Before and After Cosmetic Surgery Photos: Apply a Critical Eye
It’s an unfortunate reality in our industry: before and after cosmetic surgery photos are incredibly popular online, yet some of them are just about as fake as fake can be.
If you’ve been researching plastic surgery you may not be surprised by this—given the current buzz about photo retouching in print media. But when you think about it, it’s really not fair to prospective patients when physicians well, “doctor” their photos. It gets in the way of choosing the right plastic surgeon, for one thing. But even more important, dishonest images may give someone an inaccurate idea about the results they can expect from a particular procedure.
Of course there are no regulations that prevent the practice of altering before and after cosmetic surgery photos in the U.S. So as a patient, you need to take responsibility for learning how to give these images a critical eye.
Simple Photo Tricks You Can Spot
Most people can identify some of the simplest ways before and after images can be manipulated. These can include:
• Lighting: dim vs. flattering lights
• Angles: side lighting to show irregularities vs. front lighting to hide them
• Makeup: no makeup vs. full makeup
• Expression: frown or neutral face vs. beaming smile
• Posture: slumping vs. upturned chin, straight torso and shoulders back
As you look for these signs of possible trickery, it’s important to step back and look at a cosmetic surgeon’s photo gallery as a whole as well. You’ll be able to tell whether a practice takes simple before and after cosmetic surgery photos to offer as examples or whether significant effort and budget are employed to persuade.
How to Recognize Subtle Manipulation
It takes a bit of critical thinking to identify subtle photo tweaks. First, take a look at the subject’s surroundings. Is the same background used in both photos? Is the patient wearing unflattering or attractive colors?
Also, keep in mind the procedure you’re considering and evaluate the images accordingly. For facial plastic surgery, the subject’s hair should be pulled back so you can get a full view of the face. Similarly, for body procedures like tummy tucks and liposuction, clothing should not obscure the area or hide scars. Ideally, photos taken from several different angles should be available for all procedures.
Filters and Software
Unless you’re a digital expert, it can be challenging to know when images have been touched up after they’re taken. An article published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications last year highlighted experiments showing that people are generally unskilled at identifying when photos have been altered.
So, is it impossible to be a good judge of before and after cosmetic surgery photos? According to lifehacker.com, you can improve your skills. Read these tips the site offers for spotting when eyes, noses and skin have been modified.
When you meet a prospective cosmetic surgeon in consultation, be sure to use some of the appointment time to look at before and after cosmetic surgery photos together. Chances are there will be many more available to review in the office than the practice offers online, and this is your opportunity to ask pointed questions.
First, ask to examine images of someone who is similar to you in age, skin color and so on. Then find out details that relate to the procedure you’re considering. For instance, if you’re seeing a set of facelift photos, ask about the timing of the “after” photo and the influence of swelling. A slightly swollen face always looks more youthful. If you’re viewing breast augmentation photos, ask about the details of the procedure. What size and shape of implants were used? Were they placed under or over the muscle? How does the patient’s skin quality compare to yours?
We are hopeful that, in time, technology may make it easier for the average person to know when an image has been manipulated, whether online or in print. In the meantime, we applaud voluntary moves being made by organizations like CVS and Getty Images to ban edited images, and efforts by countries like France that require magazines to indicate when a photo has been altered. We hope plastic surgeons will follow this lead.