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8 Minute Abs

This past 4th of July, for Macy’s firework extravaganza, Mariah Carey gave the media (specially blogs) new material — after all, how much longer can we keep talking about Glitter — for her condemnation. In an inexplicable decision made behind the scenes, Ms. Carey decided that she couldn’t be one of those flabby girlie-women and did what any other respected superstar would do: She — well, her make-up artist — painted an unconvincing set of six-pack abs on her stomach.


On the left, a picture taken three weeks prior to July 4th, where, on the right, Mariah sports killer abs

There are things we do, as people with opposable thumbs and reasoning, that defy, well, reason. Sometimes we do these things to fix mistakes, flaws or limitations. (Other times because we are drunk of our bums and don’t feel responsible for dancing in our underwear on top of a bar… but I digress). When faced with a, what one could consider petty, problem, we try to come up with sensible solutions on the spot, or we might have a couple of hours to make a decision. Stupid or not. But we make one.

As designers we are faced with many of these moments where you have to make a decision that you have the eerie feeling in the back of your mind that, perhaps, this may not be the best or most correct way to do it. Like making a faux bold in QuarkXpress because you don’t own the license to Gotham Bold. Or scanning a textured paper and then printing that texture on white paper so that that corporate folder you designed looks more expensive even though your budget barely covered the price of getting a sample of that textured paper shipped to your office so that you could scan it. Or, upon seeing how unblack the black is in a one color job, you decide to do second run for a double hit hoping the black lands on the exact same spot as before, only to see a runny newsletter come off the press. (This, of course, are all hypothetical scenarios, none that I have experienced in any of my places of employment nor are they stories from blunderous designers I know).

In the past, what patches, fixes, “solutions” have you done that have turned either sour and you regret or have saved the day and you relish in telling the story? And, now that summer is in full swing, how do you work on your abs?

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.15.2005 BY Armin
the pessimist’s comment is:

Recently we were doing a program with a few ladies in formal-wear. (Low-cut fancy dresses). One in particular had a tattoo on her breast and the tatoo was rather large so it appeared about her dress line. My boss wanted me to take the tatoo out of the picture because he said it was distracting. I told him I wouldn't do it because I didn't feel it was ethical. Was I right? I mean, bags under the eyes, maybe, but not a tattoo.

On Jul.15.2005 at 10:23 AM
pnk’s comment is:

I totally relate to the pessimist's example: I once spent the better part of the day removing moles and blemishes from a picture of someone who was, even before my work, a very pretty teenage girl. The CD wanted her "more perfect", and I felt rather gross as I participated in what felt to me like some kind of societal conspiracy to define beauty very narrowly. Her moles were her wabi-sabi, in my mind!

On Jul.15.2005 at 12:06 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

In my day they were called Washboard Waist. Not six pack abs. Lingo of today.

I much prefer the former.

Don't have a washboard waste or six pack.

I have what is known and beloved as The PLAYGROUND.


On Jul.15.2005 at 01:20 PM
Nicholas’s comment is:

I've done photoretouching for print samples for a well know printer company. Amazing some of the things they request done. Removed everything from nipples showing through swimsuits to slimming flab on arms to pimple removal and sickly fake overall sharpening.

Though I've talked to others in the fashion industry and that is kiddy stuff to what they have done to photos. Sad really.

On Jul.15.2005 at 01:57 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

Speaking on the abs part...

I currently have physical therapy for my lower back due to a clumsy slip on the ice. (I work for a hockey team) The therapist showed me several exercises that are so simple but they work! I can actually see my muscles starting to come through...it's amazing.

Maybe I should tell Mariah about these simple exercises. Anyone can make time for these easy moves.

On Jul.15.2005 at 02:02 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Diane, screw Mariah... share your knowledge with the rest of us.

While art directing photo shoots, I have found myself, on at least a couple occasions, running a "tit check". Once for a singer who had just given birth — wearing pads to protect the gown she was wearing, and once for a singer who was wearing a brand new corset. On the outside I claimed that it was easier to fix things in real life than in post production; on the inside I couldn't help laughing that I was now being paid to do something that I often do for free.

Then there was the time I had to ask the regional karate champion to pose nude...

On Jul.15.2005 at 03:18 PM
Jonathan Hughes’s comment is:

I'm not sure how it's more ethical to remove bags under the eyes than a tattoo. Personally, I would think it would be _less_ ethical to remove something natural (like bags or blemishes) than something unnatural (a tattoo). As long as it's not an editorial photo, though, I don't have a big issue with retouching something out when it visually interferes with something (plus, boob tats are pretty tacky).

Back to Mariah -- those fake muscles are incredibly fake looking. Maybe they looked realistic in person, but they look completely asinine in the photo.

