We’ve all got used to seeing airbrushed celebrities on the front of magazines and know they’ve been ‘touched up’ a bit but do we really understand how much they have been altered? Today I’ve been reading about a computer programme that could make the extent of alterations clearer to readers and as a result possibly encourage magazines to be a little more restrained when it comes to editing.
I don’t really have a problem with photoshopping out the odd spot and evening out skin tone but the changes seem to be getting more and more extreme. So many of them don’t even look that realistic, a bit ‘cartoony’ with strangely large bobble heads and Barbie sized waists. My personal favourite was the photo of Kourtney Kardashian one week after her son’s birth where they cut out literally half her body and replaced her entire head with an earlier thinner one. You can see it here. Bonkers, hey?
Research by the Computer Science Department at Dartmouth has developed a computer programme to analyse how much a photo has been altered. They also asked people to rate the amount of change between nearly 500 ‘before and after’ photos on a scale of one to five and used this to calibrate the results so that the programme expressed it’s results in a way that would be considered meaningful by your average reader. Basically it can spot all the small inconsistencies left by the editing and then give the photo a score out of 5 for ‘fakeness’. The full journal article is called ‘A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching‘ if you fancy going into more detail or if you just want to check out some more before and afters have a look here.
This is an interesting bit of research from a purely academic point of view but it could have a very practical application for these celebrity gossip type magazines and even advertising. The researchers are suggesting that they could be compelled to publish the score for each of their photos so all their readers would get an idea of how much work has been done on them. The idea being that if people were more aware of the extent of the changes then these pictures would not be having such a negative impact of the body image of young girls and we might see an improvement in things like eating disorders. A secondary benefit might be that magazines and advertisers would then choose to use less edited pictures as they wouldn’t want to be seen to be using ones with high scores.
I can’t imagine that this would be likely to happen without legislation and of course it would only go a small way to addressing the complicated issues around body image and eating disorders but I do think a reminder that these pictures aren’t real is a great idea.
What do you think? Would this type of score help or would it just be unnecessary nanny state interference? Do you think some advertisers and magazines might take it on voluntarily to improve their image? Maybe it should be compulsory for images targeting children and teens?