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