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Monday, January 16, 2012

Photoshopping unrealistically beautiful bodies

Ever suffer from a surfeit of Beautiful People?

Common sense should tell you that those gorgeous blokes and girls splashed over billboards and magazines are not nearly so pretty in reality. 

Let's face it, it has always happened.  Cleopatra bathed in ass's milk, and arrived attired in fetchingly flattering costumes.  In the early days of cinema, actors and actresses beginning to show their years were photographed through cheesecloth.  Makeup artists were deft at covering up blemishes.

Photoshopping has taken this art to a whole new level, and there is scientific evidence out there that proves that it is bad for the health of many people.  While most merely wince when a glimpse in the mirror compares unfavorably with the cover of the latest mag, there are some who become so driven by a bad self-image that they develop life-threatening dietary problems, or embark on risky surgery.

Now, two American computer scientists, Prof. Eric Kee and his grad student, Hany Farid, have developed a program that could be used to alert readers to the amount of photoshopping involved in pictures -- rather like the lists of ingredients and their calorific content that are printed on food packages.

Their paper, A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching, begins with this abstract:

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. In response, several countries have considered legislating the labeling of retouched photos.

We describe a quantitative and perceptually meaningful metric of photo retouching. Photographs are rated on the degree to which they have been digitally altered by explicitly modeling and estimating geometric and photometric changes. This metric correlates well with perceptual judgments of photo retouching and can be used to objectively judge by how much a retouched photo has strayed from reality.      

You can download the entire article and supporting material HERE.

Warning: it's not easy reading.  And the advertisers and magazine publishers who have been offered the free use of the system are predictably unimpressed.

In meantime, comfort yourself with the bracing thought that those glamorous faces and slinky bodies are the products of a computer program, not of nature.

PS.  If you like the photoshopping illustrated above, you can see more examples HERE

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