Home BeautyBody Image The Original Photoshop: Classic Pin-up Art Before and Afters

The Original Photoshop: Classic Pin-up Art Before and Afters

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Once upon a time, Adobe didn’t exist. We didn’t have Photoshop. How, on Earth, did we manage to make our women beautiful?

Pardon me as I roll my eyes for a moment.

I’m a person who loves pin-up art. Not only because I think the fashion kinda rocks, but because the women were these beautiful curvacious women who I’ve always felt some kind of kinship with. Sisterhood of the curvaceous hips, or something.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that even these paintings were altered a lil’ bit!

Check out 15 other photo/painting comparisons here.

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Grace @ Healthy Dreaming April 12, 2011 - 9:26 AM

Wow thanks for sharing. I used to think wow these pin-ups were SO thin around the waist and wished I had the “hour glass” figure.

Dayna April 12, 2011 - 11:07 AM

I still think they are beautiful and not as “photoshopped” like the women are today.

Kirsten April 12, 2011 - 11:34 AM

The thing that is most upsetting about this is the way women’s images are altered to reflect and ideal that DOES NOT EXIST!!! It’s such a mindf*ck.

Ceej August 13, 2013 - 4:26 PM


Che April 12, 2011 - 1:34 PM

I love your blog and its many informative commponents. It has truly inspired me in my weight loss journey. My questions are, why use photos of white people as examples of things for black people to be aware of?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 12, 2011 - 1:48 PM

…because being Black doesn’t mean you’re removed from the dominant culture. LOTS of us grew up looking at these photos and felt like we could relate to them because the women were curvaceous. Seeing that even these women were, in fact, real and “touched up a bit” matters.

I mean, I get it, but I think this is mildly petty. The fact that the original stills of these portraits have come out and become viral is more important to my goal of dissecting body image and stigmas than making sure the women in the pictures are Black. Sorry.

osusmith April 15, 2011 - 3:04 PM


CoCo April 16, 2011 - 6:56 PM

….besides, there were a few black Vargas girl pinups and they were drawn the same way the white ones were; smaller waists, larger breasts, etc. The skin color doesn’t seem to matter. The women were all drawn with unrealistic body types.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 16, 2011 - 7:10 PM

Now, I was ABSOLUTELY thinking of Vargas girls – which is how, I think, a LOT of us became familiar with these kinds of pin-up-esque portraits – when I posted these. Glad to know I was closer to accurate than I thought. LOL

T.R. April 12, 2011 - 2:17 PM

I love pin up and retro styling too. To be honest never really thought about those pictures, because I assumed they were painted from scratch. It looks to me as if the “models” were a starting point and not necessarily supposed to be the “finished” product but I think you point is still valid in showing us how images are created and how we have to be careful of who and what we try and emulate.

Adrienne April 12, 2011 - 4:25 PM

I definitely noticed a difference in certain portraits (#s 20, 19, 15, 9, 3, 2) in waist size, but I made note of was the alteration in hair and facial features most of all.

Kjen April 12, 2011 - 4:42 PM

Interesting to know that even in the “good old days” images were retouched. I have stopped using stars and models photos for inspiration since I started realizing how the images are not reflecting the work outs and diets that I’m reading about especially with celebrity photos.

Nicole (akascholar) April 13, 2011 - 8:15 AM

I liked the before’s BETTER!

Phyllis April 17, 2011 - 9:19 PM

I adore pin up art. Most of the women are all full figured and they look very sexy.

Gigi May 21, 2011 - 2:15 AM

We (general) neglect to remember that women of the 40s and 50s wore girdles, bullet bras, petticoats, etc to achieve the looks we see in vintage editorials and classic Hollywood movies, so they weren’t any more “perfect” than women of today. The only difference between then and now was that the hour-glass shape was the ideal (which also meant thin women wore padding and/or petticoats to achieve this ideal shape, hence why Audrey Hepburn received so much flack in the 50s), rather than the boyish body shape.

atribitt December 9, 2011 - 11:21 AM

ERICA, you know what I’d like to see on this blog? Photoshop (and now painted) edits of MEN! I know this blog focuses on women, but it’s not just us! Besides, it would make me feel soooo much better to see that it’s not just women. And I’d also like to see what societies view of a perfect man’s body looks like.

Vicki A. February 20, 2012 - 10:22 AM

First off, I love your site, and thoughfulness in your content/writing. Kudos! Regarding this post, I totally get your purpose in posting these, and to add to the discussion I have to say that unfortunately, it’s “silly” (for lack of a better term) to think that anything isn’t retouched. All art is skewed reality, an interpretation of what really happened, even journalism, and especially photography. That’s not to invalidate it, that’s just a fact. Pin-ups were among the earliest in modern commercial art, but it goes back to the inception of art, whenever man began depicting his reality through his own perspective. So besides the meaningfulness of this particular content (women) and it’s particular skewing (retouching), I feel it could be useful to take not just an informed or cynical approach, but a wider one. Perhaps considering an evolutionary context for why or how things are done could help us make it less loaded, or at least separate our own personal self-esteem from it. Hope that makes sense…

Ms. Pamikins June 3, 2012 - 12:22 PM

Unfortunately your body imaging has been and always will be dictated by men and their unrealistic dreams and desires. Period. Do not take it too seriously, because they don’t. They love who they love, mate with who they mate with, and 99% of the women they mate/marry look nothing like their dream. Because it is only that, a dream. Too bad that dream is being perpetuated in the media. The only one’s that can correct that is women. We control the fashion industry, the media. WE HAVE ALL THE POWER TO CHANGE THIS!! We just keep trying to become their dream. Love yourself the way you are. MEN do!!! They tell us all the time. But sometimes we just won’t listen. I’m starting to listen myself!!
By the way, I LOVE your blog. This is my first visit but will not be my last. Have some goals I have set for myself and need all the help I can get to reach them. Your story is truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

Eva February 8, 2013 - 4:00 PM

Those are not meant to be “original” versions of the pictures. They are obviously reference pictures.

