Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

When you look these images, can you see the ‘before’, or only the ‘after’?


I was watching a fantastic show called ‘The Conversation with Amanda De Cadenet’ the other day. It’s all about really frank and candid conversations with women (one music star, one author/politician/thinker, and two movie stars per episode), all about body image and confidence and the women’s plight. I was looking at the women on the show, many of whom are around 40 years old, and noticed that despite the fact that it’s HD television and they are sitting on a sofa looking very candid, they all looked like they’d just stepped out of a magazine. Then I looked a little closer, and I noticed that they had zero pores, and zero wrinkles or face lines. Their skin look perfectly smooth.

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

Eva Longoria raising her eyebrows on TV show ‘The Conversation’

This struck me as particularly ironic, given that the topic of conversation was self-image and confidence. It also struck me as very misleading, given that the setting was so casual, and it was meant to look and feel like a live interview. What confusing messages! We’re supposed to relate to the women in the show, who are supposedly letting it all hang out and bearing their souls, and yet they can’t bring themselves to bear their pores and wrinkles on television? And what’s worse, is that they’re fully aware that the vast majority of women watching the show have no idea that their appearance has been digitally enhanced, and just wonder why they look so much older than the women their age on the show (or any show, for that matter).

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

By now, it’s a given that we’ve become accustomed to knowing that even the most naturally flawless celebrities are retouched (ie. “Photoshopped”) to look beyond perfect in magazines and pictures. Through the years, we’ve heaved sighs of relief knowing that at least on TV we can see them in their truest form, even with the hair and eyelash extensions, perfect lighting and all that perfectly-applied makeup. But those days are over, as even HD television is being “Photoshopped” using automatic filters to conceal even the smallest of imperfections.

Because of photo-editing and video filtering-apps, faux-flawless has become the norm among not only celebrities and social media influencers, but and even your friends.

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

Luckily for these celebs and unfortunately for us, the technology gods have devised a way to bring auto-retouching to the faces on both pre-recorded and live television, so that people can look absolutely wrinkle and blemish-free even when moving and talking. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only is skin on television automatically retouched using smart technology that can recognize the contours of a face, but it also heightens and lightens eye color, adds shine to hair and contrast to makeup, and can even thin the body.

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

Traditionally, facial blemishes and dark circles were hidden on TV through thick layers of makeup and skin products. We all contended with that, what with makeup only able to do so much to truly hide the blemishes without making someone look like a circus clown. Makeup, over the years, has also evolved, allowing artisans to wield their “weapons” without placing as thick of a mask person’s face. More natural-looking but just as deceptive makeup, coupled with retouching, and the fact that published unretouched images almost don’t exist anymore, has made it harder than ever for women to recognize when they’re being duped.

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the Norm

I’d like to say that there are easy ways to tell exactly how digitally altered an image is, but since many retouchers enhance their images pore-by-pore, it’s often hard impossible to tell. One way to recognize is when the skin looks perfectly smooth and without any lines. Even teenagers have lines. Another is if there’s no shadow under the eyes. Everyone has under-eye circles – even toddlers. But then again, skilled retouchers know not to completely erase everything. Instead, they just erase most wrinkles and make the remaining very faint.

Shailene Woodley (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in “The Descendants”), said: “I saw somebody — what I thought was me — in a magazine once, and I had big red lips that definitely did not belong on my face. I had boobs about three times the size they are in real life. My stomach was completely flat. My skin was also flawless. But the reality is that I do not have those lips and my skin is not flawless and I do have a little bit of a stomach. It was not a proper representation of who I am. I realized that, growing up and looking at magazines, I was comparing myself to images like that — and most of it isn’t real.”

Retouched Faces and Figures Have Become the NormThe main thing to realize and remember is that the images you see in print – and now on TV – are fantasy. They’re computer enhanced versions of what was a person at one point, but no longer resembles reality. The bottom line is that everyone – even movie stars – look imperfect in real life, and you should never ever compare yourself to what you see in the media.

Here’s a canvas of Photoshop work that has been done on some of the most celebrated beauties today. These are but a few examples of typical retouching done in almost all images you’ll see in mainstream magazines:

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Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 20 Comments

  1. Avatar of Hannah


    I found it ironic that with the spice girls and even other female empowerment groups, the topic was girl power and feminism and the vast majority of women buying their magazines or their albums had no idea the photos were digitally enhanced. Girl power! Is a slogan yet it’s often used for magazines where the women don’t know the photos are photoshopped. Now that women know the truth, many companies like Dove and American Eagle are using not attractive but photoshopped models.

  2. Avatar of Sara Grey

    Sara Grey

    To be honest? I don’t mind retouching for printed work. All I’m against is the blatant denial that retouches have been made! Like seriously? make-up can go a long way but literally removing pores and wrinkles from every part of your body is just dumb. You’re like a cartoon character and yet you deny that retouches are made.

  3. Avatar of Vanessa Calderon

    I really love this, thank you for sharing it, so we can have a different perception of things in reality, specially women.
    We are forced to look amazing every single minute.
    Thank you

  4. Avatar of Melani Kalev

    Melani Kalev

    “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” So true. There’s a retouching that you can see right away (e.g. Madonna’s picture, no real person glows like this, we’re not in The Lord of the Rings here) but the pictures on the covers of the magazines and the ads can often times be very true to life. Although, they are far from it…

  5. Avatar of Ansley Barrington

    Sometimes it feels like the model in “our” photo shoot is no longer us…I would have to admit that “being retouched” challenges me a lot…

  6. Avatar of Andrew Givens

    A model speaking about the “wonders” that Photoshop creates is truly amazing 🙂 Well, I can only admit that I admire you, at least for “indirectly” admitting that even models like you are not perfect 🙂

  7. Avatar of Joanne Samonte

    Joanne Samonte

    WOW! The video embed is truly amazing! It summarizes the “secret” of photoshop! This is an eye opener for us. The concept of “perfect” does not really exist especially when talking about models.

  8. Avatar of Jen Garcia

    Jen Garcia

    This is really a fascinating article and I appreciate the video embed! Indeed, Photoshop does wonders as well as “lies.” I believe one of the hardest thing to do (nowadays) is to appreciate and love own bodies and how they “naturally” look at pictures (and videos). This article serves as an eye opener for everyone that “perfect body and perfect look” don’t really exist.

  9. Avatar of Arabella Clarington

    Working in publishing (I work at Marie Claire), I see this routinely. I wish the industry would change, but every time a magazine publishes a cover that doesn’t look perfect and glamorous, sales dip, unfortunately. As readers, we have to buy the issues when magazines try out less Photoshop. That’s the only way things will change.

  10. Avatar of Sandra Brown

    As a model, I can say that this is definitely true. Sometimes I hardly recognize my body after it’s been retouched. I *wish* I looked like that in real life!

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