Assuming women are photoshopped 'beyond recognition' has pitfalls, learns Internet

limorwired.jpeg As soon as I saw that Wired had put excellent lady engineer Limor Fried on the cover, my first thought was Yes! Finally! My second thought was "Angry people will find something to be angry about here!" And so it was, with Good magazine writing that Wired had "photoshopped a Lady scientist beyond recognition" and that it is "fucking wrong." Good even dug out an old photo to prove how 'normal' Fried looks in real life, an act of David Brentian chivalry if ever there was one. But it doesn't really matter, because strong women do not need Homo Internetii to defend their honor. At Boing Boing and elsewhere, Fried commented: "The cover is stylized but that is really what I looked like. I was not 'plasticized' or 'heavily photoshopped'. if I take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear make-up its what I look like."



  1. Perception is like, 99% lighting, at least. Just ask any photographer, or Barbara Walters. No photoshop necessary. All I see here is a fabulous photo of a cute girl taken by a talented photog. Props to them both!

    1. Yes! Exactly! Very good soft lighting does wonders.

      If people look at other pics of her in her shop, etc, and most of them are under harsh fluorescent lighting.

      1. Another thing I forgot to mention.

        They make ANYONE that goes on Wired’s cover look good as default, be it man, women, or robot. It’s not like she was focused out for any special treatment. Wired just takes really good pictures (with a tad correction for contrast, color, etc.

    2. @GIFtheory: Yeah, people often don’t realize how altered the appearance of things can be in photographs just by changing lighting. Studio lighting is highly “unnatural” and makes things look completely different from how they would look in candid snapshots. Add an staged pose and some make-up, and people stop looking “real.” We’ve come to expect a high degree of photoshoppery from magazine covers, and seeing the apparently unnatural skin textures of a posed portrait can be easily mistaken as evidence of it.

      1. DoctressJulia, you’ve complained about the term “girl” a number of times here. If it’s not too out of place here, I’d like to ask a little bit more about your objection, and how serious you think it is.

        I understand the basic idea that calling a woman a girl is like calling a man a boy, so should be fairly self-evidently an insult. However, where I am it’s often used as a counterpart to “guys” rather than “boys” – as in “guys and girls”, equivalent to “guys and gals” in many other places. To me it seems derogatory the same way that “policemen” is a sexist term, that is a result of pervasive attitudes and used mainly through oversight. To me that seems a problem, but probably not so much as deliberate sexism like when women are called “bitches” or worse.

        But maybe I am missing something. Is this generally the nature of your objection, or is there something worse still about this kind of language? I know it’s not your job to educate me, but if you could at least throw a link to a discussion, it would be nice. Right now I can try to avoid the term, but I certainly couldn’t justify to anyone why they should.

  2. Update: Fried responded in good magazine’s comments section:

    You found a 3+ year old photo of me in Japan, after a 20 hour flight and short hair.

    The cover is stylized but that is really what I looked like. I was not ‘plasticized’ or ‘heavily photoshopped’. if I take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear make-up its what I look like. Jill uses lighting and makeup to create a glossy look, we saw the shots right off the camera and the only things that changed are the background color and the tool. Its her style and it looks cool!

    Its a bit different than my every day look, especially when shot with a proper camera and lighting, but it -is- me. I do get dressed up from time to time, being a magazine cover is one of those times! :)

    My lip ring wasn’t in for most of this year so far, WIRED didn’t remove it or airbrush it. I wasn’t wearing it, just like I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

    If I’m happy with this and I say it’s looks like me isn’t that GOOD :)

  3. She does look “plasticized”. So did Colbert when he was on the cover and a lot of people noted it without accusation of sexism. There’s something screwy going on at Wired’s art department. Does everything involving a woman have to be part of the War of the Sexes?

  4. “strong women do not need Homo Internetii to defend their honor.”

    They also do not need to be subcategorized as “lady engineers.” I doubt you ever say “gentleman engineers” or even “male engineers.” So why not just call her an engineer?

    There’s photoshopping and there’s wordshopping.