On Jul.15.2005 at 04:31 PM
Peter’s comment is:

This is all vaguely reminiscent of working on a poster for a ballet performance. I posed the question of "are there any particular dancers you would like to feature?" Thinking of attempting to feature the next local Baryshnikov.

The stunning response was, the skinny ones.

Petrified as they were all quite skinny, there was no clear answer and sadly I think that it would have been much more acceptable to the client if I skewed the photo to "enhance" the twig-like nature of the dancer.

Moral of the story, forget abs, apparently these days we are going for anorexia.

On Jul.15.2005 at 05:04 PM
Time to get a life’s comment is:

Mariah Carey Needs a Better Brazilian

-> Read the glorious details over at Gawker

On Jul.15.2005 at 05:25 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

For the record, and despite seemingly incontrovertible photographic evidence, Mariah Carey has denied that anyone painted incredibly fake-looking abs on her torso.

On Jul.15.2005 at 05:34 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

I'm skeptical of that photo now that Michael mentions it. It could be some unwaxed hair. But what I really believe is that it's a nice use of the burn or clone tool in PhotoShop. And here's how I can tell, I worked for a prepress and publication house right out of college, located in of all places Omaha, Nebraska. Like the telemarketers hiding out in offices for none of the world to see, the city also had a top notch prepress and color house owned by AGT (now part of Seven Worldwide).

Here--for the first time--I reveal how my own mastery of the PhotoShop clone tool helped shape popular culture by:

Removing pubic hair from Ginger Spice's crotch.

Taking the pimples off the Hanson Brothers' faces.

Erasing veins, cellulite, hair, and stretch marks to smooth out lingerie models’ bodies.

These are but some of the tasks I completed.

On Jul.15.2005 at 06:55 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

This post has led me through a longish linkage of celebrity porn ... very unfamiliar territory for me, with Britany and Mariah and Madonna and cats and dogs and fighting like.

Then there's the photoshop talk; not that I'm any stranger to touch-up and erasure, but I have no tales of gory or glory that would fall in the category of Armin's original question.

The things is, after all this body talk, who really wants to hear about heroically turning fucked-up letterhead into notepads? Not you. Not me.

And, not to condone paint-on body fakery by stupid superstars, but has anyone thought that this is what most women do to their faces every day?

On Jul.15.2005 at 06:55 PM
Joe Marianek’s comment is:

Us magazine recently earned a doctorate in celebrity photojournalism:

Brilliant Photoshopping

On Jul.15.2005 at 07:29 PM
gregor’s comment is:

I personally see nothing unethical in removing a tattoo -- the client is selling formal wear, the model is hired to play a role. It's like, from another photoshoot angle, shooting styled cookies made using handmade and colored playdough, frosted with colored toothpaste (Tom's natural toothpaste works best). Now if the model had a TM after her name them maybe photoshopping out that tattoo would be another issue.

Bad ethics, in my mind is designing for a message that is (a) a down right damn lie, (b) in some way contributing to society's ills, and, (c) many of the other issues you'll find on numerous threads here, other design blogs, books on design ethics, etc.

for the last question in the post, now that summer is in full swing, how do you work on your abs? We'll, for father's day my kids gave me an ipod (I was determined to never, ever own one) which was to encourage me to readily use the other gift: a gym membership. There's a Precor thingy that works quite well. 30 minutes per session 3 times a week.

On Jul.15.2005 at 10:46 PM
Kyle Hildebrant’s comment is:


You took the words right out of my mouth -- well, aside from the whole 'kids' part. I see nothing personaly unethical in this.


If anyone here has been involved in any type of fashion design/photography, you will know quite well that this is all the norm.

How is this any different than say, Angelina Jolie covering one of her many tattoos to play a role in a movie? You don't see debates on the ethics involved in this. Is this not a 'role' that the model is playing?

On Jul.16.2005 at 01:49 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

gave me an ipod [...] which was to encourage me to readily use the other gift: a gym membership.

Yep, as soon as someone gives me an ipod, i'll get on the bike, i promise.

And if it ever stops raining I'll go down to the beach and swim.

'til then I'm sitting on the deck with my feet up, eating bon bons.

On Jul.16.2005 at 01:58 AM
Rob’s comment is:

Having once worked in the retail business, it was quite the norm to retouch images to enhance the view of the product. My favorite 'fix,' that I was not directly involved a retail firm's annual report.

It had a teen appearing on the cover who the CEO felt looked too sexy/older and he had her breasts reduced in the photo so that she would look younger. But considering it was more the clothes she was wearing that promoted what I would call the 'sex appeal,' I'm not sure he truly achieved his overall objective.

As for my own self, abs? What are abs?

On Jul.16.2005 at 05:46 AM
gregor’s comment is:

And if it ever stops raining I'll go down to the beach and swim.

