was corrected, instead of the beauty that was there originally.

The Real Effects

The scariest results of the digital alteration craze are the statistics surrounding eating disorders. Eating disorders are a serious illness, affecting 20 million women and 10 million men at some point in their lifetime, just in the United States. The National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA recognizes the role media plays in the prevalence of eating disorders in the United States. The rate of development of new cases has been rising since 1950, and the instances of bulimia in 10-39 year old women has tripled between 1988 and 1993.

The most concerning statistics surround children. 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat and 46% of 9-11 year olds “sometimes” or “very often” diet. Related to the media, 69% of elementary school girls in the US who read magazines say “the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape” and 47% say the pictures make them want to loose weight.

Images such as the Ralph Lauren one below show just how skewed societies perceptions of normal are. In the eyes of some, even already skinny people aren’t thin enough. When will it be enough, especially when people are dying?

ralphlauren beforeNafter


Information provided by the NEDA at, image from Beauty Redefined.

Images: Before and After

While it’s no secret good makeup and lighting can drastically change a persons appearance, Photoshop moves beyond these tricks to drastically alter images. Every single image released by the media – thats magazines, catalogues, advertisers, everything – has been Photoshopped into something inhuman. Below are some examples, taken from the sites Beauty Redefined and It’s clear even the people we consider most beautiful aren’t perfect enough according to our societal standards.

Retouching can vary from simply adjusting lighting to removing blemishes and smoothing out the skin to physically altering the person’s body, making them skinnier, more muscular, etc. Sometimes there are obvious signs, such as missing legs, fingers, awkward angles, but often the person appears normal, untouched.

Britney beforeNafter

Britney before and after showing just how much the computer can change.

Madonna beforeNafter

Another famous celebrity, Madonna, before and after with perfect, glowing skin.

Kate Middleton. You can see her already tiny frame was shrunk even more for the cover.

Kate Middleton. You can see her already tiny frame was shrunk even more for the cover.

Another widespread trend is whitewashing, shown here with Beyonce's drastically altered skin for Loreal.

Another widespread trend is whitewashing, shown here with Beyonce’s drastically altered skin for L’Oreal.

Looking through image after image perfected for magazines, comparing them to their unaltered companions, what concerned me the most was how normal the Photoshopped images seemed. Only when mistakes are made and limbs are accidentally cut off, or we have another image to compare to, do we realize how much an image has been altered.

Airbrushing removes all the little imperfections that makes us who we are. The computer drives our features more towards the norm, removing any signs of imperfections. Digital alteration is everywhere, no magazine editor or advertiser would dare release an image unedited. These changes create an impossible goal, an unreachable ideal and no one notices.

Miss Representation

The inspiration for this project came from The Representation Project and the 2011 film MissRepresentation. The film takes a harsh look at the way women are represented in the media, challenging “the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls,” according to their website. Using the hashtags #NOTBUYINGIT and #MEDIAWELIKE the project aims to spread awareness of how women are represented in media, both by calling out negative portrayals and highlighting positive ones.

Though the movie is an excellent educational tool, the filmmakers spent the vast majority of their time discussing problems with the media, not solutions. While these problems can’t be addressed without any awareness of them, the movie offers very few ideas and resources for change. The last ten minutes of the film discusses opportunities for improvement, but ten minutes out of an hour and a half is a footnote not a chapter. Approached simply as an educational tool MissRepresentation is an excellent film, giving a deep, in-depth look at the the effects of the media, but the creators could have devoted more time discussing ways to move forward.