    1. This is Boing Boing. We get yelled at all the time for referring to men as gentlemen.

  5. Yeah, the Good writer is acting kind of like a dunce. Looking at the “real” photo, and the Wired cover, it’s not like she looks that different, apart from lighting, and maybe some evening of skin tone (and different hair length, and other things one might expect to change over time in real life.)

    If they’d have given her a nose job or giant knockers, or whatever… but this Good writer must have been really desperate to vent about some perceived outrage, so just swung wildly at nothing.

  6. It totally looks like her to me! The only REAL difference is hair length. Is her hair that long? If so, what is the problem? She is pretty with or without her glasses/make-up. But more than that she is pretty freaking cool!

  7. Good magazine errs in calling Limor Fried a scientist. She’s an engineer, and judging by Adafruit Industries products, a damn good one.

    1. @Anon #9:

      My wife’s an engineer, and she absolutely thinks of herself as a scientist and of her profession as science.

      1. My wife’s an engineer, and she absolutely thinks of herself as a scientist and of her profession as science.

        My buddy is a programmer at JPL who writes code for robotic spacecraft, and his friends like to call him a “rocket scientist.”

        Doesn’t actually make him one though.

      2. The other reply to your post put it more eloquently, but just to make it clear, most scientists don’t consider engineering a science – and most engineers don’t consider it a science either. It’s “applied science” if you will, which may sound a subtle difference, but it’s quite significant if you are a scientist (and I am).

        Back on topic, my girlfriend confounds me by looking incredibly different each time I photograph her. Not to the point of looking like a different person, but almost as if she’s had plastic surgery in some cases (which of course she hasn’t). You can see lots of photos of her here just as an example of this phenomenon, although I tend not to post the ones that make her look bad :) I am like that too, I can look massively different from photo to photo.

        In fact what amazes me is that so many people tend to photograph so consistently, not that people sometimes look different in different photos!

        As an amateur photographer who likes to take photos of people, and having shot the same people many times over long periods of time both with professional-style off-camera lighting and in natural light, I know very well how much someone’s appearance can change from photo to photo. It depends on the lighting but also, crucially, the posing.

        The cover photo here was posed in a way to make her look her best – she seems to have lost a little weight over the past few years if the other photos people have linked to are anything to go by, which helps, but also the pose here is designed to minimize the appearance of fat. You’d use this kind of posing technique whether someone was fat or thin – I don’t mean to imply she’s fat, as she’s certainly not.

  8. When Limor says that the photo looks like her, I believe her. It does bear some resemblance, but probably not as much as she’d like to believe. If you click the link to one of the article that also includes a photo of Limor from 3 years ago, then, yes, while you do see a woman who is worn-out from a long flight and obviously tired, you do not see a woman who looks like the one on the cover of Wired — the Limor on the cover of Wired looks like herself, minus 10 years, and who wouldn’t be pleased with that?

  9. if I take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear make-up its what I look like.

    Predictably, when gussied up for a cover shoot, she cleans up real well. But for what it’s worth (and that ain’t much at all), not only are both photos quite obviously of the same person, but she looks great in both of them.

    Somebody’s got too much time on his hands. I mean, other than me.

  10. Human skin does not look that way. It could easily be bad lighting and not photoshop, but that is a terrible picture. Also, if you want your picture to evoke Rosie the Riveter, you could do a better job capturing the charm of the original.

    No, I can’t take a better portrait, and that’s why I’m obsessive about photographing architecture. People just look funny anyway.

      1. While I still hate the lighting, the big difference there is the whimsical nature of the cover; he’s standing over a cartoon landscape and interacting with the text. The result is comical, and the cartoonish result of the lighting fits the image. It reminds me of Katamari Damacy.

        Honestly, though, the more I look at it, the real problem isn’t the lighting- it’s the composition. The Rosie the Riveter image has the arm angled towards the viewer. She’s made up of harsh light-and-dark contrasts, so there’s still a lighting problem, but the real loss is the lack of the out-jutting arm. It really ruins the image.

