Brought to you by: MOO
I should note here that I'm a former glossy editor -- I've worked at New York magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Seventeen, etc. -- so I've been complicit in the reality-distortion field of magazine photography.
In fact, back in 2007, I came to the defense of Redbook (a magazine that, for the record, I never worked for). At the time Redbook was under attack by Jezebel for Photoshopping a cover image of country star Faith Hill.
My professional experience is that the unnaturally bright lighting used in a lot of cover and fashion photography brings out details -- like, yes, under-eye circles and wrinkles -- that blend away under natural everyday lighting. Posing this way and that at the direction of a photographer can cause your limbs to appear weirdly malproportioned. Wearing unfamiliar clothing (frocks for women's magazine covers are inevitably loaned from fashion houses) can cause things to, well, bunch up in odd, unflattering and misleading ways.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Anybody who's ever been on a magazine cover shoot knows that, while a Photoshopped image may be a "lie," an unretouched image often is too.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.