Researchers at Dartmouth have been working on software that can answer this question. It’s one thing to touch up a picture and change the lighting or remove an errant hair, but more and more magazines have been using the photo-editing software to drastically alter pictures. And the software has improved so much that it’s hard to tell when you’re looking at the real thing.
The software, purposed by computer science professor and digital forensics expert, Hany Farid, will rate how much a picture has been altered on a scale of 1-to-5. The software is based on an algorithm Farid developed with Eric Kee, a PhD student at Dartmouth. The New York Times reports on how the pair used human perceptions to come up with the formula: “hundreds of people were recruited online to compare sets of before-and-after images and to determine the 1-to-5 scale, from minimally altered to starkly changed. The human rankings were used to train the software.” Farid and Kee, along with other body image advocacy groups, hope the software and ratings system will encourage restraint in photoshopping the models and celebrities we see in magazines.