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Oh, So That's What NBC Did to Make Lia Thomas Look More Feminine

AP Photo/Josh Reynolds

Photojournalist and University of Pennsylvania graduate Erica Denhoff said in an interview this week that a widely-circulated photo she took of biological male swimmer William “Lia” Thomas, who competes on the women’s swim team at the UPenn, was altered significantly in a recent news segment to “soften” Thomas’ features.


In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Denhoff, who graduated from UPenn in 2008, said that an image she took of Thomas was used on an NBC “Today” segment last week. She said she thought “something was honestly wrong with the video” when her image of Thomas appeared on the screen. 

"To me, it definitely seems like something was going on with the airbrushing/noise reduction of all of Lia's photos in this segment," Denhoff said.

"When I first noticed the airbrushing on the segment referenced, I thought something was honestly wrong with the video. But then, I watched it again and thought, 'Wait a minute, this appears to be intentional. Lia's features are softened,'" the photojournalist told the Examiner. "I then went to my original photo, on the sites that they could access to license the photo, and compared it and immediately saw a difference."

“I pride myself on providing authentic images as a photojournalist,” she added. “It’s really important as photojournalists that we transmit authentic photos that have not been altered.”

In the interview, Denhoff added she was saddened to see “Today” change her photo of Thomas. It was after watching the segment many times that she came to the conclusion that the digital alteration of the picture was “intentional.”

Denhoff explained to the Examiner that an unedited version of the photo had been used by “Today” earlier this month. The unedited photo reportedly aired on March 3, while the edited version aired on March 17.


"My photo that they licensed was an authentic photo," Denhoff added. "I'm surprised and disappointed that Today altered my image of Lia for this particular news segment."

Below is “Today” coverage including Denhoff’s photo of Thomas, as well as others, that were reportedly altered.

One viral tweet pointed out that Thomas' photos were clearly airbrushed.

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