You hear it all the time. Be yourself. How hard is it to be you? And what exactly does that mean? Is it okay to throw a filter on an image and crop it so that you look a little prettier? What about when you ask someone to re-take a picture cause you forgot to suck in your belly? I don’t really have the answer. In fact, I only began to question this recently. Being myself in photos has always been pretty simple. Until I learned one day how easy it is to present a different version of me. A Photoshop version.
A few weeks ago, I needed a professional picture for my book. I contacted my neighbor, Mr. LeeVon, a professional photographer. One Saturday, we walked around our shared apartment’s backyard and took a few shots. Here’s the one that I chose:
Looks okay, I thought, until Mr. LeeVon said, “Okay. Gimme a minute and I’ll touch these up for you.”
“Oh wow,” I said, “You’re gonna make me all fancy!”
A couple of hours later, my phone vibrated while I stood in the Target checkout line. It was my Gmail. Mr. LeeVon had sent the Photoshopped picture.
“Oh my gosh!” I showed my husband. “I look like a celebrity!”
My eyes dropped. And then my smile.
“Show K—,” he directed.
I couldn’t stop staring at the transformation. “Look at this!” I said hoping for some semblance of validation.
“Oh no, mommy. It looks…I don’t know. It looks…plastic. That doesn’t look like you.”
At this point I was a bit annoyed. All I had said was that I looked like a celebrity. “Well, what should I tell him, then?”
“Give you some natural lines. Make your face look more real,” my husband offered. “It doesn’t look like you,” he reiterated. And then, “You can’t have a book about being yourself and the picture doesn’t even look like you.”
Okay. He had a point. How could I promote the idea of “being yourself” and not look like my-self. I had a brief internal struggle. Why not just use the original picture? Why have a touched up image at all? I asked Mr. LeeVon to try it again, repeating my husband’s words almost verbatim.
My husband liked it. My daughter liked it. I liked it. And so did 100 other Facebook friends. Secretly though, I felt a little fake because picture number one is how I really looked, even if there is very little difference. I also began to understand how quick it is to become filtered and phony. All it takes is one slightly altered pic and a little external validation.