Media folks are fond of saying the camera never lies.  I’ve always thought that’s a load of bologna.  A camera is only as honest as the person behind the lens.  If  you’re shooting pictures at a rally for a political candidate you don’t like, you can choose to ignore the thousands of cheering supporters and focus instead on the little group of angry protestors.  Your pictures then emphasize conflict and dissent, when there was actually little of it.  (Not that our press would ever pull such a stunt.)

Pictures can also be posed or altered. In the old Soviet Union, officials who had fallen out of favor used to routinely disappear from state photos … and probably from the earth as well.  That required talented artists.  But these days, anyone with a computer can fire up a copy of PhotoShop and create pictures that lie.

Which brings me to this rather interesting weight-loss story Jason Sandeman of Well Done Chef! forwarded to me.  To sum it up, a formerly-fat female chef is now thin and lovely.  She was miserable then, she’s happy now, she can wear a smaller dress size, blah-blah-blah, etc., etc., etc. 

As usual, the story misses the point about her diet:  it’s clear from the list of foods she used to eat that she was a major carbivore, but of course the writer focuses on the fat and calories.  But that’s not what inspired Jason to send me this story.  Take a good look at the before and after pictures:

Notice anything strange about the before picture?  Her face is way too wide.  So are her hands.  She’s literally big-boned in that picture, but not in the after picture.  My weight has varied by 35 pounds over the past decade, but my hands and cheekbones never tried to keep up with my belly. So unless Miss Skinny Chef went on a special bone-shrinking diet, the before picture was stretched for dramatic effect. 

After laughing at the obvious fakery, I fired up my own copy of PhotoShop and squeezed the picture until her skull resumed what appeared to be normal proportions.  In doing so, I also noticed the stone tiles went from rectangles to squares, which is probably what they are.  Now look at the supposedly fat chef:

You know what I see there?  With appropriate apologies to my wife, I see a hottie with some good muscle tone.  If this is actually the same woman (I have my doubts), it’s ridiculous to label her as overweight.

I said it in the film, I’ve said it in interviews, and I’ll say it again here:  the obesity epidemic has been exaggerated to suit the goals of the weight-loss industry.  If you check the story, you’ll notice it explains that Skinny Chef  lost weight on the Cambridge Diet – one of those stupid, semi-starvation, liquid diets.

If this woman truly did consider herself overweight and chose to slim down by eliminating the sugar and starch from her diet, I’d be all for it, because she’d be getting healthier in the process. But too many people focus exclusively on weight.  They become so desperate to shrink themselves, they go on semi-starvation diets that end up wrecking their metabolisms – or worse, they let a surgeon cut apart their stomachs and bypass a crucial section of the digestive system.

Looking great in a dress is nice – but not if you’re being buried in it.  Choosing a diet should be about health first and foremost.  How you appear on camera is secondary … even if the camera is telling the truth.

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17 Responses to “Stretching The Truth”
  1. Tracey says:

    Frankly, I think (if it IS the same person) that she looks a darn site better in your before shot than in the after shot. In your shot I see a gorgeous, healthy woman with lovely curves and shape. Wish my tummy looked like that!

    In the after shot I see yet another skeletal woman whose shape is closer to that of an adolescent boy than to a woman. Certainly she looks like someone who can’t or won’t enjoy food – who could trust a chef that doesn’t eat?

    There’s that great advert by Dove (Real Beauty campaign) where they show the process of going from ordinary looking girl to magazine cover shot – including the photoshopping to make the eyes larger, lips fuller, enhance cheekbones, trim the waist and hips. Should be essential viewing for every young girl to help them realise the pictures in the magazines are NOT real. Nowhere near. And then for a laugh there’s the photoshop disasters site(google it) where they get it all so very very wrong….great for a laugh. Ultimately it’s very sad that the image of ‘ideal beauty’ is so totally unrealistic and unbelievable. And plain wrong! Most guys I know like women to look like women…

    I don’t know any guys who like skeletal look.

    I read through a survey (this was years ago, pre-Fat Head) in which they showed men and women body-type charts and asked a lot of questions. Bottom line is:
    1) women tend to see themselves as thicker than they are
    2) women believe men prefer women thinner than they actually do
    3) most men think the average body-type for women — a little curvy, a little soft — looks just fine, thank-you.

  2. Felix says:

    The irony is that the commenters to that article say that she looked better before she lost the weight.

    I’m with the commentators.

  3. Josh Goguen says:

    Honestly, I find the corrected before photo more attractive than the after. Looks like I wouldn’t pay $45 for a meal that’d just get picked at.

