Feb. 01 -- Google the query, "how to look great in photos," and none of them says don't worry, just look natural. But you'll find all manner of tips on faking flawless skin, avoiding a double chin, disguising facial asymmetry, using the light to your advantage, minimizing red eye and perfecting a genuine-looking fake smile. Yet people become easily offended when Photoshop "trickery" is used to enhance the photos of celebrities and models in magazines. We seem to prefer low-tech trickery. We don't mind adding a filter to a photo on our smartphone before uploading it to Facebook , but if they airbrush a zit from a starlet's cheek in a photo shoot, there's an uproar. To be clear, I'm talking about magazine fashion spreads and advertising, not newspapers. We don't do that kind of thing here. Even my column mugshot below is basically me in a studio with makeup, a genuine-fake cheesy smile, cues about leaning forward, tips on looking into the lens, relaxing rock music and great lighting. You know, just au naturel. The photographer, Attilio D'Agostino , used Photoshop to adjust the light balance to make my skin tone pop and eyes sparkle (which they do naturally, thank you very much), but if you want to see the difference, I'll put the raw photo up against the finished product below on my blog at stltoday.com/stylefile . So this topic won't make me popular ... at least not in a good way, but Photoshop is not evil. There are some extreme cases of heavy-handed abuse, but I could say the same about computer-generated images (known as CGI, I'm looking at you "Spider-Man") in blockbuster movies. Let's start by saying that it's really inefficient and expensive to do dramatic makeovers like the one illustrated in a "Body Evolution" video of an average-looking girl being Photoshopped before your eyes on YouTube. The video has gotten nearly 10 million views. It's interesting but not so damning, as some might suppose. Photoshop is used -- and arguably abused -- in fashion spreads to tweak more subtle imperfections, but it is used liberally. Teeth are whitened, tattoos are removed, pimples are erased, freckles are vanquished and, yes, arm and thighs are slimmed and spray tans are applied or removed. There's been some hoopla around Photoshop because a website called Jezebel offered a $10,000 reward for the unretouched photos of actress Lena Dunham's "Vogue" photos from the January edition. They got the photos within hours and posted the not-so-shocking results. The photos had been retouched, but "Vogue" actually got a lot of social media kudos for its restraint. The woman notorious for appearing unabashedly naked on TV essentially got the bridal photo treatment: an arm was slimmed, a waistline smoothed, her skin tone softened, pores and creases blurred. Writer Jill Filipovic responded on Twitter with this, "I'm a #badfeminist, but if I'm in Vogue, photoshop the (unmentionable word) out of me." Filipovic is a New York -based columnist for the U.S. edition of The Guardian, and her area of expertise is feminism. Yes, body image is a serious concern for young girls. But is anyone anywhere really under the impression that any publicity photo is a raw image? A photo is a facsimile. A clever photographer can manipulate what you see by cropping the image. What you see with the naked eye, is not necessarily what you get in a photo. We've all had the dispiriting experience of taking a bad photo. You look in the mirror and you look pretty good, you might even be all dressed up, but in a flat two-dimensional world you look five years older, fatter and sallow. Why? Let me count the ways. "When you take a picture of a model, even if she's a size 2 and tall, she can twist or move in a way that ... that ... doesn't make her look her best," explained Meg Hensley , a St. Louis -based full-time photo refinisher who does celebrity work and advertising. She is a Photoshop expert and says lots of people use the app badly, but that doesn't mean using Photoshop is bad. "Slimming and changing arms or a waist is not meant to create something unnatural or exaggerated, it's not meant to be malicious on purpose," Hensley said. "The goal is not making a size 2 look as if she's a size negative 33, but she just might be standing in a way that makes her arm look big in proportion to her body or she slouched, but otherwise it's a good image." When it comes to advertising, which arguably is the purpose of all fashion and celebrity coverage, what is too much? People don't get irate when there are more raisins and nuts in the bowl of cereal on a box (cereal stirred with glue or paste that looks like milk, by the way), so why are the changes to a face so offensive? That line in the sand is different for different people, different publications and different purposes. But in truth, Photoshopping starts with casting. Most models are 5-foot-10-inches to 6-feet-tall for a reason. And many celebrities endure grueling sessions at the gym, bizarre eating regimens and painful footwear for appearance's sake. If you want your mind blown, take a look at an artistic project by Gracie Hagen . She photographs her subjects in the nude and ends up with two images for each -- what appears to be their worst photograph and their best side by side. It's amazing what posture can do -- and a little bit scary. She calls the series, "Illusions of the Body." In her artist statement she says, "Most of us realize that the media displays only the prettiest photos of people, yet we compare ourselves to those images. We never get to see those photos juxtaposed against a picture of that same person looking unflattering." Each photo was taken with the same lighting and the same camera angle, but the results are sometimes shockingly drastic. Hagen explains that photos are illusions. With little effort, people can look gorgeous one second and grotesque the next, sometimes just by facing away or toward the light. All of this is not an excuse to Photoshop with abandon. We need to understand what is being presented to us. We need to teach children and young girls especially to understand that, too. Why? Because Photoshop isn't going to stop. Any camera app worth downloading will include a feature that provides airbrushing for amateurs. Teens and teens-at-heart are finessing photos in subtle and extreme ways before broadcasting them on social media. An improved sensor on the iPhone 5s adjusts the light for self-portraits, making them more flattering. The changes aren't the problem (my selfies have never looked so good). People need to know what they are looking at when they view images. "If people don't understand that advertising isn't real at this point, is that really the advertiser's fault?" Hensley said. "It's definitely important to be sensitive to the fact that people do look at magazines and see ideals over and over and over, all the time, but it's important to remember that it's fantasy ... and fantasy is fantasy." ___ (c)2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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