"The skin tones are all completely fake," Farid said. "They probably curved her back in a bit, her face has been thinned out. Her hair's been lightened up to get that sort of angelic look."
The highlighting on her arm, the glow around her head -- the combined effect makes the "Circus" cover look more like a 19th century-style portrait of Spears than a photograph. Farid attributed that to the snowball effect that often occurs with airbrushing. (Spears' record label did not respond to requests for comment.)
"This is the danger with digital editing. It's a very slippery slope," he said. "You start off by removing blemishes, fixing hair, thinning limbs a little bit, then all of a sudden, you change one pixel, then a couple more and all of a sudden it's nothing like the original. It's like when you open the Oreo cookie bag and say, 'oh I'll eat four' and then reach in and say, 'what's two more?' Each step seems reasonable from the previous step. But then when you compare the first image to the last image, something really bad happens."