    This reminds me of a scene in the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster where the guy is talking to photographers who shoot before and afters for supplements. The guy said that with all the techniques they have, he’s actually shot both the before and the after shots on the same day.

    The same trickery is all over those stupid diet berry pages.

    The sad thing is, it’s easy to become tricked into believing, even when you know better.

    I remember seeing some bodybuilder in a before-and-after ad for a belly exerciser. Equally ripped in both shots, but softer lighting in the before, and obviously pushing his gut out. Probably shot on the same day too.

  4. Dave Dixon says:

    They do the same thing at my gym to push training and nutritional counseling.

    They stretch photos? Doesn’t anyone call them on it?

  5. mrfreddy says:

    the first thing i noticed about the before pic is that that green trashcan or barrel or whatever it is in the bg looks very obviously out of whack. On second glance, her hat looks outta whack too. And in the after pic, she looks way, way too skinny.

    I actually tried the Cambridge diet way back when before I found low carb. Pure misery. You gotta be really really motivated and desperate to go that route, and it’s impossible to stay on it more than a few weeks at a time. I guess the fact that when the reps I bought the stuff from were both way heavier than me should have been a tip off that I was wasting my time and money.

    Oprah lost her weight on a Cambridge-type diet. We all know the results; soon as she stopped starving herself, it came back.

  6. JaneM says:

    Very interesting. For an interesting perspective check this out: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2009/06/figure-flaw-paradox-does-it-really.html; there is good evidence that being on the heavy side is actually good for your mortality.

    That’s a good analysis. I made the same point in the film; people labeled as overweight (which is based on a bogus standard anyway) live longer. The real epidemic is high blood sugar, not obesity, and by focusing on weight, we’re missing many people who are at risk.

  7. Dave Dixon says:

    Yeah, they stretch photos. Don’t know if anyone called them on it, and doubt they’d care.

  8. Ben P says:

    Looks like the before picture was flipped too, if that is the same woman in both. Check the wrist tattoo. On the right hand in the before picture, and on the left in the after picture. Maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me, but she looks slightly better with it flipped back too.

    To anyone who’s reading comments but not the article, she’s 5’11″, and went from 175 pounds to 133.

    (snarky) Bulimia: it does a body good.

    As someone who has studied photography a little bit, the camera does indeed lie. A persons face looks totally different with a 300mm lens than with a 30mm lens. Here’s the best example I could find demonstrating the effect. There’s also lots one can do with perspective to make a body look longer and leaner. That’s without getting into digital manipulation, which has gone to comic book proportions on the cover shot of any women’s magazine and many others.

    That’s quite an impressive difference with the lenses. Yup, a camera can lie quite nicely.

  9. Amy Dungan says:

    As a photographer and someone who works in photoshop frequently, I can attest to all the little tricks you learn. Lighting, angles, smoothing with brushes, the liquify tool…. it never ends. It’s crazy how much you can manipulate the way a person looks. Too bad for them that the person who stretched the before shot didn’t know what they were doing. They did a lousy job. LOL

    I also agree she looked better in the before shot.

    Indeed, the stretching was so obvious, it was hard to miss. Makes you wonder how often we just don’t notice.

  10. Max says:

    In the before photo she doesn’t look like she is 80kg. It may have been she was camera-shy and this was the only photo they could find.
    I did know a TV reporter who was super skinny yet on camera looked chubby.

    I saw a Weight Watchers ad yesterday, it was stupid, a guy catches out two normal-seized women eating chocolate bars and they say it’s alright because they are WW bars. The implication… Women eating chocolate is bad? Even normal weight women need to go on WW? I’m glad I’m a guy.

    The societal pressure on women to all look like skinny models is ridiculous. Oddly, little of that pressure actually comes from men, most of whom prefer curves. I guess it’s how the fashion and weight-loss industries create their markets, promising a goal that always seems just within reach, but isn’t for most people.

  11. Ellen says:

    Thought I’d share the latest “roll your eyes” comment today.. from this news story talking about the rising rates of obesity in America: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/wireStory?id=7975321

    “There isn’t a magic bullet. We don’t have a pill for it,” said Levi, whose group is pushing for health reform legislation to include community-level programs that help people make healthier choices — like building sidewalks so people can walk their neighborhoods instead of drive, and providing healthier school lunches. “It’s not going to be solved in the doctor’s office but in the community, where we change norms,” Levi said.

    Riiiight. Exercise is the answer. I’m going right out to walk around my neighborhood so I can be thin.

    Yeah, that’s why our grandparents were thin … all those community programs to combat obesity. Or, just maybe, it’s because they weren’t told to avoid fat and eat carbs.

