Have you ever purchased a really expensive handbag and then found one that looks almost exactly the same for a fraction of the price? What about buying an expensive handbag on a deep discount only to realize later that it’s not authentic? Well, don’t feel bad. It can be very difficult to spot a fake if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
The same principle holds true for cosmetic surgery. Before and after photographs can be compelling, but what you might not realize is that many of them aren’t a true representation of what the person actually looks like. There are countless photo-taking and Photoshopping tricks that can significantly affect how those pictures come out. Even where you stand when you take the picture can make a huge difference in how it represents what you’re capturing.
So, how do you spot a fake? Here’s a quick and dirty guide.
Colors can make skin look fresh and bright, dark and dusky, red and angry, or green and sickly. Small changes in hue can suggest well-being or age, depending on which way you skew it. Check for changes in coloring where there shouldn’t be any. Take the picture above for example. The eyes are different colors, but they’re not supposed to be. The difference in color is a great tip-off that the picture is skewed.
By far, the most influential aspect of a photograph is the lighting. Bright lights wash out details like fine lines and wrinkles. Brightening a photo decreases contrast, making colors blend together and appear more even. Always look at the lighting in both before and after photos. If they’re not the same, chances are things are misrepresented. In the picture above, the eyes are different colors because the lighting is darker on the left. Darker lighting makes folds appear deeper and wrinkles more prominent. Always look for bright and dark spots and any glare that washes out imperfections. This will be your first clue.
Saturation is the intensity of color in a picture. Basically, it describes how much paint is on the canvas. High saturation can make things look rounder, fuller, and more plump. Lower saturation can make things look drab and less vibrant. Higher saturation is like putting an extra coat of lipstick on without even touching the subject. The after photo above is highly saturated, making the lips appear much plumper.
Do this experiment on yourself: Hold your camera up high and take a picture of yourself looking up at it. Now, take the same selfie with the camera in your lap and looking down. Totally different, right? Not only does the angle change how the light bounces off things, but gravity also either pulls your face back to freshen you up or forward to make features sag. The angle at which you take the picture can really make things look different. Always consider how the person is standing or holding their head. It can be a game-changer.
Because of the way photo lenses work, there’s an optimal distance at which to stand when taking a picture. Any more or less will change the photo in a way in which zooming in or out won’t fix. Without getting too technical, it’s all about the geometry of the light, or the way it bounces off your subject and onto the lens.
For instance, if you take a picture of someone’s breasts while standing close to them, they’ll look huge. But take it standing 6 feet back, and they’ll shrink without anyone doing anything to them at all. The close photo gives things a fishbowl appearance, almost like a panoramic view. Standing back brings different elements in the photo to the same level of depth. When considering a before and after photo, try to see if any particular element seems a little blown up or out of proportion. It may be exaggerated.
Back in the day (I’ll date myself here), before and afters routinely consisted of a before that featured someone frowning or serious, and the after shot featured someone with a glowing smile. The intention was to suggest that the patient was miserable before the treatment and giddy with content afterwards.
But interestingly enough, plastic surgery after shots rarely show the patient smiling anymore. Why not? Aren’t they just elated after their Botox treatment? Well, the answer is that those happy lines are in fact wrinkles and showing someone smiling will suggest the treatment didn’t work. Smiling not only accentuates laugh lines and crow’s feet, but it can also accentuate a double chin and under-eye bags. Always take into consideration how the movement of facial muscles may affect how the skin folds around them.
For body shots, posture is everything. Stand in front of a mirror, turn sideways, slump your shoulders, and hang your neck. Then curl your pelvis under. Ugh. Very “before.” Now, stand up straight, bring your shoulders back, and stick out your butt. Tighten your abs. That’s better! Now twist at the waist—wow!
You just created your own before and after with no surgery at all. Shoulder posture totally changes the way the breasts lay, and overall core positioning can push out your gut or pull it right in. How your legs are placed also has an effect. Stand forward with your shoulders and hips square. Meh. Now, rotate just a little to the side and cross your feet in front of you. Very slimming! These are the tricks the stars use for their red carpet looks and also before-and-after tips for why one look might look very different from the other.
We all know that the clothes we wear can really change how we look. But they can also change what we think we see. The height of a collar can make a neck seem shorter and more chunky or taller and slimmer. Low-waisted pants reveal more of the belly and show definition in the midline. A higher waist will smudge out that line break between the narrowest part of the waist and wider hips, which could obscure the contour. When the before shows a high waist or chunky belt and the after has a streamlined (and sometimes Spanx-ed) profile, it may be a fake.
Makeup is a very common tool for before and afters. You can create or erase shadows, plump lips, brighten eyes, and take away shine with makeup. In the above photo, the makeup colors look similar but the makeup is used very differently. For example, the eyeshadow on the right brings out the eye and makes it look much bigger. The lipstick on the right is also applied beyond the lip line, and the color is brighter, making the lips appear fuller. Shadows on the nose also make it look thinner and make the nostrils look smaller. No, really, look closely. They fooled you!
Finally, let’s talk tone. Ever notice how sometimes you read an email, and even though you can’t hear the person’s voice, you can feel their tone? Tone is a huge factor in photography. Think of it as the background music of the shot. In the above photo, you’ll see a subtle smile on the right. The corner of her mouth is slightly up, the corner of her eye a little lifted, and the muscles in her face just a tad bit animated. The woman on the left had a bad day. The one on the right is feeling happy and confident. Not enough to tip you off, but just enough to make you feel it.
So how do you tell the tone of a photo? Easy. How does it make you feel? That’s your answer.
The bottom line
When considering cosmetic surgery, be an educated consumer. The stakes are higher when it comes to surgery versus buying that almost-handbag, and the advertisements are more aggressive. Remember that the before and after shots you see are the best that surgeon has to offer and represent what they imagine is a great result. Make sure your goals line up with theirs. But more importantly, when looking at those pictures, all designed to “wow” you, keep these tricks in mind and remember: An excellent surgeon will doctor her patients, not her photographs.
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