Smoke, mirrors, and photoshop magic.

The other day my friend Sarah over at Running on Healthy wrote this great post about one of America’s favorite former trainwrecks Britney Spears who has since revamped her image AND her body. Glancing at any recent photo of her, you can’t deny how fantastic she looks. Except for maybe the cover of Women’s Health magazine. Because…Britney is that even you?


She looks fit, fab, and as Sarah pointed out, not unlike Heidi Klum. Among other things she went on to discuss not only how refreshing that seeing curvy models in print would be, but also the role that photoshopping plays in all of it. Here are these women with perfect, flawless bodies that none of us could ever achieve because, well, in most cases that level of perfection simply does not exist. I would know this because when I lived in Santa Barbara I did a year stint in the fashion industry working in advertising and marketing. I designed large displays, billboards, and catalogs, many of these featuring models that we would choose from various agencies and hire in for photo shoots.

And then? I would edit them. And edit them. And edit them. The job itself was cool, but the editing? I hated doing it.

At absolutely every job I’ve ever had there have been countless requests from people to clean up photos in Photoshop. One thing I’ve always prided myself in is my ability to edit a person in a photo so that they look exactly like themselves except maybe a little less shiny, a little more relaxed, a little less tired, etc. The man I worked for at this particular job had no shame. I would often edit the models to such an extreme degree that they were barely recognizable from the girls who had shown up for the shoot. Every single flaw, vein, and wrinkle came out. Body parts were slimmed and shadowed to create better muscle tone. Noses were diminished. Jawlines were accentuated. I changed hair, eye, and even skin color. The list goes on.

Here’s an example of one them. She really wants to sell you some Uggs:


This is about the fakest photo I ever had to put together right down to the fact that it’s snowing in Santa Barbara in the middle of the summer. And on the bottom left are some of the fugliest boots to ever exist on this planet.

That model was absolutely beautiful in person and yet I had to spend literally HOURS erasing every tiny mark, scar, and pore off her skin.There is not one body part on this girl that was not photoshopped in some way. Those aren’t even her real knees. They’re KNEES. You wouldn’t think something like that would even be necessary, but my boss did and I guess anything you can do to make a person even more visually appealing? I don’t know. I would have much rather put the unedited photos on a store sign or billboard because I believe that realness is so much prettier than perfection. I often wondered if it makes models feel weird seeing themselves edited that way or if they just got used to it after awhile. Working there completely changed the way that I look at women in print and for that I am actually very thankful.

Like so so so many women I spent years beating myself up about my body. While the knowledge of all the Photoshopping couldn’t completely change the way I viewed myself in the mirror, it did make me realize the level of unattainability I was comparing myself to for so long. All the little things that make me so uncomfortable about my appearance probably aren’t so different from how movie stars and models look in real life.

So the next time you see a picture of some other-worldly abs in a magazine and think “wow I wish those were mine”, just think of me and all the times I sat with my eyes burning and my nose 3mm away from a computer screen, smoothing skin and toning up midsections to look just like that.

Unfortunately I did not Photoshop those boots to be that ugly though. They achieved that all on their own.

Never forget that you’re all beautiful the way you are.




56 thoughts on “Smoke, mirrors, and photoshop magic.

  1. afastpacedlife says:

    Living in NYC I’ve known a few girls who are former models. The modeling world is a strange place. They all said that they never felt beautiful because all they ever heard how this perceived flaw or that perceived flaw made them all wrong. Do you follow Run Karla Run? She wrote about this same issue but from a model’s perspective.

  2. allisonfiorini says:

    I am a high school computer teacher and one of the classes I teach is Photoshop. Many of the girls in my classes want me to teach them to Photoshop their own pictures so they can look like models. It makes me so sad!

  3. Elizabethe says:

    This is great and such a good reminder. It’s so easy to look at photos in magazines and feel down because you don’t look like that, but it’s almost like comparing yourself to a cartoon with the amount that some photos are altered, NOBODY can look like that.

    That’s crazy about the knees! I would have never guessed that that was a thing!

  4. Chaitali says:

    Wow, the photo doesn’t even look like Brittany. And those sure are some ugly boots! I can’t believe you had to fix the model’s knees. What is there even to fix in someone’s knees?

    • runsaltrun says:

      I wish I could say that I made those boots up, but nope. I wonder if anyone ever bought those things.

      The back knee didn’t look like that at all…I basically had to build it because it was at an awkward angle. I also narrowed the entire other leg so had to restructure the knee based on that. It was pretty crazy.

  5. sarahdudek80 says:

    Thanks for the blog love and for writing this! As I was reading this it made me realize that I bet even those beautiful models feel pretty awful about themselves. Can you imagine being paid to be skinny and beautiful and basically have people around you discussing how this body part of this mark is a problem? Ugh. So sad.

    • runsaltrun says:

      Thank YOU for bringing it up the other day! I thought about that post all day and how icky it made me feel to feed into that kind of culture. I bet they do too. I can’t even imagine how stressful it must be to be scrutinized that way!

