Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Image of Perfection

I say that I dabble in photography because I'm not confident enough in my abilities to declare myself a photographer. So the fact that I get 'Professional Photographer' magazine makes me feel all heady each month when I find it in the mail.

I pour over every beautiful image. Portraits are most intriguing to me.Remembering my own senior portraits and the relief in knowing that the photographer (then working with film, not digital images) would touch up any pimples that cropped up for picture day.

Now, I thumb through the award-winning senior portraits and see that technology is even kinder to graduates today. Their skin is airbrushed within an inch of a porcelain surface. Not a blemish in sight... nay not even pores in their skin!They (and babies... and family portraits) are treated with the same technology and the same critical eye as the models in our magazines. It's not just my photographer's magazine doing this, but almost every wedding photographer and portrait photographer in business. Some photographers limit the degree of their touch-ups. They offer different pricing scales ranging from simple touch ups to pure perfection.

It's a bit disturbing.

Last year when I took some newborn portraits for my friend, I wanted to touch up his flaky just-entered-the-dry-world-from-a-warm-wet-womb skin. She wanted some of his baby acne eliminated. It was easy to get carried away. Suddenly I realized, maybe that red mark isn't a blemish but a feature of his skin. Will this mommy look at his pictures in two years and think, "Gee he didn't have that mark when he was born. Where did that come from?"
So I gave her both the original and the touched-up images for posterity.

Where did this demand for perfection come from?

Last year when the media was all aflutter with Farrah Fawcett's death that famous poster of her was everywhere - like it was in the 70s. Her bright, cheerful fresh face, flecked with freckles and a flush in her cheeks suggesting she had spent the day in the sun.
As I watched one program, memorializing her life and career, publicity photos from the height of her career flashed on the screen. A big beautiful smile - drawing lines around her eyes. A sun-kissed face dotted with those sunny freckles, and ~gasp~ visible pores and shiny skin indicating this was a real live, breathing human being! A natural beauty. I thought...
"Those pictures would never be published today."

Today all we see is manufactured perfection. Then we wonder why we feel inadequate.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night when, in a phone conversation with McTwitchy - we landed on this topic - and he asserted that the pressure women get from the media today is absurd. The push to be uber-thin and flawless. That even fit and youthful teen stars have their waists whittled away in Photoshop for magazine covers.

It's a relief to know that he feels this way even though I've never really felt the pressure to be thin, because I have always been thin. Instead, I feel some pressure to be curvy (which is never going to happen. Works both ways ladies!!!). It tells me that he's a man with reasonable expectations.

Then, somehow this conversation turned to our first meeting - which he remembers and I don't. Our mutual friend introduced us at church three years ago. I think she told him that she wanted to make an introduction. I was with Mr. Burns at the time (which she was unaware of) so the introduction didn't stand out to me as it did for him.
But I am flattered that McTwitchy remembers details like just how long/short my hair was. It suggests that he found me memorable, and maybe even liked what he saw.

As we talked about the natural curves and fluff of real American women, he asked me if I didn't weigh a few more pounds when he met me that time in church. (shock!)
He tempered the statement by saying that I didn't look heavy, but I am clearly thinner now.
He's right. But I was stunned that he would even mention it.
However, I've worked in media my whole life so critical statements sort of roll right off of me. And when I say 'critical' I'm referring to the dictionary definition - not necessarily criticism.

I admitted that I carried eight extra pounds back then - and that with my small frame, eight pounds on me resembles 10-15 extra pounds on the average sized woman. I also assured him that I am at my regular weight now - which doesn't seem to matter to him.

Uncomfortable as it may be, I'm chalking this up to him being A) observant B) realistic C) appreciative of what is before him and D) honest.
Moreover - it's refreshing to know that he doesn't subscribe to the media-generated beauty ideal. And that, ultimately... he sees my beauty.... inner - outer - all over.

It's not just him. Most men really do see past our societal influenced beauty standards.
Isn't that good to know?

Photo Credits 1) Professional Photography Magazine 2) myself and of Farrah Fawcett - general Google search.


Genevra said...

Aww, this post gave me warm fuzzies, because as uncomfortable as that comment made you, you didn't jump on the defensive, but choose to see it from a different perspective. Good for you.

Isn't it crazy the pressure we put on ourselves and then let be reinforced by the media? You brought up a good point. As someone who isn't naturally thin and has hips and a butt, but not the chest sadly, it is easy for me to forget that someone else WANTS the little extra padding in the rear that I used to curse. I mean they make padded underwear for goodness sake! I was shocked when I realized that. But then I realized it wasn't any crazier an idea, than the padded bras I can't live without.

I finally realized while dating that if a man met me and liked me, there was a very good chance he liked my body exactly as it was, so why shouldn't I?

TRS said...

Oh yes. I'm the only woman I know who has to work out in order to HAVE an @$$! Believe me - it's a lot of work.

J said...

Great post! I thought I would encourage you with an honest quote from my husband regarding the size of my chest since I've stopped breastfeeding but then I realized it's probably TMI. Regardless, the point was that in a long term relationship you're going to get those honest observations anyway so might as well get used to them and appreciate the feedback! :-)

girl from florida said...

This is a great post! The urge for perfection also kind of disturbs me (in reference to photography). I don't even own photoshop, but I'm always tempted to "tweak" my pictures if I could. I definitely instantly delete "fat" pictures (which is sad, because I'm usually happy and loving on my family in them, I just feel too self conscious to keep them).

That's amazing that his comment just rolled right off your back like that. I am so, so super sensitive and self conscious about my weight that it's VERY uncomfortable if someone mentions it to me (like someone told me I used to be so thin in college, and it hurt my feelings for hours). I need to suck it up, I know!!

OK sorry for the long rambling comment :)

TRS said...

GFF - rambling comments are no problem here! I suffer from the same affliction of leaving long comments!

I love reading what people have to say.

Granted, if he had said that I was heavier now - the conversation may not have gone as well!!!
I did ask him if he found me 'too thin' right now. And he answered correctly! I wasn't even trying to trap him! It's just that I ran into a friend recently - and she was very firm about telling me that I was plenty thin... not to get thinner. She last saw me about the same time McTwitchy was referring to.

For the record... and if I weren't such a rambler myself I would have fit it into my original post... when I packed on those extra 8 pounds .... only one person said anything about it to me. (Everyone else said I looked 'fine')
But one friend, also a skinny minny like me - said, "TRS, you need to lose weight." I wasn't even offended then because I knew she was right.
I have told other friends, since then, what she said and they were incensed on my behalf. But she did me a service. I had convinced myself I was 'fine' - and she told me the truth. When I look back at pictures - I just didn't look the way I should.
It's okay.