Facelifts & Photoshop

I got a facelift! Well…technically it was my website that got the makeover. But since I’m the one who built it, I did suffer quite a few pains during the procedure – and I definitely needed some downtime to recover. This project stretched me in many ways (still going with the facelift gag…), but there was one area in particular in which I needed to call in the experts – my images.

I had gone in for a special photo shoot for this project, but the photographer’s white backdrop was not quite white enough to match the white of my website. So to actually build the website I had designed, my images needed to be on transparent backgrounds. Generally, this would have been a relatively simply task in Photoshop. But I’d had the good fortune of a professional shoot with a fashion photographer – and fashion photographers love their hair fans! Of course, the pictures turned out great – but have you ever tried to “select inverse” windblown hair?? This is where I needed expert help.

I hired a graphic designer to put my images on transparent backgrounds, and when I got them back one of them looked a little “different.” No one would have ever noticed – heck, I almost didn’t even notice – but I knew those pictures well and something was different…

“In this shot right here,” I asked. “Did you make my arm thinner?”

“Well, I guess so” he said. “But just barely – as an artist, I needed a line that created a stronger composition.”

“Well, it looks great” I said. “But please change it back – I’m the Happy Calories Girl and the last thing I need is press about pictures of me getting Photoshopped.”

Later, I pulled up the original file and matched it against his. Wow!! He really knows his stuff! It really was one tiny tweak and that image really “popped.”

And that’s the point of this post. My graphic guy wasn’t trying to fool anyone into thinking that I was thinner than I am. He simply wanted to create an image that made you sit up and take notice. And he did that with composition – with altering one line just a tiny bit.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that Photoshop is used extensively in the fashion and beauty world – in catalogues and in ads and on magazine covers – with some of the primary objectives being to make the model look thinner or younger so that consumers will be inspired to purchase those clothes, or those beauty treatments or even the magazines themselves.

But many artists use Photoshop with no such intention. As a model myself, I know there are images of me floating around out there that have been Photoshopped. It’s standard practice in professional media. But I doubt that Microsoft or Boeing or BMW really care about making me look thinner or younger. They hired me because I happen to look like a “type” – a type that is their prospective customer. And still those images are Photoshopped. The color balance, saturation, hue and contrast are adjusted, and sometimes – yes, a line may be slightly altered to create a composition that powerfully “pops.”

As a body image and weight-loss coach, I know that we are influenced by what we see around us – and that the fashion and beauty industries are often blamed for creating an unrealistic standard of beauty – and that Photoshop is often looked at as the “bad guy.”

But Photoshop is not the problem. To blame Photoshop is to give away our power. A more empowered perspective is to understand that Photoshop is simply a tool – a tool that is used to create great works of art.

When we can take a step back and understand that every single image we see in the media has a team of highly skilled craftsmen and women behind it, we can appreciate the image for what it is – a work of art. And we can release any self-comparison, self-judgment or self-loathing from that image.

I often say that magazine covers are works of art and that comparing yourself to them is as futile and silly as comparing yourself to the Mona Lisa. And I understand that these comparisons can be difficult to disengage from because of the type of media involved. The Mona Lisa is a painting – so obviously we wouldn’t compare ourselves to that. But magazine covers are photos – and we’re used to seeing photos as “reality.”

We know what “real” photos look like. We take photos all the time. We get out our cell phones and take selfies. And we flip the direction of the camera so we can see what we’re looking at when we take that selfie. And we compose the shot. We look for the best angle and the best lighting. And then we have these fun little filters on our camera phones that create really cool effects… We make that picture “pop” and then we post our really cool photo to Instagram…