  6. Rebecca Jo says:

    I used to really photoshop up pictures when I would do portraits & found I love the more natural ones that I just maybe touch up a few blemishes – but leave their personality in pictures… natural is so much more beautiful
    PS – I totally didn’t even know that was Brittany from first glance!

    • runsaltrun says:

      It definitely is. It’s sad that advertisers keep pushing it at us too. I don’t think anyone would complain if there was a little more realness in print and yet they are still toting out these OMG PLUS SIZE MODELS who are like a size 10. NOT reality.

  7. FLRunnerBoy says:

    The minute I saw that cover it didn’t look real to me at all. It actually looks computer generated and a bad version of it.

  8. piratebobcat says:

    I also use photoshop and also video editing software in my job. To be honest, most people actually ASK me to make them look better in photoshop. Ha, not to you’re extreme though.

    ps, the gal in the boots is hawt!

    • runsaltrun says:

      Oh definitely. My friends and family ask me to edit their pics all the time! But that’s mostly like…light wrinkles, eye bags, and weird veins. Not a new face haha.

      She WAS so pretty! Looked really nothing like that photo, but still gorgeous!

  9. strivetostride says:

    She looks great but I didn’t even know it was Britney until I read the giant letters at the bottom of the cover. It would be hard not to see these images in another light when you’ve worked in the industry. I also wonder what the models think when they see the final (edited) photo.

  10. Shawna says:

    i liked Sarah’s post on this the other day, too. crazy that you did this for a job! lollllzzz about the “ugly on their own” comment. and yep, Britbrat — whose face is that?!

  11. charissarunning says:

    Great post! It is CRAZY how much photoshopping is done nowadays. I think we all worry about how we look sometimes and I’ve often looked at these magazines and thought “If I worked super, super hard at it, maybe I could have abs like that” (or legs or arms, etc). Luckily, I’ve never actually gotten in the mindset of working THAT HARD just to reach this perfection because “What for?” I’d much prefer to spend time with friends/family to spending 2-3 hours a day in the gym just to look “perfect”.

    P.S. You are beautiful too!

  12. Change of Pace says:

    What a great message- thanks for sharing!
    As a fan of real females, specifically athletes of all shapes and sizes, I’d much rather see someone with a few wrinkles, cellulite, and thighs with or without a gap (but NATURAL).
    With all that being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing what you could do to some tired photos of me 🙂
    Also, you’re gorgeous, and you’re raising a gorgeous, confident daughter!

  13. Lake Shore Runner says:

    Great post! I love that Sarah brought this up too. It is always a great reminder to be proud and happy with what you have. Don’t compare yourself to a magazine model, like you said, because it could have been edited for hours on end.

  14. Court says:

    Oh my gosh I never would have known that was Britney!! Her nose looks SO different. I love this post and the message it brings. Have you seen the Aerie ads that don’t use Photoshop on their models. You can definitely tell a difference and the girls in their ads are still beautiful! I wish more companies would do what they are doing!

  15. Hailey @ Striding Strong says:

    Oh wow. I hadn’t seen that cover… I just saw her on the Ellen Degeneres show the other day and she definitely did not look like that! I loved this post! I wish magazines were a little more realistic, especially fitness ones. Their goal is supposed to be (or at least it should be) helping people attain their health and fitness goals, not to make them feel like they are unattainable and soley based on appearance!

  16. Nancy T says:

    Thanks for sharing with us your inside story. I used to look at those poster and think “I wish I looked like her”, now I will think of you next time I see a nice poster. 🙂

  17. Sue @ This Mama Runs For Cupcakes says:

    Great post, and what angers me the most about Photoshop is that the young girls of our future are growing up with these standards, and It’s really sad and scary. I have boys, so don’t have to worry about it for them, but you and may of my friends have little girls, and it’s so sad. All we can do is teach them from the very beginning.

  18. d20girl says:

    Love this post! I’ve often mused about “aspirational” vs. “relate-able” marketing. I think that young women tend to be “sold” more by an unattainable image but as we mature I am now “sold” more when I see an image I can relate to. Being sold to by a waxen image that has been buffed to perfection just doesn’t work for me. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  19. Mar on the Run! says:

    God I love this post so freaking much! Thanks for sharing. And this—>> “Unfortunately I did not Photoshop those boots to be that ugly though. They achieved that all on their own.” LMAO!! you’re brilliant 😉

  20. Anna @ Piper's Run says:

    Great post! It’s crazy what is done to models and yes that does not look like Brittany. I wonder if there will ever be a world of true honestly. Humm….. Oh wait…money rules the world 😉 I’d say your boss must have been pretty happy with you end result!

  21. irishrunnerchick says:

    Glad to get your perspective on this after reading Sarah’s post. It makes me sad but I am not surprised at all that your boss gave those instructions. I kinda view any model on magazine covers the same way I’d see a cartoon – she looks pretty but that ain’t real.

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