Performers & Models

Retouching Artists,
Performers & Models

After they were photographed, the models in these experiments would be shown their unretouched 2D portraits as part of the ethical debriefing. And they often say “I look terrible” or “I need to go on a diet.”  Many still maintained these opinions, even when it was clearly explained to them they should never change their bodyweight or appearance solely on the basis of flawed 2D photographic “evidence.” Nobody who saw their image in 3D however said this, even the ones who had a higher than average Body Mass Index.  These opinions were all held by the female participant-models, and the following section explores why:

Women were consistently assessed as overweight in almost all 2D portraiture. 

Weight estimations rose significantly as camera to subject distances increased, becoming significantly overweight from only 1 meter away, rising significantly with increasing distance.

Worse still, the most underweight models had the most overweight or over-size estimations relative to their true bodyweight. 

These findings were both highly consistent and found to be equally prevalent amongst male and female viewers, regardless of age. It was clear from reviewing the 2D experiments en-masse (and assessing these images during feedback sessions with models and colleagues) that the thickening of the neck created by telephoto lenses is universally interpreted as increased body fat in women. This was also true when waists, hips and necks were viewed life size in 2D projections. But the same bodies projected in 3D were always seen like their true shape: significantly slimmer, with size estimations that strongly correlated to their actual Body Mass Index and measured bodyweight. As 3D portrait photography is rarely used or seen, it is unsurprising that casting agents, fashion designers and photographers have historically favoured those whose natural slimness or bone structure counteracts the innate flattening and fattening effects of 2D imaging. But for those people lucky enough to have been photographed in life-size 3D, their awe-struck and “OMG! So that’s what I look like!” comments are by far the most common response.

Retouching artists, print editors or people working professionally with images of women have a responsibility to not exacerbate misrepresentations and to produce ethical body images. So making appropriate corrections is essential to distorted images. However,  intervening too much to create a fraudulent image is highly unethical unless the image is clearly marked as such. It is also illegal in some some countries, such as France. 

Male performers and models are were found to be always conveyed at or below their actual BMI and bodyweight in 2D. Weight estimations still rise with increasing camera to subject distances in the same way they do with female 2D images. But the baseline size or weight estimation is always lower than reality and never rose above actual weight, even for the heaviest participants. The thickening of the neck created by telephoto lenses (from a distant camera) can add the appearance of muscle bulk and masculinity, though this can be at the expense of “Jug ears” that appear to stick-out far more than they do in reality.

There is good news however. PhotoShop was used to edit sample images so that an enlarged 2D rendering matched the slimness and attractiveness of the the projected 3D images. In testing with the model and separately with their friends, they preferred the subtly slimmed PhotoShop version. Interestingly, these slimmed images were often seen as more attractive by random viewers who did not know the model pictured.

The underlying message is that subtle retouching can be highly effective at conveying the natural slimness and attractiveness of someone who looks overweight (and older than reality) in conventional 2D photographs.

However, without using retouching the “Selfie Generation” has perfected the art of taking their own portraits at arm’s length using their mobile phones. The use of wide angle lenses at such short distances can do much to compensate for the loss of 3D stereoscopic shape information. Selfie neck-slimming, large eyes, flat lighting from the in-built flash have improved the veracity and attractiveness of vernacular portraiture For young women, the Selfie has become an art-form or social media obsession that has allowed them to present themselves to the world in a far more attractive way than was previously possible. Selfies have also allowed many young women to experiment with contour make-up (see following section) to enhance shape and detail in ways that previously only available to Hollywood stars. The downside of the photogenic selfie is that the same person photographed under professional conditions may appear larger and less attractive than they were expecting to look.

So it is of the greatest importance that people do not think they are overweight in reality because they appear to be overweight in any photograph. Losing weight to “look more like a model” in photographs is exceptionally dangerous because it requires excessive weight loss to make any difference at all to one’s photographic appearance.

Top models seem to be born photogenic, rarely struggle with weight loss or infertility and can eat whatever they like without worry. For most women however, the most important thing is how they look in photographs, but how attractive and healthy they are in reality. An 0.7 waist-hip ratio has been shown to indicate the onset of fertility and be highly attractive in reality, conveying youth, health and fertility to males and other females. Photographic and catwalk models however can have still have this ratio, but often have lower than healthy body fat measures.  Increased body fat on the waist and particularly the hips is a powerful indicator of both peak fertility and the physical resources required to carry a baby to term. However, women with the ideal sized 0.7 WHR often do not photograph as well as slimmer, younger and less fertile females.

This is why losing weight to look good in photographs is fraught with difficulty, leading to loss of fertility and the risk of bulimia or anorexia.

It also explains why “plus size” models look normal, healthy and far more attractive in reality than the ultra-low BMI catwalk models favoured by couture designers, talent agencies and fashion photographers (and actresses favoured by casting directors for movies and TV).

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