Digital Plastic Surgery

People want to look good in photographs, and photographers have a lot of tools at their disposal to help them. Make-up and lighting can improve a person's appearance as the shot is being taken, but after the picture has been captured, image manipulation software (most famously Adobe's Photoshop program) can work even more wonders.

Wrinkles can be erased, blemishes removed, skin tone evened out, fat rolls melted away, breasts enlarged, and tummies shrunk, all with the click of a mouse. This is known as 'Digital Plastic Surgery,' and it's become such a common practice that it's rare to find a photo in a fashion or entertainment magazine that hasn't been touched up in some way.

Few people have a problem when photo editors remove a few pimples or stray hairs from a celebrity's face. But when photos are changed so much that the end result looks significantly different than the real-life person, that does still raise eyebrows (figuratively speaking).

In extreme cases, a photo editor might even opt for 'total body replacement,' which involves digitally transplanting a person's head onto someone else's body.

Of course, Digital Plastic Surgery dates back long before the arrival of image manipulation software. The practice is almost as old as photography itself. In the pre-Photoshop era, it was simply Darkroom Plastic Surgery.
November 2008
The Fake General Dunwoody
When Ann Dunwoody became the first four-star general in the American military, the Army released a doctored photo of her to the media.
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July 2, 2008
Fox Airs Faux Photos
Fox News aired pictures of New York Times staffers that had been digitally altered to make the men appear less attractive.
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August 2007
Sarkozy’s Disappearing Love Handles
Paris Match was accused of pandering to French President Nicolas Sarkozy when it reduced the size of his love handles in this photo of him canoeing with his son.
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September 2006
Katie Couric Slimmed Down
A digitally slimmed down version of Katie Couric appeared in CBS's Watch magazine.
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April 2005 issue of Popular Photography
Migrant Mother Makeover
Popular Photography's readers were outraged when the magazine ran a feature on how Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother photo could be improved.
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July 2003
The Real Julia
Julia Roberts' head was pasted onto a younger version of her body.
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February 2003
Kate Winslet’s Legs
Kate Winslet complained that photo editors made her look too skinny on this GQ cover.
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August 26, 1989
Oprah’s Head Transplant
Oprah Winfrey appeared on the cover of TV Guide (left) lounging in a gauzy dress on top of a pile of money. She looked glamorous, but only the head belonged to her. The body came from a 1979 publicity shot of Ann-Margret (right) taken for a Rockette special.
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A Man’s Portrait Retouched
In their 1895 work Photography: Artistic and Scientific, authors Robert Johnson and Arthur Brunel Chatwood offered an example of how retouching could improve a portrait. They also defended the practice, writing: "that judicious retouching is a very great advantage we have no doubt whatever; it is an absolute necessity, in our opinion, in order to obtain the best result, which is admittedly the object of all art."
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December 1867
Dickens in America
An early example of how a celebrity's appearance could be tidied up in the darkroom. The portrait of Dickens on the right was taken in 1861. But during Dickens' 1867 tour of the U.S., the Matthew Brady studio used darkroom techniques to improve the photo, producing the portrait on the left, which they sold to the public, promising that it showed "Mr. Dickens just as he is in his readings."
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