It is widely known that models and celebrities never look in real life like they do in pictures. Magazines and ads in particular are famous for photoshopping the hell out of them. You know… Take a pimple out, or wrinkles, remove a double chin, add a six pack, etc.
In video we call it a ‘beauty pass’, and it’s something I’ve done many many times. I can usually do it pretty quickly and it’s good money.
However I decided to not do it anymore.
Drawing the line
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against ALL beauty work. I understand people want to look their best. Here’s the difference for me:
If an actor couldn’t sleep well and has eye bags, or if a singer got a pimple the day of the shoot, I’ll gladly get rid of it. Videos and pictures live forever, pimples and eye bags don’t. So no problem. Pimple gone.
Where I run into a problem is when I’m asked to enhance somebody to a point that it’s impossible for anybody to reach in real life. Usually their proportions or their age.
Here’s a few things I’ve done I’m not proud of:
- I have made skins look like porcelain. I actually have nothing against encouraging people to exfoliate, but what’s wrong with pores? As a side note, I personally like some freckles.
- I changed someone’s already cute and nicely sized nose to a smaller version of that cute nose.
- I have taken cellulite off a fitness model who had an 8% fat index (it turns out, cellulite is just a natural occurrence in women).
- I’ve reduced many waists to proportions that nobody on earth can have unless they removed a rib or two (btw DON”T DO THAT).
- Lastly, I once took the wrinkles out of a famous lady in her seventies. It was completely unnecessary, she looked great before I did anything, especially for her age. Plus, she was endorsing an anti-wrinkling product. Yet, there I was, erasing her wrinkles digitally. Ugh.
How I got to the decision
Not too long ago I didn’t care at all, I was actually proud of it. It’s an easy job, I can do it from home and get paid dearly.
Over the last few years though, I started dreading the beauty work more and more. I didn’t know why, it wasn’t a clear thought, just a hazy feeling.
A month ago I was showing my VFX Reel at a post-production house and something strange happened. As the clips of my beauty work played I got uncomfortable, almost embarrassed. I realized that it was just out of alignment with my current values. It was a small epiphany but I didn’t do anything at the time.
Finally last week I somehow ended reading #YesAllWomen on Twitter. As I was reading all those things our mothers, sisters, and girlfriends go through every day it finally dawned on me.
I was part of a bigger machine that systematically tells people, especially women, that they are not good enough. All this for the sole purpose of selling them something. Whether it’s someone’s image, beauty products, exercise machines (I call them expensive coat hangers), etc.
Granted. It wasn’t the most original epiphany. But it forced me to make a choice. I took the beauty work samples off my reel (except the pimples, eye bags and that sort of thing). Today I’m officially not providing those services anymore.
Why should anyone care?
I was discussing this decision with a friend of mine and he asked, Why would people care about what celebrities look like? Isn’t everybody’s responsibility to be happy in their own skin?
My answer is that, no, they shouldn’t care, and yes, everybody is responsible to feel comfortable in their own skin and to be happy. BUT…
If all you’re shown since childhood are pictures of people with unrealistic bodies you’ll actually believe that that is how you should look like. It’s just human nature.
Characters with unrealistic bodies have been a staple of comic books, cartoons and toys for a very long time, which is an issue. However, retouched people in modern pictures and video look very real. They make you feel that their bodies can be achieved if you exercise hard enough, starve yourself enough, consume enough of their products, etc.
But of course, it’s a fool’s errand. Not that it has stopped people from trying.
Men consume steroids and Human Growth Hormone as well as tons of unregulated supplements, some of which have found to have lead, (LEAD! That metal that was taken out of gasoline in the ’70s because it was unsafe in car fuel).
Women have even more pressure. They may not consume lead, but they starve themselves, go into crazy diets, go through tons of crazy and unnecessary surgeries and still end up feeling insecure about their bodies because it just can’t be done, it’s an unrealistic picture disguised as an achievable goal.
Some people sort of make it, some get dubious results (Human Barbie? wtf?) and some people actually even die. Arguably the worst are the huge amount of people that go through their lives insecure or over-stressed about their body image when they shouldn’t.
I like to think I’m very pragmatic with just the right amount of dreamer 😉
Pragmatic enough to know that I’m not leaving a huge void in the industry, my clients will find someone else to do their beauty work.
But I’m also enough of a dreamer to hope that other people on the fence, with the same feeling and doubts I had, will read this and decide to jump ship from crafting images of men and women with unachievable bodies.
Hopefully a few of those people will inspire more people and create a ripple effect that will slowly change the public perception.
I might not happen. All I know for sure is that I will have a few less gigs to choose from, but that is a choice I can happily live with.