10/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Faking It

Is faking perfection -- by airbrushing, lip synching, and digitally enhancing -- some kind of inverse new form of acting responsibly?

When a noticeably thinner, seemingly photoshopped version of pop singer Kelly Clarkson recently appeared on the cover of Self magazine, many fans wondered if the popular American Idol was friend or faux.

Admitting that the photo had been retouched, Self's editor explained that the reason for the digital diet was to help Clarkson "look her personal best." She continued, "A snapshot is different than a cover. A cover's a poster. And the thing about a poster is you want it to capture the essence of you at your best."

The perfection-as-responsibility equation hasn't been limited to this year's cover girls. After Dream Girl Jennifer Hudson delivered a flawless Super Bowl performance of the national anthem -- her first major singing appearance since the murders of her mother and brother -- her producer let slip that her crooning was perfect because her performance was canned. "That's the right way to do it," the producer insisted about the use of pre-recorded Hudson vocals. "There's too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist to go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance."

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman faked their performance at the inauguration of President Obama, pretending to play in a quartet, while the audience -- and the world -- was treated to a recording instead. Mr. Ma soaped his bow so it would slide soundlessly across the strings. "It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," said Mr. Perlman, explaining the virtue of the virtual performance. "This occasion's got to be perfect. You can't have any slip-ups."

Is music good only when there are no mistakes? Can we achieve our personal best only when we're faked? Men's Fitness magazine digitally buffed tennis powerhouse Andy Roddick's biceps. A British magazine famously slimmed Kate Winslet's thighs. And supermodel Gisele Bundchen's baby bump was airbrushed out of a new ad campaign.

So perhaps then it is no surprise that the president's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, has caused a flap over her undisclosed but noticeably non air-brushed Rubenesque weight. Critics say an overweight Surgeon General "sends the wrong message." Supporters say Americans will relate better to a head health cop who struggles with extra pounds. In an image battle of BMI vs. IQ, a newspaper editorial extended the issue to the White House by asking why "a thin, male smoker (is) considered a physical role model as president." And should presidential perfection be faked by digitally deleting his cigarettes?