I recently had an unusual experience. I was standing in a department store aimlessly browsing some shiny shelving that held many glittery bottles with promises of youth and perfect beauty. In the process of being pseudo hypnotized by the lovely array of bright colors, I heard a small feminine voice pipe up in the aisle behind me.
She was fawning over the stunning portraits of celebrity beauties that held small spaces, conveniently placed right above eye level. She kept saying how perfect and beautiful they all were, and you could hear a kind of wistful tone to her phrases. The kind of tone that says “I wish that were me”. After a few moments of hearing her adoration, I couldn’t keep quiet.
I walked around the corner and saw an average looking girl, medium weight, plain dress, and simple hair, no makeup. I later discovered that she is 14 and had plans on becoming a professional makeup artist. I asked her what she liked about the photographs. Her response was about what was expected. They look so perfect. They’re so gorgeous. Look at their skin. The makeup is amazing.
Now, this is something I have a strong opinion of. I love retouching, and I love over the top portraits, and I feel that great retouching is required in our industry. However these young girls have no idea the amount of work that goes into these ‘beauty’ portraits that they see on the walls and in the magazines.
I am of the opinion that education is the best way to show young (and old) men and women that these are commercials, and about as realistic as the animated movies we see in theatres. They are designed to capture attention, and create an emotion, and advertise a product. They do not have to accurately represent the face in which they are featured.
I keep a selection of images on my phone for all sorts of reasons, usually in the quest of shameless self-promotion, but it now served a new purpose. I flicked the phone to life and opened up my ‘before and after’ section. I explained to her the process of retouching, and that although these women are indeed gorgeous they are not as perfect as they are on the display.
Without all the professional hair and makeup teams, the perfect lighting, professional photographer, and then the retouching on top of that, they look like normal human beings. They get to wake up in the morning looking just as messy as the rest of us.
Granted, some have that bone structure that our industry flips over, but most of us do not. It’s winning the genetic lottery. The models on the runways, in the commercials, on TV are just the anomalies, the exception to the rule for a large number of reasons. However, underneath all the makeup, hair, and retouching, they are simply people.
One thing is for sure, none of us look as perfect as the retouch artists make us look, and our youth need to know this. I think many young people would be surprised at how amazing they also look with a pro team working magic on their face, a stylist deciding what they will wear, and a digital arts team picking just the right photograph that is the ideal angle for their features.
Supermodels have outtake photos too, and we as professionals in our industry have a responsibility to educate our younger generation of these facts.
Many are just like the young lady I met in the department store. She had no idea the work that went in to those photographs, and her astonishment to the before and after shots left her with a clarity she did not have before. Best of all, she had a new appreciation for her own self-image.
My message is this:
We need to realise what “real beauty” actually is.
It’s not the magazines or the TV commercials, it’s not the movies and it’s not the billboards you see every day on the way to work.
In my opinion real beauty is making the best with what you’ve got, and not judging yourself against others. It’s making mistakes, and learning from them to be a better person. It’s being accountable for your actions and being willing to take a stand and do the right thing when others do not.
It’s being able to smile at the end of a rough day, because the bad days mean the good ones are just around the corner. It’s being honest, and true to yourself and those around you, and making the best with your body, mind and life.
To our beautiful youth: no one is the retouched goddess we see in the department store walls. They are tweaked pixels designed into someone’s idea of perfection. Do not let someone else’s opinion of what is ideal carve the framework for your own self image. Whatever genetic mix you were handed at birth is what you’ve got. Be unique, do something different and be yourself.
Nobody has to live your life every day, only you do. You decide how you want to feel about yourself, because no one else will decide it for you.