'til then I'm sitting on the deck with my feet up, eating bon bons.

New excercise regime: 30 leg lifts while munching (breathe regulatly between bites) and you'll have perfect abs no sooner than you can say "Sunny and 38 celcius".

funny though, on wedsnesday I was hunched over a table all day w/xacto in hand cutting prototypes out of board stock in prep for a meeting. thursday I woke up feeling like I did 100 sit-ups. (in the process I was soooo happy to find my Olfa Touch-Knife that I bought in the early 80s. (Couldn't use it though since the blade was dull - it now sits back in it's place of glory on my desk)).

back to the gym for me -- time to up the incline level on those treadmills.

On Jul.16.2005 at 11:51 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

who really wants to hear about heroically turning fucked-up letterhead into notepads? Not you. Not me.

That's okay, I'll tell you anyway.

They were beautiful letterpress booklet covers but

thanks to film output with no crop or fold marks,

a ridiculously tight schedule &

(the fix) a cutting guide drawn wrong at 6 am by a sleep-deprived me

my client now has �700 worth of exceptionally handsome square notelets.

On Jul.16.2005 at 02:27 PM
gregor’s comment is:

In my day they were called Washboard Waist. Not six pack abs.

In my day a beer gut was also called six pack abs. kids today...

On Jul.16.2005 at 06:03 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:



Dying Laughing !!!! On the Floor, Dead Cockroach Postion !!!!!


On Jul.17.2005 at 04:13 PM
gregor’s comment is:


------>Dead Cockroach Postion.

now that has me on the floor.


On Jul.17.2005 at 07:07 PM
Stacy’s comment is:

I might call Mariah's abs gaudy.

With any line of work there is a line between too much and too litte. Perhaps Mariah thought her abs were too litte and decided to succeed in her work she needed some enhancements.

Hopefully lesson learned- not all enhancements cause attractiveness, too much decoration can cause destruction, and in the end glitz often equal gaudy.

On Jul.18.2005 at 01:01 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

One enhancing trick I was used several times, although not tacky as the ones you suggested armin, was using silver ink. In order to make consumer electronics “sparkle, and shine and lure and wow”, using a silver plate with just a few details will make these lifeless products come to life right before your eyes.

On Jul.18.2005 at 01:00 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

One of my first jobs was at a photo studio where I sold “Glamour Touch” along with the photo packages. Glamour Touch whitened eyes and teeth, removed wrinkles/blemishes, took braces off, removed glare from glasses, etc. I was surprised by both the negative and positive customer reactions. Some people loved the ultra touched-up look, while others were shocked by how �lifeless’ it make them look.

I’ve removed blood from fish photos on my client’s charter fishing site. I wasn’t asked to do it, he had told me that his target audience was families so I made the call. Is this wrong? The way I see it the blood could have been rinsed off prior to the shot, I’m just doing it after.

On Jul.18.2005 at 01:21 PM
Matt’s comment is:

ha ha ha ha ha

She looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle!

On Jul.18.2005 at 03:47 PM
Seffis’s comment is:

One of my favorite demands from a client came while I was working at a catalog design house. The client was Sears, and the catalog featured a man starting to climb out of the pool (bare-chested!) in the background while the woman enjoyed a refreshing beverage at the featured patio set.

I'm sure you all can see the problem with this picture...

Yes, that's right. The photo stylists obviously forgot to show the woman's wedding ring. You don't want Sears peddling those alternative family ideals now, do you? Thankfully the Photoshop matrimony plug-in saved the day.

Apparently the photo was acceptable even without seeing the man's ring. Makes you wonder... Adultery, fine. Non-marriage, not fine. Go figure.

On Jul.18.2005 at 05:28 PM
eman’s comment is:

try...the picture on the left was taken in 2004.

On Oct.16.2005 at 06:06 AM
Garrett Lubertine’s comment is:

At one of my last jobs when I was living back home...I was asked to make the president of the company "not as black" in regards to her skin color, and another woman who worked for the company "not as asian" in regards to the shape of her eyes.

Needless to say I did NOT want to change anything about their images as it totally wasnt necessary and it didnt seem like a morally correct decision...however they called my art director and demanded the requests be carried through "or else!"... I was rather taken back to find out that they were in fact requests from the actual persons themselves. To me it seemed like absolutely ridiculous things to do.

From a production standpoint I have removed so many wrinkles and cleaned up so many teeth and have done so many "head transplants" (due to people getting fired and replaced), breast "enhancements" and reductions i'm considering becoming a dentist and a plastic surgeon!

On Oct.17.2005 at 06:39 AM
somebody’s comment is:

well mariah carey is beautiful no matter how she looks...
she looks pretty with makeup and without.so!!!

On Aug.26.2008 at 05:57 AM