  11. and yet no one says a word about the poor tool she’s holding spewing forth bolts of electricity. That’s gotta be a hard image to live up too for an appliance.

  12. Why try and turn this into a discussion about the industry being sexist? Personally I saw that cover and though to myself: “Boy thats ugly”. (Sorry no offence limor). It basically looks like the photographer took a good looking woman and tried to turn her into a photoshopped model. I don’t care if she actually didn’t photoshop it. Why did she have to make her look so differently from what she actually looks like?

    Comparing the cover to other pictures, I think she pretty much butchered and hid most features that make her recognizable. It seems that the photographer either edited, or took the pictures at a smart angle to make her nose look smaller (Because everything except the petit model nose is ugly right?) and instructed her not to smile as she would normally but to do a monalisa style smile. You try smiling without moving the edges of your mouth and see how natural that feels.

    Had she been a man, they would have taken a picture that showed what she looked like, and frankly I would have like that a whole lot more.
    She looks better in the old picture than on the cover, but then again I’m a sucker for realism.

  13. So the crux of their biscuit once you peel back the rationalizations is “ZOMFG you guys, Limor isn’t actually pretty in real life”.

    What the fuck is wrong with them?


  14. Yow! Those biceps! Those bolts of lightning! I’m in love! (L-U-V love).

    It’s not the first time that WIRED has had a cover that caused people to complain about photoshoping, only to have the model complain that she actually does look exactly like that. People forget that there are women who, as the poet says “looked like men wished women looked like but don’t: except that she did.”

  15. And now, thanks to some GISing, I see that pretty much everybody who ever tries to ape the iconic Rosie the Riveter puts the arm in the plane of the background, not with the elbow towards the audience. And now this will bother me for ever more. I can’t unsee it.

    1. Actually, there are two different drawings associated with the phrase “Rosie the Riveter,” and Limor posed along the lines of the other one, not the Norman Rockwell cover.

  16. Seems almost more insulting that Good assumes she wouldn’t clean up worth a damn.

    If I ever make the cover of a magazine everyone better hope I’m Photoshopped to hell and back. I bet the same would go for most people.

    I’m a little surprised her lip ring (which I’ve never seen her without) is missing, but whatever. I’m not going to bitch to much about this cover, it’s way overdue.

  17. So whether a person’s photo be post-processed to look drastically different, or makeup and studio lighting is used, is the end result any different?

    If lighting and makeup is used in a manner that makes people think it was Photoshopped, whats the difference versus actually using Photoshop? In both versions, something is altered to make you appear differently than people expect.

    Its seems like 6 in one and half dozen in the other if you ask me. Both have a certain degree of deception to them (no offense).

    And they could have done better if this was supposed to be a take on Rosie the Riveter. Where’s the bandana?

    1. Well, if you want to get REALLY deep on it, any picture plane that represents a real object is a falsehood. (This is not a cigar). But I think the primary difference is that while professional make up and lighting isn’t really attainable for most people, there’s a more acceptable level of falsehood to it than to photoshopping, which generally results in medically impossible protohumans.

      1. Correction, ‘bad photoshopping’ results in that.

        Given that pretty much every professional photograph you will ever see will have had SOME kind of ‘photoshopping’ done to it, the tool itself isn’t the problem, it’s those that use it.

        In the same way as before photoshop the same things were done by hand.

        How dare people try to make their photographs look good? These pesky magazines should be using a 2mp camera phone, I’d like everything to look shit personally.

  18. wired smeared her face and made her look almost cartoonish. I would have like a more real picture of her. more like a times magazine cover then a maxim cover.

  19. Jezebel does much better analysis of magazine photography, pointing out specifically what has changed and often showing the original image for comparison, not simply eyeballing the difference. As Fried states, the cover is definitely stylized, but sometimes what is ‘obvious’ is, in fact, not. On a side note, perusing the original post on Good, I caught myself staring at the 3 year-old image of Fried. Not leering, but simply struck by how stunning she remained in the context of a snapshot. And apparently after a 20 hour flight. ‘Normal’ young women with brains… Huzzah!

