The Beautiful People, Part 2 (The Story Behind Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities)

(Previously, on The Beautiful People Part 1)

Kids, to fully understand why I started mythbusting magazine images, you have to go back to December 2007, when I opened my Nikon D40, Elvis, on Christmas Eve.


^^That’s me with Elvis shortly after we were introduced. (If you didn’t notice the bag of trash hanging from my closet doorknob, your picture analyzing skills have good places to go, my friend.)

Back to Christmas 2007. I spiked a delirious fever two days before Christmas that didn’t go away until two days after.

I don’t remember much, but I do remember opening the Nikon box. I’d wanted a dSLR for ages, because I had taken pictures on my little point-and-shoot for years, but something was just wrong with them.

Owning a kick-butt camera is a good step for a novice shutterbug who wants to photograph friends and family, and I figured it would cure my mediocre-photo problem. However, much like a kick-butt guitar won’t automatically play a killer rendition of Stairway to Heaven, a kick-butt camera won’t automatically take flattering, beautiful photos. I had the dream camera in my hand when I realized something crucial: y’all,  it is hard to take even “presentable” pictures of anyone, pretty or not. (Case in point, blurry selfie up there.)

Photos by Mom, Dad, and dSLR and iPhone-bearing amateurs don’t look like magazines, catalogs, and internet fashion spread images because advertising boards deliberately plan it that way. Advertising creates this fantasy Life Beyond You, the delicious, fake dangling carrot that motivates you to frown at your current situation in disgust, and begin wanting, wishing, and most importantly, reaching for your wallet.

Retailers can’t sell much to satisfied people who feel no need for “improvements.” They make billions annually by convincing consumers — most of whom these advertising teams have never personally seen — that something about them isn’t good enough. I’ll repeat that another way: The beauty ads tell you to improve your look, but the people who designed the ads have never seen you.

Here are a few things models and actors often go through prior to a shoot:
Facials and use of expensive, cutting edge skincare
Dieting with personal chefs and custom-tailored exercise sessions with personal trainers
The services of nannies, housekeepers, and personal assistants
Laser skin resurfacing
Spray tan
Cellulite treatments
Hair extensions
Cosmetic surgery
Hair extensions and eyelash extensions
Spanx and shapewear
Professional makeup applications using professional products, with touch-ups every few minutes between shots
Professional hair styling using professional products, with touch-ups every few minutes between shots
Professional wardrobe styling with new, tailored pieces directly from top designers — the model or actor is stitched or pinned directly into the clothing, which is why it fits so well.
Professionally staged lighting

(Photographers and editors, if I missed anything, feel free to add to the list.)

A shoot rarely consists of a model, a photographer, and a camera taking 20 shots. No way. When someone is photographed for publication, an entire team of professionals spends hours working on their appearance, then taking hundreds of photos from only flattering angles (the cheek with the pimple doesn’t face the camera) on a set designed for the optimum look. There are many, many retakes, but only 1-5 of look good enough to an editor’s Macbook Pro to be retouched and finalized for the ad or fashion spread.

And the models? They’re always fresh spring chickens. When they start to “expire” in their mid to late 20s, they are replaced with newer, younger, thinner models.

Some of Don’t Compare Yourself’s followers still speculate whether an image from a lingerie catalog or magazine has been edited, so let’s settle this here and now. Photo editing is industry standard. It is the required norm with virtually all publications. Not using it can be fire-able offense.

Let me illustrate the pervasiveness of image editing:
Imagine the beauty industry as a typical American restaurant. The ad images are food. Photoshop is salt. Unless otherwise explicitly stated on the menu, no matter what you order, you may accurately assume it’s been salted–often heavily–before it arrives at your table.

