We’ve all been “improved” by photographers. Remember Jamie Lee in MORE? And Kate in GQ? Then there is Jessica Alba’s recent calendar shoot. Also, apparently, Kelly Clarkson. And now, on…okay, a muuuuuch less dramatic scale…there is my new author photo.
When I was setting up the appointment for the shoot, I told the photographer’s assistant that I just wanted to look like me. He asked if I required a makeup artist. No. Not my style. I sent him to my blog, I showed him recent photos of me that I liked. The day of the shoot, I spent over an hour with the photographer. And said again – I just want to look like me. As he shot me, we talked a little bit about women being photographed. How we all have our insecurities. How I’d come to accept mine and don’t want to turn down life opportunities because I think I should be thinner or prettier. At the end of the shoot, he said that he could work magic with Photoshop, and if I wanted to look like I’d been going to the gym every day for four months, he could do that. I said no. I said I wanted to look like me. I said that a large part of my audience is made up of teen girls and I didn’t want to perpetuate that whole “I’m not okay” thing.
He sent me my proofs, and I found about ten pictures I loved, but had to narrow it down so I chose two. A couple of days later I got an email that my final images were ready and I could come pick up the CD. Yay! Got home, popped it in my computer. The headshot looked…different. But maybe I’d remembered it wrong? I checked the proof. I looked at the final image again. I looked at them side-by-side thinking, oh no he didn’t. Not after I said, specifically, not to. I thought maybe I was crazy and seeing things, so I emailed him and asked, “Did you do something to my face? One side of my face doesn’t look as full as it does in the proof.”
He asked if he’d “gone too far.”
My interior, screamy, high-pitched reply: “YES you went too far! Especially after I said to go nowhere!” My actual reply was much calmer, but very direct. I said I thought I’d been pretty clear about the importance of looking like myself and why I didn’t want to be altered in that way.
He apologized and said he didn’t mean to offend, and got me the images I wanted. In further communication I said I wasn’t offended. That this was about listening to a customer, not about some crazy easily offended woman losing her shit. (Not my exact words.) And also, apology accepted, which it totally is. I think the thinner=always better lie is so deeply ingrained in our culture that most people don’t even think about it, and it is quite possible that something that is hammered home every single day trumps a one-hour conversation in one’s memory. After all that I hadn’t even looked at the full body shots side-by-side, raw vs. retouched. When I did I saw my waist and arm smaller, just barely.
Now, I’m a normal vain person. It’s not like I want every chin hair and wrinkle broadcast to the world in HD. But there is a big difference between smoothing out a few lines or blemishes and resculpting my face and body. It’s like the difference between makeup and plastic surgery. And I am just really tired of and sad about my friends and random women and girls being so unhappy with themselves because they don’t look like women they see in magazines, who are uber-retouched, limbs lengthened, flesh carved away, etc. And tired of men thinking that’s how women look. (BTW, I saw a bumper sticker today that said: “Men age like wine. Women age like milk.” EFF YOU VERY MUCH.)
There is a reason I made my video blogging debut unwashed, unmadeup, and dressed in pj’s. I wanted to vlog a couple of years ago, but thought I was not camera friendly. I’m over that, and just needed to prove it to myself.
What is an image anyway? There were 99 other less flattering pictures – if I love myself so damn much exactly as I am why not use one of those? I have untagged many a Facebook photo of myself I didn’t like…is that the same? I do prefer the retouched full body shot—not because of the changes to my body, but the way my face is better lit up. Am I hypocrite if I use it somewhere? I think the issue here is that the photographer at some point decided or assumed, consciously or unconsciously, that he knew better than me what I should look like, or would want to look like, and that’s just a reflection of a cultural viewpoint that I object to.
Look, I’m not some serene person who is above all that. I suck in my stomach as much as the next gal and am always checking to see if my smaller jeans fit. It’s only in the last year or two I’ve even begun to think in terms of unconditional acceptance in tandem with good health. I am as conflicted and inconsistent as anyone. But for me, Photoshop thinnification crosses a line that I don’t want to cross.
And now, for your enjoyment, the original photos vs. the retouched ones. I know it’s not like day and night or anything. I’m probably the only one who would even notice, and maybe after seeing these you’ll think I got all indignant over nothing. But—and I know this isn’t something women are typically encouraged to say or believe—I LIKE MY FACE. I like the cheek that got shaved away, I missed it and wanted it back. Because it’s me.