  20. LOL… OK, I’m still chuckling over the term “David Brentian chivalry”. Definitely going to steal that.

  21. Photography! Why can’t it be just like my perceptions of the way things really are? It’s deceitful, I say!

  22. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Wired has a certain aesthetic, and anyone who is shown on their cover will be photographed in a way that matches and complements that aesthetic. Big whoop. The only person who has a right to get up in arms about the photo is the engineer who is in it. She seems to like it, and that’s what matters.

    As an aside, I’m always a little annoyed when people use the “lady” prefix, as in “lady engineer”, or “lady doctor”. It seems belittling.

    For my opinion, it’s a cool photo of a cool person. It’s a very technically exacting style of photography, and the photographer really pulled it off. I wouldn’t mind being that attractive if I had to be on the cover of a magazine.

    There’s this weird philosophy among a certain geek demographic that seems offended if you imply that a woman can be both attractive and smart. That she’s some kind of geek traitor if she gets gussied up once in a while. Grow up.

  23. Mr. Good, this is what’s called a photo illustration. It’s not supposed to look realistic. It’s supposed to tell a story.

    I’m surprised that you don’t know the difference between a portrait and a photo illustration. It’s your job to know that, if you’re going to write what you did.

    If you want to complain that photo illustrations on magazine covers aren’t accurate, then you’ll have to complain about every single magazine cover photo illustration ever done in the history of periodical printing.

  24. I’ve met Limor on several occasions and, yes, the Wired photo did startle me. I don’t consider the Wired cover any more or less attractive than the “real” Limor, just somewhat unnervingly different. For reference, here’s a photo of her with me less than a year ago at Maker Faire 2010:

    Perhaps it’s all lighting…but most Photoshop tricks are only manipulation of light anyway. If it’s a photo in specialized lighting conditions that could never exist outside the studio of a skilled artist, is that any more natural? Anyway, I find the whole controversy hilarious. Who cares if an engineer is attractive or not, or even if they are a female? Limor does a good job designing or finding cool hobby electronics, and that’s the reason I pay attention.

    1. Unnervingly different? Jeez. I’m looking at your picture of Limor, and the one on Wired, and IT’S THE SAME PERSON. There is no physical variation there that each one of us hasn’t seen from one photo of ourselves to the next — period. Again, the hair length is different, slightly different skin tone… maybe even a difference of five pounds in weight. And, yeah, a bit of photoshoppery gloss. But if you are unnerved by the difference between the Limor on the cover of wired, and the picture you have, you can’t really have anything properly called nerves in the first place.

  25. limor and i just bought a few copies of WIRED at barnes & noble, the sales person immediately recognized limor, that was pretty fun!

  26. Wigg1es, i think there is a difference. The difference is that she is beautiful under the sun, or moonlight, or studio light, regardless of anybody’s drawing (shopping) skills. Also girls like makeup before shoots. Like a warrior that applies colour before a fight (an important event).

  27. If there’s something to complain about — it’s why Wired seems to use ring flash and high contrast most of the time with men and not with women. Their portraits of men — generally you can count every hair in the stubble even if they shaved just before the shoot, measure the depth of every pore.

  28. .
    do we make any sort of distinction
    between photoshopping done for
    purely commercial purposes – advertising
    versus when it’s done for
    (at least partially) editorial purposes?
    i think i would
    i’m reminded of the wired cover
    from several years ago
    the model covered in diamonds

  29. .
    do we make any sort of distinction
    between photoshopping done for
    purely commercial purposes – advertising
    versus when it’s done for
    (at least partially) editorial purposes?
    i think i would
    i’m reminded of the wired cover
    from several years ago
    the model covered in diamonds

  30. It’s definitely lighting. I instantly recognized it as a Jill Greenberg shoot. (confirmed here: ) She’s got a very distinct style that brings a lot to the image. Sure, it’s a very stylized look, but it’s interesting. Greenberg has long been one of my favorite portrait photographers.

    More of Greenberg’s work can be seen here:

    That gallery is full of recognizable people and should give you a bit better idea how different people can look under such stylized lighting.

