Men's Health, Women's Health, Cosmo, Men's Fitness and other magazines like them are fantastic examples of good marketing. As we walk past them in the Supermarket, it's almost impossible not to look at the incredibly attractive models gracing the covers and to feel a slight pang of jealousy for their rock hard abs and low body fat percentages. They have white teeth, broad confident smiles and not a spec of acne or the trace of a mark or blemish. In short, they look like sheer perfection – like Adonis and Aphrodite themselves…
So the question is: is that kind of physique attainable? Are these images faked to the point of being completely unfounded in reality, or is that just a handy excuse for those of us who don't want to put in the hours down the gym/in the kitchen?
When looking at a cover model, it's important to bear in mind that some doctoring has gone on in terms of PhotoShop editing as well as clever lighting and makeup. This is particularly true for women and if you look closely at a woman's face on many magazine covers, you'll notice that she doesn't just lack blemishes or wrinkles – she even lacks pores. In these cases, post-production will have airbrushed the skin to the point of being almost a flat tone (often the shadows will be missing too) and will have even altered the size and alignment of the eyes and other features. The vast majority of people in the world don't have perfectly symmetrical faces, but you'll very rarely see a magazine cover where the eyes are lopsided or one is 'droopy'.
Meanwhile, a woman's face will have been made up by professional makeup artists prior to the shoot, which will include 'contouring' in order to reduce the apparent size of certain features and make others look smaller or more defined. You also shouldn't discount the role of lighting, which when used correctly can actually have a big impact on how well a photo comes out and the appearance of particular features.
And you should also remember that a little 'retouching' might also have gone on prior to the shoot in the form of plastic surgery. When the person on the cover of a magazine is a celebrity, there's a good chance that they will have used some plastic surgery to remove wrinkles, to whiten teeth and to alter the size of their features. All this will be true for men as well, only to a slightly lesser degree.
Retouching can also be aimed at improving a model's physique and figure. Again this can take many forms, but primarily it will be a matter of shrinking some areas and increasing the size of others. For men, this might mean increasing the size of the biceps while shrinking the waist. For women it might mean increasing the size of the breasts, while shrinking the waist, stomach and arms.
Again, the lighting can also play an important role and especially in making men appear more 'ripped' and defined. A powerful light at the right angle for instance can cast shadows that greatly highlight the appearance of abs and/or striations in the pecs and biceps. Makeup can also be applied in a similar 'contouring' strategy, which when combined with photo editing, can make muscles look significantly stronger.
Some pre-game preparation will also likely have taken place prior to the shoot. The men featured in cover shoots for Men's Health, will probably have only just finished working out, which in turn will mean they're currently in a 'pumped state' where their muscles are filled with blood due to stimulation. If the shoot is high profile enough, then the men might even have dehydrated themselves in order to make the skin appear thinner and thus bring more defined muscle to the fore.
Cover models and celebrities will also consider it a part of their job to be in great shape. In other words, they can dedicate hours of their day to working out and staying in prime physical condition because they don't have office jobs to go to. Likewise, they will likely have personal trainers and nutritionists providing them with the best possible training and diet plans alongside the motivation to train harder (their huge paychecks will also serve as good incentives).
Finally, many celebrities and models will have access to supplements that give them a competitive advantage. This is true not only because they have the budgets and incentives to afford them, but also because they'll again be getting the very best advice. Some of these 'supplements' may even be borderline illegal and not things that you would be able to – or want to – use yourself.
So Are They Attainable?
But none of that really answers the question as to whether or not the bodies of cover models are really attainable. And surprisingly, the answer is that, for the most part, they usually are.
The perfect faces of cover models is generally not attainable. Not only are our faces largely resistant to 'training' and pretty much genetically determined, but the perfect porcelain skin of the women on the covers of magazines is practically a complete fallacy. Such a complexion couldn't exist in real life and if you look closely, their lips will even often appear to be 'floating' on their face. This isn't attainable and nor would it be desirable in real life.
What you can do though, is to look after your complexion and to use makeup in a clever way in order to disguise blemishes and draw more attention to your best features. This is a skill that can actually be learned and if you get lessons from an expert you'd probably be surprised just what a difference that can make. The right haircut and/or glasses can also make a big difference.
Guys don't have the option of makeup, but again the right hair, glasses and facial hair can help you to make the most of your natural facial features, as can the right skin regime. Men have less leeway here, but then the face is less of a focus for male cover models anyway.
As for the bodies… well normally they're achievable. While the cover models may well have gotten a lot of help to achieve the physiques they display – and there's a good chance that not even they themselves actually have those precise figures – there are nevertheless people out there with much better physiques who have attained them in real life. How can you be sure? Because you've probably met them in real life. Head down to your local gym and you will probably see plenty of people who have cover model beating physiques – and not all of them are on steroids!
Now these people may be blessed with good genetics, they might dedicate a lot of time to their workouts and they might have the help of professional trainers and nutritionists. Nevertheless though, they have still attained incredible physiques that you can see for yourself in the flesh. And that should tell you it's possible.
Now most of us would probably be happy if we had physiques 60% as good as those people. And this is especially true if you remember the 'law of diminishing returns' which states that progress becomes harder as we near the top of our game. Going from 11% body fat to 10% is much easier than going from 10% to 9% and so on. 60% of the results can be achieved then with less than 60% of the effort, so there's nothing stopping you from getting an amazing body.
In short, cover models certainly are 'cheating' to get their look in pretty much every conceivable way – and you have every right to feel smug about that. But whatever you do, don't go using it as an excuse to stay mobile. Those people might have help, but they still put in an immense amount of work to get where they are. And if you put in a fraction of that work, you can accomplish comparable results. You never know, you might even be the next cover model yourself…