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View Total Body Replacement

Type: Technique of photo fakery.
Summary: A common form of image manipulation involves cutting-and-pasting a person’s head onto someone else’s body.

Image manipulation software such as Adobe’s Photoshop allows photo editors to alter the appearance of their subjects in many ways. With a click of a mouse they can erase wrinkles, remove blemishes, or melt away fat.

However, even with software, altering the appearance of someone’s entire body can be a time consuming process. As a result, photo editors sometimes take a short cut. They simply replace the entire body of their subject with that of someone else—cutting-and-pasting their subject’s head onto another body. This technique is known as “total body replacement”.

Before the introduction of image manipulation software, it was possible to achieve this effect in a darkroom. However, it required some skill to conceal the line separating the head from the body. Software has made it far easier to seamlessly attach a head to a new body. Therefore, in recent years, this form of photo fakery has become increasingly widespread.

How to spot total body replacement

A well-done fake photo can be almost impossible to detect without the use of image analysis software. However, total body replacement can often be detected by examining details such as shadows and lighting (do the shadows on the face fall in a different direction than the shadows on the body, or is the face conspicuously darker or lighter than the rest of the photo?), skin tone (does the skin tone of the face match the rest of the body?), body shape (is the head disproportionately smaller or larger than the body?), and body position (does the head appear to be posed at an awkward angle in relation to the rest of the body?).

Uses of Total Body Replacement

Wooden cut-outs create an instant total-body- replacement effect.
Humor: A frequent use of total body replacement is to paste a person’s head onto an obviously different body, for humorous effect. This is a species of tall-tale photography. There’s usually little attempt to conceal the deception. For instance, a suit-wearing politician might be lampooned by placing his head on the body of a bikini-wearing model or bodybuilder.

Wooden cut-outs are often used to achieve a similar, though much cruder effect without the use of darkroom techniques or software manipulation. Such cut-outs are popular at beaches, carnivals, or amusement parks. People position their face behind a hole in a wooden board. From the front, it then appears as if their head is on top of whatever body is drawn on the board.

Fantasy: Fans create fantasy images of their favorite celebrities by placing the celebrity’s head onto another body, which is usually posed in a provocative, or pornographic, manner. It is especially common for fans to use this technique to create nude images of actresses who have never (or infrequently) posed nude.

Cosmetic: Photo editors sometimes resort to total body replacement in order to create a more flattering image of a celebrity subject.

Incriminating: The least frequent, but most disturbing use of total body replacement is when it is used to artificially place a person in an incriminating or embarrassing situation.

Notable Instances of Total Body Replacement

Dean Hrbacek

In January 2008 the campaign office of congressional candidate Dean Hrbacek mailed voters a brochure that showed the candidate posing in a suit.  It was later discovered that the body did not belong to Hrbacek. In fact, the body belonged to a significantly slimmer man. Hrbacek’s campaign office defended the fake photo by claiming that Hrbacek did not have time to pose for a real picture since he had been so busy meeting voters in the 22nd Congressional District.  Republican political consultant Allen Blakemore noted it was relatively rare for candidate’s to create doctored photos of themselves since “it can question the veracity of other things you are trying to get across.”

Martha Stewart

A March 2005 cover of Newsweek showed Martha Stewart stepping out from behind parted curtains, as if walking out onto a stage. It ran when Stewart was due to leave a federal prison in West Virginia. The headline read, ““Martha’s Last Laugh: After Prison She’s Thinner, Wealthier & Ready for Prime Time.” However, Stewart had not actually posed for the photo. The Newsweek editors had attached her head to the body of a model. The magazine was criticized because there was no indication on the cover that the image was a composite. Readers would only have known this if they noticed the photo credit inside the magazine, on page three, that read: “Cover: Photo illustration by Michael Elins ... head shot by Marc Bryan-Brown.”

The Bush Twins

In 2005, as an April Fool’s Day prank, Maxim magazine printed a photo of the Bush twins apparently posing in lingerie. In actuality, the bodies were not those of the twins. Maxim printed a number of disclaimers on the page in order to identify the image as a fake.

