There’s been a lot of talk lately about retouching photos and the amount of digital manipulation that is done in magazines, etc. As a photographer, some editing is definitely part of my job. With the advent of digital photography, what used to be done in an actual dark room during the film development process is now done by the photographer on a computer during post processing. But digital also gives us the ability to take that a step, or several steps, further. Besides simply adjusting color, contrast or other basic exposure elements, we can manipulate pretty much anything about the image. Don’t like that person in the background? Take him out! Wish there were more birds in the sky? Add them! Grass brown when it would look better green? Change the color! From an artistic point of view, the ability to photoshop or digitally edit allows us to adjust reality to match our artistic vision when real life wasn’t as cooperative. It gives us a form of artistic license that can be really cool. The problem comes in when digitally manipulated images are presented as “real.”
Every day we’re bombarded with images of women that have been “improved” via Photoshop, whether it be models in magazines, actors in movies, the pictures on products we buy, billboards, commercials, you name it. Everywhere we look we’re presented with images of women that have had their flaws and imperfections minimized or flat out removed. Even if intellectually we know the images have been retouched and nobody can really be that perfect, it’s still impossible not to compare ourselves to them on some level. We look in the mirror and see the cellulite and stretch marks, the blemishes, the wrinkles, the dreaded extra pounds. All things noticeably missing from those women we’re told we should look like.
As a boudoir photographer, this is an issue that I deal with constantly. I am a very strong proponent for believing you are beautiful just the way you are. It would make me very happy if none of my clients ever wanted me to retouch anything ever again. But it is human nature to be insecure about the way we look. For instance, if anyone said to you that your sister or your best friend was anything less than perfectly loveable because she has cellulite, you’d laugh in their face and tell them to go f*** themselves. But when it comes to ourselves, rarely do we extend that same break. We obsess over those dimples on our thighs, or that extra weight on our hips, whatever our perceived flaws are. When we look at photos of ourselves, that’s all we see.
So what do I do? Do I insist my clients are beautiful just as they are and not do any retouching? In a perfect world, we would not have unrealistic examples of perfection to compare ourselves to. But while thankfully this issue has started to be addressed and changes are being made in the media, we’re not there yet. I cannot stop the inevitable comparisons to what we see all around us, but I can even things out by giving my clients some of the same advantages. Do I take my clients and turn them into a size 2 supermodel? Absolutely not! But as women, we allow ourselves to be so distracted by our perceived imperfections that we don’t see all the other beautiful things about ourselves. When your eye goes straight to your cellulite, you don’t see how tiny your waist is, or how beautiful your cheekbones are. When you’re focused on your “fat” stomach, you don’t pay attention to how gorgeous the line of your back is or how sexy the shape of your mouth is. By doing minor retouching and removing some of the distractions, I can help women focus on the things about themselves that are truly beautiful, which in turn brings confidence. As women gain confidence, those things that seemed so huge start to become more inconsequential. Add to that professional lighting and posing and suddenly the difference between us and those models doesn’t seem so very big after all. And then when we see those images around us, hopefully instead of saying “I could never look like that” we say, “she looks good, but so do I….”