I had to shoot some video recently for promoting my new novel series and after I’d gone to the trouble of setting up the flood lights and getting the window blinds just-so to capture the best sunlight in my office, then rearranging things so no plants or coffee mugs were growing out of my head, my husband suggested that he may as well shoot some new headshots for me while I was all dressed up with no place to go.
Even though my most recent headshots weren’t that old, I agreed because my hair had turned out pretty good that day, and the chances of me having another good hair day before 2017 are slim to none. Ken took 65 shots and I narrowed it down to 40-plus pictures that I actually liked. Many were almost identical since Ken had the camera set to motorwind (10 quick shots with each click of the shutter).
I ran the best of those by my sweet friend and critique partner Tammy, who only gives me a little bit of a hard time for being so vain (not to mention I’d played the same “which one of these 482 shots do you like best?” game with her a few months earlier.)
We landed on one favorite of the bunch, and I waited until 10:30 at night to post it as my new Facebook profile photo, hoping not too many people would notice. (Does anyone else get embarrassed having people comment on your mugshot?) I tend to read things into the comments.
• Cute = “does the best with what she has to work with”
• Pretty = “will never be beautiful”
• Good picture = “notice I didn’t say YOU look good.”
• Hey, you have a new profile picture = “ugly as mud, but I had to say something.”
But, I digress… Anyway, never mind the 10:30 p.m. ploy, the comments come flooding in. And while they made me feel really good on the one hand, they made me feel super self-conscious on the other—like I was fishing for a compliment. And then they made me feel a little guilty because, after all, that photo, while it really is me, it’s the very best of me. Maybe even a little better than the very best of me.
Many years ago at one of my first booksignings, I mistook another author I was signing with for a store clerk because she did not look remotely like the glamorous shot on the back of her book. I decided right then that no matter how humiliating, I would always try to use a photo that actually looked like me on the back of my books.
Most days, I look more like my driver’s license photo. But when I do have a photo taken, I want it to be the best possible version of me. While I don’t mind PhotoShopping out a zit or bruise (that will eventually go away), my wrinkles, alas, are here to stay, and I need to own them. Now, anything makeup can hide is fair game, and lighting is my friend, as long as it’s aimed at the right things. Hence, in the interest of reasonably full disclosure, below left is the original shot, uncropped, straight out of the camera. On the right is a super PhotoShopped version that smooths every wrinkle, deletes the bags under my eyes, eliminates the crepe that is my neck, and even blots out the freckles on my nose. (Don’t I look 30 again? Is it any surprise that this is my favorite version?) In the middle is, hopefully, a happy medium—a photo that looks like the very best me I can be, wrinkles and all. Oh, you can bet I made sure my hubby had the camera far enough above eye-level to make me stretch and smooth that turtley neck, and I made sure the lights were bright enough to “burn out” and minimize the worst of my wrinkles. And yes, I did PhotoShop the shine off my chin, and one row of bags under my eyes. Because really, who wants to look at that?
I bet you didn’t even notice that I have one eye that’s much smaller and lower than the other and that my eyes tend to be beady. That my nose is huge and smooshed flat on my face, and that my nostrils are extremely uneven (thanks to my youngest daughter for pointing that out a few years ago. LOL!). Did you notice that my hair is pathetically thin, fine, and straight-as-a-stick? (But I wrestled it into submission with half a can of hairspray for this occasion.) …And that’s just the above-the-neck stuff!
Here’s my point: we are all far more critical of our own looks (in photos and in the mirror each morning) because we’ve had a lifetime to inspect and critique every inch. But the truth is, when most people look at you or a photo of you, all they see is your friendly smile, or your kind eyes, your beautiful skin, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-GOOD-qualities. And if they know you, they’re seeing even more. They’re seeing your gentle spirit, your compassionate heart, and your humble attitude shine through.
Yes, I want my headshots to be a representation of me at my physical best, but I hope I never forget that even the prettiest picture fades quickly if the person it represents turns out to be not-so-pretty on the inside. I need a reminder to work as hard making that part beautiful as I do the outside.
For discussion: What do you think about PhotoShopping portraits? Is it dishonest? Would you/have you touched up your own photos? Where do you draw the line? Have you ever met someone who looked nothing like their publicity photo? How did that make you feel?