We all know that Photoshopping is used liberally in all our favorite magazines and campaigns, but it’s not always as obvious as those hilarious images of Adam Levine missing a chunk of his torso in Vogue Russia or when Candice Swanepoel accidentally looked like a football player in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Now new technology provides a method for determining exactly how much an image has been retouched. It’s all part of a growing movement to make advertising more transparent, as research has shown that these altered images can contribute to body and image disorders in young women.
Dr. Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth, became interested in photo retouching after learning about proposals in the UK, France, and Norway calling for altered ads to be labeled, the New York Times is reporting. He wanted to figure out a way to suss out the exact amount of Photoshopping used, rather than just calling something altered or not. So he and a Ph.D student, Eric Kee, whipped up a computer program which can determine the amount of fluffing a photo received on a scale of 1 to 5, ranging from “infinitesimal” to the “fantastic.” (The photos above–from the NYT–are arranged from least to most photoshopping with George getting a tweak and Candice Huffine from V‘s famous “Curves Ahead” editorial being photoshopped beyond recognition.)
The researchers had people sit down and look at retouched images–many of which they gleaned from photo retouchers’ websites–and then rate the images by how radically different they were from the original. All this data helped them to develop a computer algorithm.
Now that the capability exists, should it be used to self-police an industry where beauty and perfection are often the goal? Lesley Jane Seymore, the editor of More, told the NYT, “If you’re a good editor, you don’t go too far these days. If you give someone a face-lift, you’re a fool.” It remains to be seen if magazines will eventually be “forced” by legislators to reveal the amount of photo retouching. We see it happening much more quickly in the world of advertising, where potentially misleading ads are already receiving much more scrutiny. Is this a good development or are we smart enough to realize that most of the time we’re looking at an idealized version of a model/actress?