This Can't Be Happening

So we're all sick of Photoshop stories. This one still matters.

As an editor of sites dedicated to women and women things, I’ve been writing and assigning stories about Photoshop disasters, Photoshop fails, Photoshop horrors and anti-Photoshop regulation for probably as long as you’ve been reading them (A. Long. Time). And I agree with many of your recent comments that the Internet’s obsession with discovering and publishing these re-touched images has gone too far, becoming a kind of witch hunt, almost as exploitative and damaging as the photo crimes they’re uncovering (see the Lena Dunham/Vogue cover SNAFU earlier this year). In fact, here at HelloGiggles we’ve recently discussed ceasing all Photoshop coverage, not only because we’re over it,  but because there just seems to be a million better and more inspiring ways to spend our brains and words than beating upon this dead re-touched horse.

But then. Well, then something like this happens.

Lady Gaga Ribs

These before and after photos of a 2009 V Magazine shoot of Lady Gaga by famous fashion photog Mario Testino were leaked today. Normally, all us desensitized post-Photoshop-world folk wouldn’t think a thing about them. It looks like Gaga’s head has been replaced with a different, more flattering head with a softer/sexier expression (if you look closely through all the re-touching shadows, or gape at the original photos for a particularly long time, you’ll see this is the same body position, with what very much looks like a new head). Yawn, yes, of course. She looks friendlier in image two. Her skin has been brightened and oranged a bit and a there’s a lifting and roundening of sorts of her lone in-the-shot boob. Ok, sure, you go on with your bad selves, photo re-touchers. Her tattoo looks brighter, too, so you can really see her tattoo. Fine, fine. But there’s one other thing that’s seems to have happened to Lady Gaga in the after picture, the one that ran in an international style magazine and was posted all up in the interwebs for all her young (and old) fans to see: It looks like Lady Gaga has been given visible ribs. If this is true, SOMEONE HAS PHOTOSHOPPED BONES ONTO A HUMAN WOMAN SO SHE LOOKS SKINNIER THAN SHE IS.

Just when you think the Photoshopping scandals are finally over, when you think you’ve seen every thigh gap and erased waist and Barbie skin and no-butt in the world, someone goes ahead and says, “Just the illusion of having zero fat is NOT ENOUGH. We need to SEE SKELETON.”

So, why is this a big problematic deal? For starters, Gaga has meaningfully spoken to the public about her struggles with eating disorders, confessing that she battled anorexia and bulimia since she was 15. She’s become an advocate for self acceptance and fought back against media haters who criticized her physique. She started initiatives called the Body Revolution and Born This Way to promote positive body image and to help her fans accept themselves as they are. In 2014, seeing this side-by-side comparison of an already thin and fit star made emaciated through Photoshop is not only counter to all the work she’s done as a positive role model for body acceptance and self-love, it’s damaging. [Ed note: Commenters have pointed out the timeline here — Lady Gaga’s body image initiative started in 2012, these photos were taken in 2009. We’re not suggesting any of this is her fault and we hope this Photoshop situation has improved in the past five years.]

But the other fairly Captain Obvious thing that bothers me about this image is, by enhancing the appearance of bones, the people who worked on these photos are saying that protruding ribs are more attractive and sexy and, ultimately, better and more visually appealing than non-visible ribs.  And that’s a sucky, scary standard to put out into the world.


I remember ’90s Gwen Stefani’s cute belly almost as much as I remember her killer style.

Images affect us. They shape how we think about our own standards of beauty. Especially when we’re young (this is what they mean by “impressionable,” though I’ve always been annoyed by the powerlessness implicit in being “impressionable”). I remember the famous actresses and pop stars I was obsessed with in the ’80s and ’90s and I bet you do too. I wanted to emulate them and I definitely used them as style guides. I hung pictures of them on my walls, stared at them nightly, and for better or worse, they helped me define what I thought looked good and cool. Lady Gaga is an influential pop star admired by loads of young women — pictures of her matter.

Lots of midriffs, nary a rib in site.

Lots of midriffs, nary a rib in site.

1 2Continue reading
  • Kelli Wallen

    I must admit, I thought the article was going to talk about how someone had changed the faces, and thus the gender, as well as the color, not something about some silly ribs poking out.
    You can see them in the first pic, they’re just harder to see.

  • Benjamin Gell

    Her head hasn’t been ‘replaced’, it’s a different shot – her arms, hands are both in different positions and you can see that in the second image she is breathing in – hence the ribs. The shadows have just been enhanced making the ribs a bit more prominent. It happens to a lot of us when we suck our stomach in, especially if your weight is at a level where, when you do that, your ribs do become a little more visible. I’m not saying it’s not going ‘too far’ to do something that glamourises being ‘too thin’, but clearly these are NOT the same two images… it would only be fair to compare the retouched photo, with the untouched photo. As someone else said, you can see the ribs in the first pic too. It’s just VERY low quality, and not as visible.

  • Tina Witherell

    This… isn’t the same photo. Her body is in a completely different position. Her tattoo is more visible, her belly button can be seen, her hands are in a completely different place.

    Yeah, yeah, photoshop is bad. But its entirely possible that the extreme arch position of the second photo made her ribs poke out a bit more.

  • Patty Casas

    I believe these are two different pictures, you can see it on the placement of her hands and that you can see more of her tattoo on the second picture, also on the 2nd picture her facial expression looks like she is breathing in, so she is probably sucking her stomach in, and probably that’s what made her ribs to show, I mean that what happens when I do it.

