James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2008

Since one of the most glamorous women we’ll be seeing on magazine covers for the next few years will be Michelle Obama, and despite one magazine editor’s call (in a different context) to “let Michelle Obama’s real self shine,” one wonders how far editors and art directors might go to make the First Lady look better–or worse–than she appears in reality. Though Hillary Clinton and sometimes Nancy Reagan (neither of whom always acted as dutiful stand-by-their-man Bush ladies) were obvious exceptions, the media usually treat First Ladies nicely, and articles and TV pieces have already focused more on Obama’s style than on her substance.

Remember, Newsweek drew criticism for letting Sarah Palin look “too real” (despite Joe the Plumber/Author now calling Sarah Palin “the real deal” even as he disses John McCain, the man most responsible for what we can only hope will be fleeting fame for Joe). And while a good fake Barack Obama may be hard to find, as Time reports, much of the reason for the Palin uproar is that we aren’t used to reality with our magazine images. Virtually any image that appears on a magazine cover or in a calendar has been airbrushed or otherwise altered, especially if the image is that of a woman. A quick Google search shows you can even find “excellent body enhancement tutorials” online, to “improve” the people in your own photos.

News organizations might use Photoshop or airbrushing to fix flaws in a photo, but popular mags, movie posters and calendars use technical tricks to fix the “flaws” in a model. For a recent example, see Calipari’s treatment of Jessica Alba, as reported by the Daily Mail. (See the before and after photos below). Keira Knightly and Faith Hill (in Redbook, yet) are among the women who have also had parts of their bodies “enhanced”; see examples of others here.

At least we can probably be sure that Michelle Obama won’t be appearing in a future version of the latest Fox News slideshow.

alba-1alba-2

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8 Responses to “With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?”

  1. Mike Ingram said

    I really did not read your entry – I just laughed at the title! What a great lead!

  2. Gabrielle said

    The Faith Hill thing in particular was just soooooooo ridiculous…and Alba looks better in her before picture! WAY better! geez.

  3. [...] sex symbol of all time behind only Marilyn Monroe, and became famous in an age before Photoshop. She also suffered from molestation as a child, two failed marriages, and schizophrenia, spending [...]

  4. [...] With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real,… [...]

  5. [...] are more public relations professionals than there are journalists. And everybody has access to Photoshop and a junior high student who can use [...]

  6. [...] the first-ever Internet photo hs been found, reports Mother Board. Not surprisingly, it was a photoshopped photo of women. Call Julia [...]

  7. […] and so don’t know who said it.) Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should look at some evidence. I then posted my findings on […]

  8. […] I’ve noted previously, Joanna has a problem with the whole “beauty thing.” So do I, in some ways. For example, I’m troubled by the number of women’s photos that I see on […]

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