An Open Letter From Your Photographer: I Won't Photoshop You
I remember it vividly: during one of my very first sessions as an amateur photographer, a woman asked me to photoshop 100 pounds off of her in her family portraits. She halfway laughed as she said it, but our eyes met and I knew that she truly hoped for me to make it happen.
During that stage of my photography career, I didn't feel like I had the choice to say no to requests. I went home and googled how to do it. Using the liquify tool in Photoshop, I gingerly tucked a little here and there, making the changes I thought she would want. The ending product was nothing good. The image looked more like an optical illusion than a true portrait of her with her family. I scrapped the edit and sent it to her just like normal, apologizing for my lack of skills.
Unfortunately, my journey with Photoshop didn't end there. I learned over time that I could make smaller edits that weren't so obvious. My husband and I had taken portraits together recently and, aghast with how I looked, I attacked the image with the liquify tool. A slight click took ten pounds off my short frame and I was pleased. I printed canvases of that shoot that now grace my entire home.
Looking back, I believe I thought that digitally shedding the weight would make me look at the photos for the emotion and joy between my husband and I, instead of focusing on the extra pounds. I couldn't bear the thought of looking at these pictures for years with my struggle so clearly displayed for all to see. However, after I'd hung the photos around my house, I felt a deep heartache when looking at them. The reason was hazy at first, but then I realized why I was done with Photoshop then and there:
It wasn't real, it wasn't who I was, and I knew it.
If I carved ten pounds off my figure, I thought I would be able to look at those pictures and see more than my apparent battle with my weight. But when I look at them, I actually only notice that the girl in those images isn't truly me. The disconnect between the real me and the girl in those pictures has only prolonged the torture of my struggle. When I look in the mirror, I'm constantly shocked about how I look. I berate myself for not being better, for not trying harder, for letting myself slip away from how I used to be. When I look at those pictures, I long to be that girl again. Even though, I never really was her.
The revelation came to me in the middle of the night. I felt heavy in my chest from feeling heavy and it came to me: I was playing God. I was choosing to change the image He created me in during this season of my life. I was, in a way, saying that the way He made me wasn't good enough for me. My kind of beautiful wasn't beautiful. The real me wasn't beautiful. Through a few hot tears that only seem to come when I'm surrounded by darkness, I vowed never to touch my figure with Photoshop magic again.
Unfortunately, that didn't mean I wouldn't touch my clients with it.
I had a mama ask me to remove the crows feet around her eyes. I pulled the images into Photoshop and removed them one by one. But, when I finished, something looked off. The joy was missing from her face. The wrinkles around her eyes had given her face a warmth and happiness that had disappeared. What she saw as an imperfection was a true part of her beauty.
I left the wrinkles as-is, sent it her way, and vowed that it would be the last time I tried to change what God created a woman to be - beautiful, human, and, most of all - real.