Is It Airbrushed? New Technology Tests Pics To Find Out

Although the American Medical Association has called the airbrushing of photos (commonly referred to as photoshopping) harmful to women’s health, little has been done to combat the ubiquitous trend. There are no standards about the extent to which an image may be altered, and no formal mechanism to report what has been done to a picture. This leaves anyone exposed to airbrushed pictures comparing themselves to an unrealistic version of what the “perfect” body looks like, without any frame of reference.

Two Dartmouth computer scientists, though, created a program that can test how much a picture has been photoshopped. Their program accurately predicts how much humans think an image has been altered from its original. And for those of us who are still not aware how pervasive airbrushing is — and how drastic the changes can be — they included a nifty and mesmerizing tool that allows you to toggle between the original and final versions of pictures of celebrities and stock photos. It’s pretty shocking how much they all change.

This program has some real potential: imagine if advertisers and magazine photographers had to label every photoshopped image with its score. That would not only curb the excesses of airbrushing, but would show how unrealistic modern advertisements are — people could see just how many changes a typical image undergoes.

Given how terrible photoshopping is for peoples’ self-image, this move would help millions of people worldwide grow to love their bodies more. And it’s hard to argue against this kind of labeling — photoshopping hurts women in very tangible ways, and scientists have figured out an objectively reasonable way to quantify the practice. Everyone wins — except for advertising execs who profit from people’s insecurities.

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Photo credit: dreamglowpumpkincat210's Flickr stream.


Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M4 years ago

this labeling would be great

Viky XXV
Nik X4 years ago

I think the main problem is that ‘perfection’ as such doesn't exist. I have one certain ‘image of perfection,’ a friend of mine has another one, and people out there have totally different one. That’s it. TV and advertising only highlight and popularize ~one of all possible~ ‘ideals.’ Maybe it’s because they’re lacking in creativity ;)

Anne G.
Anne G4 years ago

I'm a photographer and retouching has been going on since photography existed, the only problem is that today it has gone to the extreme. Models no longer look like people, they look like some airbrushed image of some unreal being. I like to keep it simple in the retouching department and see the person I've shot as human. One can only hope one day this insanity for perfection will calm down.

Viky XXV
Nik X4 years ago

The airbrushing is WAY TOO common. I'm used to this situation: when reading newspapers or magazines, or watching TV, I do realize that they rarely show a 'real' human. Wanna see real men and women? Go out and meet your friends or family. But when dealing with entertainment and advertising, be ready to see 'fakes' and photoshopping here and there...
No, photoshop isn't bad at all, -- I do like to paint and draw with it, or alternate some pix just for fun. But when I look on the image above, I see a normal, natural lady with light make-up on the left side ofthe pic, and a scary one on the right :D

Monica K.
Monica K5 years ago

I am a photographer and Graphic Designer and I use Photoshop all the time. There is nothing inherently bad about using Photoshop. It's a wonderful tool to take that cigarette butt out of your pristine landscape, to take that zit off a teenagers nose, to whiten the teeth and add a little sparkle to the eyes, to blur or crop ugly backgrounds, to correct the exposure of a photo. My main objection is when someone uses Photoshop to reshape people's bodies (mainly in advertising), add colors and miraculous special effects (mainly in landscapes and religious photos). The problem is that we have come to believe that photos never lie, that they are a true record of reality when in fact they always lie, either a little or a lot. People will ALWAYS lie to you to get your money, we've learned not to believe what we hear, now we need to learn not to believe what we see. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is AND if something looks too good to be real, it definitely is!

Shell S.
Shelli S5 years ago

I alter photos of celebrities all the time, drawing beards on women and lipstick on men.
Makes for great fun, when bored.

David C.
David Connally5 years ago

I don't see a big deal difference between the two pictures. Certainly nothing to be concerned about. The major changes are sharpening of the image - the original was slightly out of focus- blurring of the background, redder lips, somewhat "more" face make-up, somewhat more contrast. 'Fraid I don't understand why people are so upset. A more professional original picture, better focus and lighting would give an original very much like the photoshopped pic.

I have seen pics, particularly of older actors and actresses where wrinkles have been removed, and even some where I thought body shape had been changed. If the older actress is advertizing skin cream or soap, I see a problem. If it's just to make her look a little better - who's harmed?

Noel S.
Noel S.5 years ago

They've turned the lady into a Hooker in the 2nd picture.

Noel S.
Noel S.5 years ago

Airbrushing/photoshopping V. Panstick/Powder/Coverall/Lipgloss V. Permanent Makeup V Facelifts V Botox.

The faceoff .

Who "wins" ?

The Makeup Companies & Plastic Surgeons, duh.

What they cannot change - ( or CAN they, now ? ! ! ) is someones facial bone structure.

It's the shape of a feminine face that is the most distinctive & attractive feature. That Plus her mind. Everything else can be colored or restyled.

Aysegul Kiratli
Aysegul Kiratli5 years ago

90 percent of the people (so the vote results say) are aware that airbrushing is too common in advertisements.. So we all know but msot of us are OK I guess.. Why wouldn't they be? "Advertising execs who profit from people’s insecurities" make up a HUGE part of any kind of media I think.