Doctored cover photos add up to controversy

Doctored cover photos add up to controversy
By Donna Freydkin, special for USA TODAY

NEW YORK — If you noticed that Julia Roberts’ head is slapped on the wrong body on the cover of the new Redbook, you’ve got a sharp set of eyes.

In fact, Roberts and other Hollywood A-listers are fuming over altered magazine covers that look bizarre at best and disproportionately freakish at worst.

It’s known as airbrushing, or digital manipulation. At magazines, it’s standard practice to zap a zit, or brighten those baby blues. It’s even de rigueur for a supermodel like Tyra Banks, whose flawless printed perfection is at odds with her actual persona, and comes at a price.

“I disappoint people who meet me in person because I don’t look like me,” she says. “But the public is really hard on people in the industry and your image has to be perfect, and I openly admit that I have cellulite and I get that touched off.”

But, as those who do the tweaking point out, there’s a huge difference between eradicating stretch marks and cutting body parts from two separate photos and fusing them together into a composite shot, as Redbook did with Roberts in its July issue and a clipped-together Jennifer Aniston in June. Magazines run such doctored shots to give their covers an air of exclusivity and originality, even when celebs don’t grant the magazine an interview or sit for a photo shoot, as was the case with Aniston.

“It’s not immoral to retouch people, and everyone does it,” says Rolling Stone art director Andy Cowles. “The difficulty is when you mess with the truth, when it’s distorted and done to the point where you can see it and the person doesn’t look real.”

A spate of recent cover scandals proves his point.

The cover: On Redbook’s July cover, Roberts’ head comes from a paparazzi shot taken at the 2002 People’s Choice awards. Her body, meanwhile, is from the Notting Hill movie premiere four years ago.

The commotion: Although this cover was put to bed before the Aniston issue hit stands, it doesn’t bode well for a magazine that, like its competitors, relies on celebs such as Aniston, Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow to move major copies.

The conclusion: Publisher Hearst admits its mistake: “In an effort to make a cover that would pop on the newsstand, we combined two different shots of Julia Roberts. We acknowledge that we may have gone too far and hope that Ms. Roberts will accept our apology.” Roberts’ publicist, Marcy Engelman, simply says that “it’s a shame they didn’t use the body that went with the head, because it was a great Giorgio Armani pantsuit (that she wore to the People’s Choice awards).”

The cover: Redbook’s June issue promised the real scoop on Aniston’s relationship with hubby Brad Pitt. But the article was a clip job and the oddly flat cover photo’s exact origins still mystify Aniston’s publicist Stephen Huvane. He says he declined a Redbook cover because Aniston had a commitment to Harper’s Bazaar. Redbook informed him eight weeks before the cover hit that she’d be on it anyway.

The commotion: “It’s a combination of three pictures,” says Huvane of the photo. “If you’re going to do it, then at least match her head up to her body, and make the neck look like it belongs to her. I still can’t figure out which exact picture the face came from.” A Redbook spokeswoman refutes his statements: “The only things that were altered in the cover photo were the color of her shirt and the length of her hair, very slightly, in order to reflect her current length.”

The conclusion: Huvane says Aniston is mulling legal action. “She’s doesn’t like the blatant manipulation of her image,” he says.

The cover:Seventeen’s May issue featured Sarah Michelle Gellar, who granted the magazine an interview but not a photo shoot. So the magazine purchased a retouched photo from a syndication house, changed Gellar’s shirt color (from black to purple) — a standard practice at most magazines, including Rolling Stone— and somehow made her left hand look unnaturally long and misshapen.

The commotion: Gellar’s camp was displeased, stating that she looked like a paper cutout, not a real three-dimensional person, and that the printing job was poor quality.

The conclusion: The magazine sent Gellar a nice thank-you gift, and the furor has since died down.

The cover: When the February issue of British GQ hit stands, Kate Winslet’s legs looked stunningly slim. And no, the actress, who has publicly railed against Hollywood’s obsession with skinniness, hadn’t gone on a crash diet.

The commotion: Winslet said her gams had been thinned down by a third. “I was pretty proud of how my legs actually looked in the real picture,” said Winslet at the time. “I have Polaroids from the shoot and I thought I looked fine.”

The conclusion: Editor in chief Dylan Baker admitted that the photo had been altered, but said it was with Winslet’s approval. The actress is not outraged, but says she spoke out because “it just was important to me to let people know that digital retouching happens all the time. It’s probably happened to just about every other well-known actress on the face of the planet.”

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