    1. Well, I find her style interesting, but disconcerting. I think anyone saying that the cover looked Photoshopped was not being sexist; it does look that way irregardless of technique. But people pummeling the point into the ground and showing off an old non-pro photo and saying “See! See! See! She looks like this!” are dinks.

  31. i’ve known limor since she was an undergrad, though i haven’t seen her recently. but it’s obviously her on the cover of wired. it’s also obviously her in the other pics. i don’t see why y’all are getting yr panties in a twist because somebody looks a mite different from one photo to another, maybe has a new hairstyle from time to time, changes their jewelry, or even puts on makeup or gets professional lighting for a cover shot.

    maybe y’all could, you know, think about her as an engineer for a few minutes, rather than an image of one? just try, now….it’s not all *that* hard.

  32. Just like everyone who can spell “tsunami” now believes he or she is an expert in nuclear power, everyone who has been to Fark or PhotoshopDiasters believes he or she knows when something has been photoshopped. I’ve had comments on photos I’ve posted of what an awesome photoshop job I did, when they were straight out of camera. People are too eager to rip things apart.

  33. I don’t know what she looks like IRL, but this photo just looks weird and unsettling to me, like a lot of contemporary magazine cover photos. Wired in particular tends to do this, maybe they’re going for some kind of post-human thing. It’s a yucky inorganic looking aesthetic that makes my skin crawl. That said, Limor is a hero of mine… I built and cherish one of her x0xb0xen.

  34. Well, I have seen the picture in the article claiming the photoshopping, as well as a videos and pictures of her that are not pre-fabricated.

    Those people that keep claiming she looks the same need a serious eye examination (and here I am not making a value judgement about her physical appeareance, some other people had already commented how they find more attractive the undoctored versions of her persona).

    Some people have started to scratch at the surface of the crux of the matter: the picture in Wired is weird, or at the very least, different.

    Some people say it is because she glammed up for it, or because it is the style of the photographer or because photogrpahs are taken to “tell a history”. I think only the most cynical or deluded individual would not agree that the cover photogrpah is not really her, but an idealized, pre-planned version of her.

    And full of curioisity I began to look at previous covers of Wired, inevitably all the men look as they normally do.

    So the question is, why Wired felt the need to present us a fundamentally different version of the real day to day Lady Ada, when it is not doing so when they portray men?

    All the publishing industry does this routinely, and it seems people are so used to it that now they expect it and are even prepared to defend and justify this commercial sexist neo-Stalinism in commercial photography.

    The non existing photoshopping is a side issue (most things you can do in Photoshop can be done with careful planning at the moment of taking a picture), the issue should be what are magazines trying to tell us, and why they keep trying to say it in the way they do.

    And after thinking about it, my guess is sexism, nowadays not necessarily explicit, but it is an attitude: a man can be scruffy, unshaven, etc. etc and will make subject with “character”. A woman that is less than immaculate is immediately plunged in make up, photoshopped and glammed up beyond recognition, to the point tha we lose the essence of the real person.

    I think that is what got lost in the Wired cover: the essence of Lady Ada. The picture may be pretty, even to her own liking, that does not mean it is conveying a fair representation of who she really is (as she pretty much accepts herself: “if I do this, this, and that, then I really look like that….)” …..

  35. The United States is screwed. It is so rare to see a woman in technology that everyone is shocked and has asinine discussions like this one.

    Go to China and see the millions of women studying engineering, math and science and see the future leaders of the technological world.

  36. what are they gonna do, take a picture with a phone of her surfing the net in her jimjams and then paste it straight on the cover with no editing? they pay editors, photographers and designers for a reason, and they’re clearly making a good return on their investment judging by the attention and free publicity this has received.

  37. I believe any of us would want to look as glamourous as possible on a magazine cover. I know I would.

  38. This is obviously a simple case of 80’s teen movie syndrome. You take someone’s glasses off and all of a sudden they look like a different person. It’s well documented.