    I know that is wrong to impose bones in fashion because in most cases is not healthy, but what happens with people like me for example I have visible ribs, and also visible fat, so which one should I feel bad for? Neither

    I love what they did with Gaga’s styling in this picture, and the orange filter they add at the end make the picture look more colorful :)

  • Joe Tedesco Jr.

    I’d like to know who decided that emaciated was attractive? I admire a healthy woman, a woman with curves.
    Someone who is obviously co.for table in her own skin

  • Larissa Madnitude

    First off let me state that I do not approve of photoshop used to make people look skinnier and promote skinny in a unhealthy way. After saying that and reading the article along with it, this is just ridiculous. First off the “before” is clearly zoomed in compared to the after which will make her look bigger when compared to the after photo. Also you can tell they did not photoshop a different face on her, it’s just a different facial expression, the two photos are totally different. Her boob is blurred out in the before pic suggesting her boob was not covered and in the after pic it is covered suggesting the photographer caught that and had Gaga cover her boob for the after photo. The lighting in the before is worse than in the after leading to it possibly just being a test photo and the after pic they found the right lighting they wanted. There are many more things that clearly show they are two different photos but I won’t go on. On another note like you had stated this photo was taken in 2009 and Gaga didn’t start her positive BTW foundation/come clean about her body disorder until 2012. So maybe when this photo was taken in 2009 she was still battling her negative body disorder and that is why she was trying to look as naturally skinny as possible in the pic. In conclusion this is just trying to call Gaga out on her comments on positive body image and bad reporting.

    • Jennifer Romolini

      For the record, I don’t perceive this in any way as Gaga’s fault and I tried to make that apparent in the text– this is a societal thing, not an individual’s problem. We’ve added an editor’s note to further clarify the timeline you point out below. Thanks!

    • Robyn Pennington

      I think you’re right that they’re two different pictures, but the second one has definitely been over enhanced. Even if she was sucking in her stomach, that would not make her side ribs be exposed quite so much. They also definitely made her backside (not her butt, the distance between her back and her stomach) much smaller. So the point would remain the same that ribs have been photoshopped onto Lady Gaga’s body

  • Sarah H

    The two pics are different pics unless someone also photoshopped the whole position of the pink pom pom thing on her boob coz in the first one, her nipple is showing and it’s not in the second one. Also, she was probably holding in her stomach in the second pic, giving her ribs more outline. Plus the facial expression is different – don’t they takes hundreds of shots at photoshoots in a fairly short time space? I mean I can set my camera to shoot two shots in a row and it’s a crappy $100 camera.

    While I’m not cool with what is happening in photoshopping at the moment, the two pics above are not a before and after of the same pic with the second having being photoshopped. They are two different pics.

    • Laura

      Photoshopping is an art form in and of itself. It takes a lot of skill to reshape an image like that, but they did it. They’re the same image. Photoshop works a bit differently than a lot of people think, it seems. If the textures are there to grab from, the photo can be “shopped”.

      • Shannon Lisa McElroy

        They’re not the same image. You’re probably not a graphic designer or retouch artist (I am), you’re probably not a photographer, and you’re probably not a model (I am). You probably don’t work with cameras or Photoshop professionally (I do).

        So how are you comfortable correcting someone in this way? Especially since you’re wrong.

        Those are two completely different shots that were processed completely differently.

        Multiple shots are almost always taken of the same poses at photo shoots. Most photographers set up their cameras to continuously shoot if they can, taking multiple images at once at high speed. A model might slightly change her pose in that time. Most models “suck it in” for a lot of poses as well. It’s not just Photoshop that makes us thinner, sometimes it’s just a mix of us being naturally thin and sucking it in.

        The person you were responding to was right, you did not need to try to correct them.

        Yes, the picture is shopped somewhat…but no, they are NOT the same picture.

        • Laura

          To me you’re coming across as aggressive and that hurts my feelings. You didn’t need to phrase it that way. My mother was a photo retoucher for years and also was a photographer. I didn’t do anything professionally, but I’ve taken classes. I might not have the paper to prove I know anything, but you didn’t need to pour lemon juice on an open wound. I didn’t “need” to correct anyone, but I wanted to share my perspective. I’m comfortable doing that because I don’t want my voice squashed by someone who’s angry at me. I’m sorry, but you can’t police anyone here. Regardless – thanks for the info. Though it’s not rare knowledge.

  • Amy Fan

    (Whoa is that TLC?)

    Honestly, that first photo was so bad, they should have just taken another photo. Bad photography. While it was washed out and needed a hell of a lot of color correction work (not to mention the expression on her face, but well, it’s Gaga,) I agree that the body reshaping is just unnecessary. They don’t need to make her look like a shiny barbie doll. Least of all someone as openly wacky and unabashed as Lady Gaga. I will say that whoever did the photoshop was quite talented with his or her work. Which makes me wonder who to blame in the chain of command. The artist? The photo editor-in-chief? The publisher? Or the system in our society itself?

  • Yury D Medlin-delaPortilla

    This picture is so old in twitter years ( see dog years and multiply by whatever number you fancy) it’s irrelevant, just like Gaga herself. Does anybody else thinks Gaga is Donatella Versace summer gig?

Need more Giggles?
Like us on Facebook!

Want more Giggles?
Sign up for our newsletter!