Airbrushed Magazine Photos of Babies Spark Debate

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Some magazine editors admit to airbrushing photos of babies, but say that the changes are minimal. Critics call the practice

Do you think babies' photos should be airbrushed in magazines? Credit: Getty Images

Critics are outraged that some parenting magazines admit to airbrushing images of babies that run on their covers, but industry insiders say that almost every photograph in a magazine is retouched.

The hubbub started when a BBC documentary, My Supermodel Baby, revealed that the publication Practical Parenting and Pregnancy retouched a photograph of 5-month-old baby model Hadley Corbett. According to The Daily Telegraph, the magazine's casting director, who was not named, told filmmakers that the child's image was airbrushed: "We lightened his eyes and his general skin tone, smoothed out any blotches and the creases on his arms. But we want it to look natural."

Hadley's mom, Esther Corbett, tells the Telegraph that she was neither surprised nor offended that her child's image was altered. "You kind of know that they do it because if you look at the front cover of magazines, most of the images don't look really real," she says. "But it didn't put me off."

Plenty of other people are put off, however, and some say that the practice is "shocking." Jo Swinson, a U.K. political leader, campaigns against airbrushing in magazines. "People will be appalled that a magazine would not think images of beautiful healthy babies are alright as they are and instead have to conform to some standard," she tells the Telegraph. "The idea that babies must look more perfect – that they can't have creases in their skin – shows the obsession with a particular ideal. Where does this end?"

"You will have parents thinking, my baby isn't attractive enough, how do I make my baby more attractive?" she says.

Industry insiders who have worked with children in media say that retouching photographs -- of everything and everyone -- is standard operating procedure at most publications and is in no way sinister. A friend who has a long resume working with children's publications tells me that the goal is to improve the likeness by adjusting the color, lighting and yes, getting rid of drool or flyaway hairs.

With photo-editing software and services readily available today, plenty of parents are doing the same thing with their private snapshots. I'm not above editing out the chocolate smears on my kids' faces to get the perfect holiday card, and I don't think I'm alone.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.