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 and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for December 11th, 2008

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.

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