July 31, 2009 -- She's showing in real life, but in her ad campaigns Gisele Bündchen's baby bump is nowhere to be found.
The supermodel and wife of football star Tom Brady bares her belly and just about everything else in a new set of ads for trench-coat company London Fog. Considering she's carrying a child, she looks suspiciously slim.
A London Fog spokeswoman told Women's Wear Daily that the company airbrushed Bündchen's baby bump out of the ads to "respect her privacy." Behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot reveals Bündchen wore underwear that was also digitally removed from the campaign.
It's just the latest instance of over-the-top airbrushing. Photographers, magazines, models and even celebrities have relied on digital trickery for years, but lately, it seems the retoucher's Photoshop tool is being wielded less like a brush and more like a knife, slimming and sculpting stars into shapes that bear fleeting resemblance to their actual bodies.
"The more and more we use this editing, the higher and higher the bar goes. They're creating things that are physically impossible," said Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College professor of computer science who specializes in digital forensics and photo manipulation. "We're seeing really radical digital plastic surgery. It's moving towards the Barbie doll model of what a woman should look like -- big breasts, tiny waist, ridiculously long legs, elongated neck."
Below, Farid dissects some of the latest acts of what he sees as out-of-control airbrushing.
Many Hollywood actresses wax poetic about the importance of a healthy figure; Kate Winslet is one of the few that actually walks the walk. In 2003, she criticized British GQ for whittling her figure on the magazine's January cover, telling Britain's GMTV, "I don't want people to think I was a hypocrite and had suddenly gone and lost 30 pounds, which is something I would never do, and more importantly don't want to look like that. ... They made my legs look quite a bit thinner. They also made me look about 6 feet tall, which I'm not, I'm 5 foot, 6 inches."
Given that, it's surprising another magazine would apparently commit a similar sin. But Winslet graced the December cover of Vanity Fair looking svelte beyond belief. A photo spread inside the issue features Winslet sprawled atop a fur throw, the small of her back carved out as if it was made of clay.
Winslet opened up about this cover too, but this time it was to deny her image had been manipulated.
"Kate is furious at suggestions that her body has been airbrushed," her publicist told People magazine in November."She is in terrific shape and what you see is how she looks or she would never have agreed to pose for those shots."
Farid isn't buying it.
"All the body fat is removed, all the wrinkles are removed, the skin is smoothed out," he said. "Some of that is makeup and lighting -- professional stylists can do wonders -- but almost certainly what's been done is all of her blemishes and wrinkles have been digitally altered. There's a Photoshop tool that creates a very smooth effect. Effectively what you do is paint over the whole body."
Her face has graced countless magazines, newspapers, blogs and posters. But the girl on the cover of her latest album doesn't appear to be Britney Spears at all.
"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."
Kate Moss, paparazzi victim, doesn't seem to be related to Kate Moss, Vogue cover girl. The supermodel took on a new skin tone for the British edition's December cover, apparently thanks to the work of retouchers. But Farid characterized the images as two extremes, neither one an accurate depiction of Moss. (British Vogue did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
"She probably looks like something between those two," he said. "In the studio you have very soft lighting, very good cameras, you're waiting for the right pose. The paparazzi are horribly unfair. They're shooting with flash, the images are grainy. It's a worst case versus a best case, unrealistic scenario."
You'd think Photoshop couldn't touch one of the world's premiere supermodels. You'd be wrong. Even with Heidi Klum's goddesslike proportions, Italian GQ still felt the need to rebuild the "Project Runway" host's physique for its December cover and photo spread.
"Her torso was probably elongated, they almost certainly trimmed everything out," Farid said. "And if you talk to the people who do this, they do the same thing to every model. It's a cookie-cutter thing." (Italian GQ did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
No one wants to reverse the course of technology. But when it comes to digital photo manipulation, less really may be more.
"I think it would be interesting for fashion magazines to return to some level of sanity, to say 'here are the things that we're going to do to the images,'" Farid said. "Be up front about it. I have no problem with removing blemishes, taking away a stray hair, playing with the lighting -- it's creating a neck that's three inches longer than any human is capable of having."
"There is a bigger picture here beyond the fashion magazines," he added. "It's our ability to trust photographs. When fashion magazines create such magnificent pieces of art, it really starts to chip away at our ability to trust what we're looking at. It's why people are so skeptical of what they see."