I’ve worked with private newsletters, social media sites, teen and music magazines, university alumni magazines, and publishers for many years. None of those publications ever released a single unedited photo after the year 2000. Not one.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities points out more obvious photo editing, but in many images, digital manipulation is dang near impossible to see. Image after image, we are backed into a brutal corner of expectations. The only way out is to open your wallet:
We must never age.
We must never be too thin.
We must never be too fat.
We must never be too white.
We must never be too black.
We must never let our natural curl show, but have long, heat-generated “beachy” waves.
We must never let the natural oils on our head show, and we should refer to them as “grease.”
We must not have dark armpits.
We must not be too tall or too short.
We must not try to stop the aging process, because plastic surgery looks bad.
We must not go to the beach without passing an unwritten, visual “test” that qualifies us to have fun in the water.
We must have long nail beds.
We must have a bubble butt.
We must be tall in pictures, but short when standing next to a man.
We must have no pores.
We must have no frizz.
We must have long, thick, black eyelashes.
We must not have circles under our eyes.
We must not have gray hair.
We must have eyebrows groomed to a very specific shape.
We must have a lot of hair in certain places, and zero hair in other places.
We must keep the whites of our eyes very white.
We must have straight, white teeth.
We must put our feet together and gauge our self-worth on whether or not our thighs touch. Mercy.

“Too this” and “too that” are these indefinable, ever-changing fantasy standards meant to exclude everyone, and make everyone pony up the money for a fix. Make no mistake: the beauty industry isn’t about making people feel pretty, it’s about shame and neediness. An advertiser’s job is go get you to look in the mirror, or in the garage, or into the closet or refrigerator and say, “Not good enough.” If you simply refuse to believe everything advertising claims is wrong with you, you will have more money, more peace, and more confidence in every single area of life, all of which will makes you a sexy beast of very attractive proportions. (Not that you owe beauty to anyone.)

Remember: love, sex, and attraction predated modern shampoos, cosmetics, and weight loss products, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. If you judge yourself and your life by entertainment’s computer-generated version of awesome, you will never stop feeling insecure… and that’s by design.

It’s a tag line. Don’t put it in your heart.

It’s time to reconsider who you are and what you have to offer the world. And this time, please leave the mirror out of your mission statement. (to be continued)


Repin this pin to support a Pin-Con Pinterest Convention

Dedicated to everyone in my vulnerable, daring, and fearless tribe, The Start Experiment.


17 thoughts on “The Beautiful People, Part 2 (The Story Behind Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities)

  1. d$ says:

    Great post… I love this train of thought and the realism behind it. I don’t do Pinterest, and frankly, it confuses me so I don’t have time for it… Anyway, I hope to raise my son, and any future kids–especially daughters–to look beyond the surface… There are beautiful people out there that the world don’t consider “attractive”, and not so beautiful people the world thinks are hot… (And vice versa too, to be real). Anyway, great job.

    • indyink says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. I definitely don’t see it as a women-only issue, so I’m proud of you for choosing to educate all of your kids to see authentic beauty in all kinds of people. They’ll be grateful for that when they’re older.

  2. Kim says:

    Thank you *so* much for your board. I knew that most images in magazines were photoshopped, but never realized the extent until I scrolled through your board the first time a few months ago. It was so freeing to realize that other women have dark circles under their eyes, have visible pores, and that even VS models don’t look like VS models in real life at the beach. It was also slightly shocking that I didn’t realize how inferior I felt; I’ve always felt like I had a healthy self image! My wedding is in two months, and I’m not stressed about getting rid of “armpit fat” or totally toning up my arms, or getting rid of cellulite for my honeymoon, and a big part of that is because of your board. So thank you for freeing me up to worry about music and ring bearer outfits instead!

