All is Never as it Seems: The Reality of Celebrity Airbrushing

We’re accustomed to being inundated with images of flawless celebrities in glossy magazines. But how much of their supposed, standardised perfection is actually real? The answer is, almost none of it. Join FIB as we examine the real faces behind the illusion that excessive airbrushing casts.

Jennifer Lawrence


Jennifer Lawrence is a well-known champion of body positivity. She frequently speaks out against Hollywood’s ludicrous beauty standards. And looking at this picture, it’s not hard to see why. In the first, unedited image she appears as a healthy young woman. In the second image, the airbrushing is so botched that her body just barely looks human.




Nineteen-year-old performer Zendaya made internet headlines recently when she called out Modeliste magazine for airbrushing her hips, torso and thighs, making them appear much narrower. Staying true to her passion for promoting self-love and authenticity, she released the original photograph on Instagram alongside the airbrushed image. She commented:

“Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19 year old hips and torso quite manipulated. These are the things that make women self-conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have. Anyone who knows who I am knows that I stand for honest and pure self love. So I took it upon myself to release the original image (right side) and I love it.”


Kourtney Kardashian


Successful businesswoman and mother Kourtney Kardashian poses in the original image with her newly-born baby and a blissful smile on her face. Her posture lovingly accommodates the baby that she’s holding in her arms. In the second image, her posture has been altered; her post-baby belly has been removed, and the magazine cover is strewn with over-the-top headlines about weight loss. Talk about mixed-up priorities. Kardashian was so angered by the airbrushing that she released the original image on Twitter.


Scarlett Johansson


Johansson is another actress who is famous for not taking Hollywood’s crap – calling out interviewers who ask sexist questions.  In this image her make-up is digitally exaggerated, her colouring has been altered and the ever-so-slight dark smudges under her eyes have been removed.


Kristen Stewart


Sometimes when looking at airbrushed images of celebrities, I’m prompted to wonder, ‘Okay, but why?’ This was definitely the case when I saw this hilariously airbrushed image of Stewart, in which her characteristic slightly-open mouth has been airbrushed closed. In the first image she appears as her delicately expressive self. The mouth of the girl in the second image more closely resembles that of a stern Barbie doll.


Emma Watson


So, we all know that Emma Watson is beautiful inside and out. In this image of Watson back in her Harry Potter days, the young actress is given a more dramatic, sultrier look through editing. It’s not a drastic change, but it’s there nonetheless.


Katy Perry


Celebrity airbrushers seem to have a penchant for removing all the pores from a person’s face. You can see the difference clearly in this heavily-airbrushed image of Katy Perry.


Thom Yorke


In this image of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, his eyes have been altered to look more symmetrical and his mouth has been subtly straightened out.


Rachel McAdams


Ever wonder why celebrity smiles don’t look real in some photographs? It’s because their smile lines have literally been airbrushed out. In this image of Rachel McAdams, her smile lines and even her lower lash lines have been completely removed.


Kate Moss


Age and drug abuse will show their wear on even the most coveted of faces. The solution? Airbrushing, apparently. In this image Moss’ skin has been smoothed out completely. It’s not even an image from a photo-shoot – just a candid shot of her going about her day-to-day life.


Alicia Silverstone


Clueless star Alicia Silverstone is still looking glamorous twenty years on. And part of that is undeniably due to her natural charisma and healthy lifestyle. But it’s also partly due to edits like this one.


Lindsay Lohan


Freckles are a totally underrated beauty feature. In fact, in many airbrushed celebrity photos, freckles are erased entirely. In this image not a single one of Lohan’s freckles has been left alone.


Jessica Alba


Alba is a well-known actress and beauty icon and a slightly lesser-known businesswoman and activist. In this image, make-up has been airbrushed onto Alba’s face and her skin tone has been visibly lightened.




In this photograph, Shakira’s eye bags have been removed and her make-up has been greatly exaggerated.


Prince George


Apparently even infants can’t escape airbrushing in our celebrity-obsessed culture. On this magazine cover, George’s eyes have been altered to look greener, his hair has been altered to look more strawberry-blonde, his lips are pinker and his cheeks are rosier.




Queen B is both a wildly talented artist and an incredible spokeswoman for female empowerment. The image here just radiates fierceness, but it too has been airbrushed. Her skin tone has been lightened, her make-up exaggerated and her belly fat removed.


George Clooney


Sometimes a few wrinkles can be a good thing. Exhibit A: George Clooney, whose better-with-age image is something that fuels his popularity. But in the photo above, his grey-flecked hair has been darkened and most of his wrinkles have been completely erased.




Madonna is another star who has aged gracefully. But in the strange world of celebrity airbrushing, the appearance of age is apparently something to be avoided at all costs. In the image above, Madonna’s skin has been smoothed out and her wrinkles removed. Her make-up has also been darkened.


Of course, airbrushing isn’t inherently wrong. In the age of digital images, editing photographs in post-production is standard practice and can really heighten the impact of a photograph, evoke emotions or reveal the photographer’s vision more clearly. It’s a tool that can have stunning effects in the right hands. But there’s something invasive about the uninvited alteration of a person’s image; the replacement of someone’s authentic body with a projection of how society deems a body ‘should’ be. Erasing their wrinkles, cellulite and other blemishes seems like an erasure, in part, of the reality of their personal history. Celebrities are beginning to speak out more and more about unwanted airbrushing of their images. Perhaps it’s a sign that we’re moving towards a more body-positive society, where images are retouched responsibly – with the consent of the subjects, the awareness of the audience and the integrity to acknowledge and celebrate what human bodies look like, blemishes and all.