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They Aren't That Thin - Digital Retouching Gets Graded

At left, an altered ad featuring model Filippa Hamilton who worked for Ralph Lauren.At right, the real Hamilton walks a runway in 2006. i i

At left, an altered ad featuring model Filippa Hamilton who worked for Ralph Lauren.At right, the real Hamilton walks a runway in 2006. RICHARD DREW, UNKNOWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption RICHARD DREW, UNKNOWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
At left, an altered ad featuring model Filippa Hamilton who worked for Ralph Lauren.At right, the real Hamilton walks a runway in 2006.

At left, an altered ad featuring model Filippa Hamilton who worked for Ralph Lauren.At right, the real Hamilton walks a runway in 2006.

RICHARD DREW, UNKNOWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Isn't a camera supposed to add 10 pounds to your face? Can some people really look ageless? With the help of digital retouching, anybody can look unbelievably flawless and sometimes the work is hard to detect. But even when the lie is shockingly obvious, people still try to change their bodies to match.

Now two researchers have calculated a way to find out how outrageous some of these retouching efforts can be. Dartmouth professor Hany Farid and doctoral student Eric Kee developed a method to grade the amount of digital magic that's used to alter images. Their work is published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They write:

"In recent years, advertisers and magazine editors have been widely criticized for taking digital photo retouching to an extreme. Impossibly thin, tall, and wrinkle and blemish-free models are routinely splashed onto billboards, advertisements, and magazine covers. The ubiquity of these unrealistic and highly idealized images has been linked to eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children."

Image editing is available to just about everybody these days, from acne-suffering high school seniors taking a class photo to people you thought were a lot older than they appear. In fact, earlier this year, British officials banned two ads by L'Oreal, the cosmetic firm, because its two models, Christy Turlington and actress Julia Roberts, appeared much more youthful than their real ages in their 40s. The ads were called 'misleading'.

The researchers note lawmakers in some countries want to regulate the labeling of retouched photos, alerting people that what they're seeing isn't reality. As the New York Times reports (paywall), they want to create a software tool that can rate the retouching efforts. It would set a scale of one to five. One would include minimal image changes, perhaps of that anxious high school senior, while five would feature the real whoppers.

Farid and Kee have compiled whopper pages where you can toggle back and forth to watch entertaining images of digital wizardry. On Farid's site, George Clooney ages! Kee's page has many more digitally altered images, and he points out changes in age, body proportions and skin tone.

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