  3. Rachel says:

    dear, sweet, precious, oh-so-Loved (by Love Himself) Indy:

    i just want to say thanks. thank you for following your passion, and for what that following has brought into the world. for me, personally, your passion that led you to create your wonderful “don’t compare yourself…” board has been an absolute gift from God. i found it at a time when i was first beginning to come to grips with the reality that my mental illness (and desire to take my own life) was never going to get better until i learned to think differently. i got into really good therapy, and decided it was time to start focusing on self-care. as a part of that, i started seeking out images of women that looked more like me. not only do i NOT look like a celebrity, i’m fat! so of course, i should feel shame and self-loathing and failure, etc. and i did. but i was determined to combat that. determined to look for women that were also fat (or whatever word you prefer). and what i found was amazing. i thought these women were beautiful. sexy. vibrant. luscious. and that simple realization has really helped me to start letting go of all that shame and self-hatred that almost killed me.

    finding your board was just as helpful. though you don’t specifically focus on what it’s like to be a “bigger” woman in this world, you do so much to remind me that magazines, ads, etc. are actively trying to make me feel bad about myself so i will buy something. and that nothing they show me is real. that knowledge is power.

    you remind me of a website i found probably a decade ago that critiqued the portrayal of women in media, how they were depersonalized, how advertising frequently suggested violence against women, etc. i can’t remember the name now (i want to say it was something like adaware or adbusters, but i know that’s not quite it). they taught me a lot, and you reminded me of it and taught me even more.

    this is long and rambly and not well edited or written! but, i just feel compelled, today, right this minute before i forget, to say thanks. what you do matters. i know that God gave you this passion for a reason, and one of those reasons was to help me. i am immeasurably blessed by it.

    so, if you are ever feeling the weight of your critics, or the sadness of how much work is still to be done to open all the closed eyes out there, i hope you are reminded that you are making a difference by just being your amazingly, awesome, imperfect, irreplaceable you.

    today may God give you eyes to see all the little ways He is loving you–the little specifics He is putting in your path to remind you of His great love for you. 🙂

    p.s. if you wanna see some of my boards your pins feature on, you can check here:

    • indyink says:

      Rachel, I am blown away. Thank you so much for your encouragement and kindness, and for taking the time to let me know everything this board has meant to you. You are quite welcome!

      I sincerely believe that if people will stop hating themselves, the world will change. The board is there to help them do just that. The changes in your life are so exciting. I can’t wait to see what He does in you–and what you do–next.

      I hope you become unstoppable in the best of ways.


  4. Stan W says:

    I’m a loving husband to a wife who’s not, and will never be, a size 0. I’m also the dad of a 10-year old girl who,by all indications, will be the same beautiful size and shape as her mom. I want to say “Thank You” for all your insight and for pulling back the curtain to expose the lies about what is ideal and beautiful. I wanted you to know that your writing and Pinterest page are extremely valuable resources in showing them (and me, too!) how the false ideal is fabricated. What you are doing is so very necessary – please keep up the great work!
    I found you via the Start Experiment, and I know God will use your story, your passion and your platform to encourage, help and bless many in this and future generations. May He do for you what I pray he does for me; fuel the fire of desire in your heart for what He created you to be, so that He is glorified, and his creation is blessed.

    Carry on!

    • indyink says:

      First off, I’m happy as a clam that I’m in the Start Experiment with you! Chasing your dream will inspire your family to chase theirs, and that’s a beautiful thing. Your words are incredibly insightful and encouraging–quite a few men now follow that board and I’m glad you’re one of them! Thank you so much for commenting.

  5. Lacy Haney says:

    The bottom line? Media images are not reality—so the next time you find yourself tempted to compare your real, flesh and blood, breathing, living, working, body to a two-dimensional image of a model or celebrity in print, online, or on screen, stop and remember this mantra: When it comes to looking perfect, life doesn’t have to imitate art, in fact, it can’t!

  6. Jerome L. Jenkins says:

    When the idealized female images are presented blatantly — unobscured, focusing clearly on their beauty — we detect the ideal being thrown in our faces. We therefore fortify our own self-image as a defense mechanism, as if to say, “We see what you’re trying to do here… and we’re not falling for it.” As a result, our self-esteem actually rises.

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