The artist takes the pose & whatever else they want from the real picture for help and the rest is whatever the artists vision was in the beginning.

Photoshop is taking a picture of a real person and enhancing it. This is taking a picture and creating an entirely different picture based on the pose/lighting/clothing in the original.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 10, 2013 - 11:30 AM

Wow. Way to miss the point.

Yes, OBVIOUSLY reference pictures with the female figure exaggerated. Why? Why even bother with a “reference picture” of the female body if you’re going to exaggerate the features to such a degree, which is the question this post is asking.

“Photoshop is taking a picture of a real person and enhancing it. ”

Exactly. These paintings also do the same with the female form, hence the point.

Cherished131 March 9, 2013 - 9:53 PM

WOW!!!!! A few of the comments above show that many artists think it’s normal to photoshop…enhance..or…whatever to the original. Like it’s expected and doesn’t affect how women view themselves. We set goals to these pictures. Erica uses many forms in her blog to show us they changes in women. It makes me start to look at cultures where women are covered from head to toe. I wish we all dressed like Amish women.

Pam July 7, 2013 - 1:03 AM

I’m late to the party I just want to point something. I have the understanding that the law of the time wouldn’t allow semi naked woman pictures as that would be porn and illegal at the time. so they had to make the women kind of cartoonish looking to avoid going to jail. Because drawing of women could be labeled art and as such could avoid the porn label… That’s silly too. But I guess make them cartonish and a bit on the exaggerated side was a “better safe than sorry” kind of thing.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 7, 2013 - 9:27 AM

“[…] so they had to make the women kind of cartoonish looking to avoid going to jail.”

Two things about this, though:

1) They chose to make the women “cartoonish” by making them tiny with ridiculously [relatively] tiny waists as opposed to, say, putting bunny ears on them or being creative with the placement of props? I mean, these women are relatively covered up, no?

2) Is there any documentation for this? How aware of this was the public? Not saying it would’ve made much difference, it’d just give me a different perspective of that era (and, what decade are we referring to here?)

Pam July 7, 2013 - 11:24 AM

Argh….. This deleted my extensive comment… Here goes again. I read this in Umberto Eco history of beauty (it’s an amazing book) about the pin ups and porn prohibition in USA.

The tiny waist… Believe me it was HUGE for the standards of the time. The first girls drawn in this manner where the Gibson girls (which was a whole movement of how and why the Gibson girl was the new woman) but this girls wore awfully closed girdles and corsets to attain this hour glad figure… A girl should have started with corset at 10 or 14 years and then in the first two monts she would have reduced her waist 20 inches … And yes is possible but very painful… So well the dresses were made in waist size 10 12 13 where ideal 15 16 passable and above you were unfortunate …. The photos of that time are creepy and the magazines tell the mothers how to avoid her girls to take of the corset at night (very simple tie her hands! Use a lock and a chain in her waist, those moms are worst than diet vogue mom).

Then came the 20’s and the “free boyish” style. But it was not so free women wore compressive girdles from top to knee to stain that look. They bandaged their chests and it was the decade of anorexia before tv.

Then come the 30’s the post war and the girls that where in vogue were this pin ups girls… More “natural” of course they did exaggerated some aspects of her body… But I think they are more close to that of the pictured girls. Also the ban in pornography in USA was lifted aroun 1984 and remember this for 1930’s 40’s was porn.

But it was more diverse that you can see here in Mexico I saw in an antique dealer a calendar with indigenous people from Mexico and African American obviously they are more rare and don’t. Make their way to Internet as this more mainstream ones except for Hilda which was plus size . I do loooove her. Here’s is a link at Hilda


And well about the not putting bunny ears or something well if they are men they are putting bigger boobs and buts an tiny feet (look they are ridiculous tiny) and tiny waist. Because they still wanted this images to be women enough cartoonish to avoid the moral committee of the White House. And enough womanly to get the soldiers and the boys hot by thinking this was a real woman.

The public was very very aware of the rules about porn since this could get you in jail. Even this girls were not displayed in all places… Just so you think 2004 and the postal office won’t send a playboy magazine with pin up girls of Vargas if it wasn’t in a dark bag….

By the way I really like your blog I discovered it like 3 days ago and I keep reading. My English is horrible but if you want I can send you a list of the things that have been in fashion to do to our body to look nice in the 20th century. It could be a fun post.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 7, 2013 - 6:31 PM

You are amazing. I’ll take all the resources you’re willing to give. I’m TOTALLY a hoarder. ROFL

Ceej August 13, 2013 - 4:25 PM

I was hoping their arches were photoshopped, but alas, they are not. ::seethes in jealousy::

sarah October 7, 2014 - 11:13 PM

It never occurred to me that these pictures were actually drawn from a real model! I always assumed they were drawn up from their own imagination….and part of me doesn’t get photoshop/altering a woman so drastically…we say “oh they aren’t real bodies” but the truth is that there are “some” women who do look much more like the image than the original model does…why don’t they just use these women? They’re not representative of the majority and they are unique but then you don’t have to bother altering the image so much…

sarah October 7, 2014 - 11:15 PM

I like the picture where she has a swimsuit tan! 😛 they would be scandalised by the bikini tan?

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