Julia Roberts

The July 2003 issue of Redbook had an image of Julia Roberts on its cover, although she had not posed for a photoshoot for them. Redbook had combined an image of her head, from a paparazzi shot taken at the 2002 People’s Choice awards, with a shot of her body taken four years previously at the movie premiere of Notting Hill. Ironically, the headline on the magazine read “The Real Julia.” Julia Roberts complained, and Redbook apologized. Roberts’ publicist responded, “it’s a shame they didn’t use the body that went with the head, because it was a great Giorgio Armani pantsuit.”

Ann Richards

The July 1992 cover of Texas Monthly showed Ann Richards, then governor of Texas, in a “Bad Girl” pose astride a white-and-chrome Harley-Davidson. Richards had not posed for the photo. It was created by combining a stock photo of her head with a picture of a model. Texas Monthly had approached Richards about posing for an actual shot, but had decided to create a composite because the governor was unable to schedule enough time for a photoshoot. Richards later said that she loved the cover photo.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey appeared on the August 26, 1989 cover of TV Guide lounging in a gauzy dress on top of a pile of money. She looked gorgeous, but only the head belonged to her. The body came from a 1979 publicity shot of Ann-Margret taken for a Rockette special. The composite was created without the permission of either Oprah or Ann-Margret, and was detected when Ann-Margret’s fashion designer recognized the dress. Ann-Margret’s publicist said, “If you look at the two pictures, they’re identical. It’s even her ring on Oprah’s hand.” Oprah Winfrey’s spokesman said, “Oprah would not pose on a pile of money like that nor would she pose in that revealing a dress.” TV Guide instructed the artist who created the photo “not to use photographs so literally” in the future.

Abraham Lincoln

The standing portrait of Lincoln shown on the left was created soon after the American Civil War. However, Lincoln never posed for it. Instead, an unknown entrepreneur created it by cutting-and-pasting a headshot of Lincoln taken by Mathew Brady onto a portrait of the Southern leader John Calhoun. This was done because there were hardly any appropriate ‘heroic-style’ portraits of Lincoln made during his life. In the Calhoun image, the papers on the table say “strict constitution,” “free trade,” and “the sovereignty of the states.” In the Lincoln image, these words have been changed to read, “constitution,” “union,” and “proclamation of freedom.”


In September 2007 six images of a crossdressing man resembling Oscar De La Hoya appeared on the internet. The images seemed to show the boxer dressed in fishnet stockings, a wig, and stiletto heels. In some photos he posed wearing boxing gloves.

The source of the photos was a 22-year-old stripper/model named Milana Dravnel who claimed that she had taken the photos months ago in a Philadelphia hotel room. De La Hoya, through his representatives, angrily denied that the images were real and demanded that websites remove them. His agent, Jack Tiernan, dismissed the photos as “a really bad Photoshop job” and “completely manufactured.” Another De La Hoya rep claimed that the body in the photo was not De La Hoya’s. She said, “His head is too small and it doesn’t even look like his body.”

However, if the photos were photoshopped, they were certainly not a “bad Photoshop job.” Many fans agreed that the man in the images certainly appeared to be De La Hoya, and there was no blatant evidence of photo manipulation.

Although Dravnel initially insisted that the photos were “not photoshopped,” she later said, “I cannot personally verify the authenticity of the images.” But in a third twist, she subsequently recanted her initial recantation, claiming she had been pressured into denying the authenticity of the photos.


  • “Fake Celebrity Pics.”
  • Farid, Hany. “Photo Tampering Throughout History.”
  • Brugioni, Dino A. (1990). Photo Fakery: The history and techniques of photographic deception and manipulation. Brassey’s.
  • Bernstein, Alan. (Jan. 18, 2008). “House candidate mum on doctored campaign photo.” Houston Chronicle.
  • Mackenzie, Drew. (June 9, 2003). “Julia anger at pic trick.” The Mirror.
  • Cox, James. (July 15, 1992). “Photo fakery toughens governor’s image.” USA Today.
  • Burchell, Iain. (Sep. 21, 2007). “Trannie Oscar is pout for the count.” Daily Star.
  • Pugmire, Lance. (Nov. 16, 2007). “Woman is suing De La Hoya.” Los Angeles Times.