  12. Hannah says:

    Did a little reworking, seems much better in proportion now:
    (result uploaded to Flickr)
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2672/3714166377_049b3bfb34.jpg?v=0

    Not sure the chef will like it, but it made me laugh.

  13. Debbie says:

    The “before” photo sure did make me chuckle. But many photoshop images are pretty hard to spot when done skillfully. How many have deceived and depressed young girls.

    When I was a teenager my parents sent me to something folks commonly called “charm school”. “Charm School” graduates had before and after photos posted, so that people could see how charmingly they had transformed themselves by the training.

    For my before photo I tried to pose in what I thought was a way flattering to me, but the school and photographer would not allow it. They insisted I stand in a sort of flat-footed, wide-legged Neanderthal-like stance. Then, weeks later, when it came time for my “after” shot, they tried to force me into the exact pose that I had chosen for myself earlier, and which they had refused to allow me to use. I was so disgusted I refused to let them take any photo at all. And this was before Photoshop – just manipulation by posing.

    I’m sure happy I’ve chosen my low-carb, grain-free, sugar-free diet for the sake of my health, as I sure have not lost an ounce on it in the last five months.

    Posing, lighting, makeup … it’s true; there’s a lot you can do even before you go to Photoshop.

    The diet is indeed about health. I’m still a little thick around the middle, and so be it. That seems to be where I’m in homeostasis. The last time I semi-starved myself into weighing less, I began losing muscle. Considering that other men in my family are WAY thick around the middle and outweigh me by 40 or 50 pounds, I’d say my diet works just fine.

  14. Debbie says:

    Yeah, this diet is truly about health. Yet it still does not seem “healthy” to be well over 100 pounds from a weight that would still be considered “overweight” but approaching normal. Some days it does get frustrating when you are sticking religiously to a diet that everyone touts as the best way to see pounds just melt off, and not see the scale budge at all – ever with 100+ pounds to lose. In fact in the last month or so I have actually gained back a dozen of the pounds I’d lost last year, even while still adhering religiously to the diet, not a single cheat this entire calendar year. I *feel* good – but I still look like all those heavy people you show walking around at the beginning of Fathead. I could easily be one of those obese ladies that people gawk at and little kids point fingers at. So frustrating when I feel I’m actually being healthy in my approach to eating.

    Have you checked Jimmy Moore’s posts on stalling and regaining? He’s been through what you described. I know he had to give up artificial sweeteners, among other things. Turns out just the taste of anything sweet can trigger insulin spikes for some people.

  15. Dana says:

    I recently had a falling-out with my best friend of some twenty-some years. We’d spent most of the friendship as pen pals, to be honest, and couldn’t see where we’d gone completely different paths in life, had widely differing opinions on a range of subjects, etc.

    One of the areas in which we differed was diet and health. I could throw her links to blog posts and online articles and mention book titles til I was blue in the face and she never wanted to look at any of it. She speaks of losing weight, then complains about having to eat smaller portions and having to exercise, and she’s not even that far overweight. And said to me, quote, “I’m just not interested in all that science stuff,” even after I told her how easy it really is to low-carb for weight loss. OK, you miss the carbs sometimes, and it’s hard to maintain when NO ONE around you is doing what you’re doing–swimming against the tide can be exhausting. But it’s a damn sight easier than self-starvation. No dice. She wouldn’t hear it.

    The last time we talked about any of that stuff, she accused me of being obsessive about the relative health of different foods. I was like, “OK, let’s hear your version–how do you lose weight again?” She said, “Move more and eat smaller portions.” I said, “Smaller portions of what?” She was like, “Huh?” I said, “Do you really think you’re going to lose weight on smaller portions of Doritos? How’s your body going to get the nutrition it needs?” I might as well have been speaking Klingon. And it’s not like she lives on Doritos. She’s half Japanese and actually gets healthy food into herself now and again. I don’t get it.

    But that’s the mentality. Eat fewer Doritos, but God forbid you should avoid them entirely, and then run yourself into the ground. And we’re mystified that older women get osteoporosis in such record numbers.

    Let’s hope after years of failure, she sees the light.

  16. S. Rainey says:

    I think the after picture was stretched too, up-and-down. Her face is very long, and so is her neck. Her eyes are very deep-set, her brows arched…. If it were adjusted to look more natural, both pictures would probably look very similar.
    Some diet before-after photos seem to have more to do with posture than weight. It makes me think that the strength of the back, and resulting posture improvement, is half the battle for a lot of overweight people.

  17. Pete says:

    even in the before picture you can tell it’s stretched since you can see the definition in her stomach and her sternum is showing. So unless there is a new body type where you can be fat and cut at the same time, this is an obvious photo shop.

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