Billboard Magazine / Promotional 1 / 5
Billboard Magazine / Promotional 1 / 5

By Drew Mackie

Let Bret Michaels be an inspiration to us all. Over the course of one year, the rocker-turned-reality star overcame appendicitis, a brain hemorrhage and a freaking hole in his heart, and yet he graces the cover of Billboard magazine looking like a beefcake pinup.

A confession: Because I am male and lack a lower-back tattoo, I do not stand among the thousands who have gazed upon the Poison frontman's naked form. But I can imagine how such a hellish year of health emergencies might make someone's body look, and it sure isn't like "a ceiling fresco in John Travolta's personal sauna," as Dlisted so perfectly described the chiseled torso appearing beneath Michaels's face. He works out, sure, but it's hard to do sit-ups in a hospital bed. So then it seems reasonable to guess that at least a small degree of Photoshopping created the October 2010 Billboard cover, if not a full-on cut-and-paste of Michael's mug and trademark bandana onto Mr. Muscle Beach 2010.

RELATED VIDEO: Learn about Bret's heart surgery

The highly suspect photo hasn't gone unnoticed online, with a few websites essentially comparing Michaels's appearance to one of those boardwalk cut-outs where your place your face on top of a mismatched body. Celebitchy came right out with it in a post headlined "Bret Michaels may be a nice dude, but he does not look like this." And over at BuzzFeed, users commended Billboard for its use of "an amazingly lifelike painting" and pitied whoever airbrushed the image. But overall the outcry seems minor, especially in the wake of the uproar over the digital skin-lightening magic apparently performed on Gabourey Sidibe for her recent Elle cover. In that case, just about every media blog and pop culture writer with Internet access weighed in on whether Elle was trying to make an unconventional star better fit the "it girl" mold (but ultimately missed the point of what makes Sidibe so great).

RELATED VIDEO: Gabourey responds to the controversy about her Elle cover

It's not that blogs don't point out male victims of mutilation-by-Photoshop. Men's Fitness allegedly pumped up the biceps of tennis star Andy Roddick to Popeye proportions, while a print advertisement for Edwin Jeans seemingly shrunk Brad Pitt's waist. And the less said about Adam Lambert's "Liza Minelli meets New Wave" cover art for his "For Your Entertainment" album, the better. But although bad Photoshopping seems to be an equal-opportunity menace, people care more about its female victims, even when the offenses are less blatant. I mean, what's worse: lightened skin or a whole new body?

The strange case of Michaels's Billboard cover can best be compared to "Real Housewives" star Bethenny Frankel appearing in the pages of Us Weekly just three weeks after giving birth but nonetheless sporting a size 4 bathing suit. Here and there, online readers speculated that Frankel's explanation for the instant hot mom bod -- low-fat food, breastfeeding and walks, plus her baby being born one month premature -- couldn't account for her slim body. More or less, it seems like pregnancy could wreck someone's body about as easily as Michaels's unfortunate hat trick of health problems. Only I can't tell whether Frankel's swimsuit shots have been altered. On Billboard, however, I feel like the photo has been doctored about as much as Michaels himself.

RELATED: Wonderwall wonders about Frankel's swimsuit shot

The flip side of this whole thing, I guess, is that at least men get the same treatment as women when it comes to mag covers: Male or female, celebs' real bodies aren't good enough so a computer makes up the difference. I hate that magazines have to give everything a Photoshop polish ... but if you can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em, right people?