Photoshop & The Matrix

I was standing in the grocery store checkout line when my eyes wandered to those dreaded magazines. You know, the ones that claim to reveal the latest celebrity secret for looking good. My eyes finally landed on a stunning picture of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a bikini top and short shorts with the caption reading “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Healthy Eating Secrets – What She Really Does to Get Those Abs!”

What she really does to get those abs? Are you kidding? Photoshop!! That’s what she really does to get those abs!!

Now that’s not in any way to take away from Gwyneth’s God-given natural beauty or the time and effort she puts in to help her body look its best. Gwyneth does look great. She just does not look as great as that picture suggests. That picture has been Photoshopped – just like every other magazine cover and ad. It has become the industry standard. No picture is released without being “retouched.”

Many of us already know this, but do we really know this? We have a visceral, emotional response to images. And as such, that little Photoshop factoid often gets lost in the mix of emotions we feel when see such pictures. We feel “less than.” We feel hopeful. We feel frustrated. We feel curious. We feel motivated. We feel any number of emotions that might inspire us to discover that invaluable tidbit of information lying within the magazine’s pages. We judge ourselves against the cover, forgetting that it isn’t real.

These images are part of that Matrix to which I constantly refer. These images are not real, but they create in us a false sense of reality. They become the standard of beauty to which we hold ourselves. And these images are used to sell “secrets” that promise to help us achieve this unattainable ideal. Until we can really know – at our deepest center – that this ideal is an illusion, our pain will be real.

One way out of the Matrix is avoid these images altogether.  Another – more practical – approach is to admire these images as works of art. Rather than judge ourselves against the unreal perfection of the cover model, we can appreciate the artistry and skill of the photo retoucher. No one looks at Mona Lisa and thinks about the beauty of the model. We stand in awe of the master, Leonardo Da Vinci!

Someone once asked Michelangelo how he created the David. Michelangelo replied that the David was already in the block of marble. Michelangelo simply sculpted away everything that wasn’t the David. The same can be true for us. When we release the pain and frustration, the illusions and false ideals of the Matrix, we are left with only our authentic selves. We are free. We are happy. And we really are a living, breathing masterpiece of art.