  39. I think that a lot of people are still not getting past their own biases and ignorance regarding the way people are photographed for commercial publication vs. how they look in casual snapshots (although penguinchris gets it). Practically everybody doing a cover gets some sort of makeup and hairdressing, even if it’s to make them look like they just rode a bike across the desert without a helmet or just woke up after a good hard shag and eight hours’ sleep. It’s no different from appearing on TV or in the movies. And, as Keith K notes, it’s a standard Jill Greenberg shoot; she’s used the same approach with many other celebrities.

    It is a very different look for Fried, and I think that that’s what is really behind the rush to judge this as a glam shoop. I don’t know Cord Jefferson, or what goes on inside his head, but his rant reads very much like that of someone who had a secret crush on Fried and was startled to see her channeling Rosie the Riveter.

  40. *sigh*

    I think quite a few people need to enrol in some studio portrait classes.

    Some soft lighting gels or softboxes or acres of reflected lighting, a soft portrait lens and maybe a gel on the lens (not sure, seems to sharp for that, although the ‘glow’ round the face could be) and naturally young good skin or some makeup and voila!

    Photographers managed fine before Photoshop you know…it just needs more planning and gear, and time – which most celebs don’t have to give, sadly. Cheaper to ‘shop…doesn’t mean you can’t do it for reals, though…and no ‘cheating’.

    I like the Wired shoot, I have to say ‘ugh! Too much gold reflector!’ on the other Jill Greenberg shoots – that’s why they look like they’ve spent too long in the tanning salon…and makeup probably. Sorry, it’s not a good look. But not shopped either…

  41. She is beautiful, she is smart, she makes cool stuff. What the heck?, seems to be someone is jealous.

    Limor Fried, I love you. :)

  42. Good grief. Teh Interwebs, they see conzspeeracies everwhar!

    One is a snapshot. One is a professional photo shoot for a glossy mag. Get a grip! Embrace the difference between impromptu & planned professional presentation.

    Yay for engineers that happen to be women. Yay, I say!

  43. How dare anybody want to make themselves look NICE before being plastered on magazines around the world?

    In this day and age someone making an effort about their appearance is DISGUSTING!

  44. Having done some photoshop re-touching in my time, against my prnciples, at the insitence not of the clients but of a model’s management, I found myself wondering if it often wouldn’t be quicker to photoshop the model’s head onto a mannequin: thinner, more easily posed and without all that (apparently) horrendous and unnaceptable stuff like “pores” and “fat” that us humans are known for.

    That seems to be what they all want: plastic bodies with their ‘client-like’ plastic faces.

    Jeez – why not just go the whole hog and reduce everything down to mathmatical functions, nodes and vectors, if reality offends them so much?

    The rationale seems to be that if they don’t have their client’s ‘cellulite’ (read: normal body fat) removed and don’t have their limbs made thinner, then the gossip mags are going to go after them.

    The gossip mags who are constantly presented with fake, super-perfect images of these slebs, who then obviously pounce on any sign of imperfection – to highlight (in their minds) how ‘normal’ these people actually are …. which leads to ever-more paranoid reps, I guess.

    Illustration is, at least, more honest in its fakery.

  45. What’s with all this “lady scientist” stuff? We know from context, and a photograph, and the “Ms.” before her name that you’re referring to a woman– the whole “lady+profession” thing isn’t cute, it’s just annoying. Please cut it out.

  46. Seriously… Are people questioning the beauty of Limor Fried? Watch some of her videos she’s totally cute! And obviously brilliant… What’s sexier than that?… So is it innapropriate in the modern world to appreciate the beauty of a beautiful woman….

  47. Shocking revelation: women who are real-life cute but not model-level gorgeous can look shockingly different depending on whether they’re wearing makeup and spent an hour fiddling with their hair or just rolled out of bed and went on their way in the morning. Anyone college student who’s ever seen the same girl at an 8 am class and a party could tell you that.

    Add in that the photographer was obviously going for a 40s cartoon style to evoke the original image, and I don’t see the problem. It’s obviously the same person in all the pictures, and she looks fine in all of them.

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