According to The New York Times, you can forget all about those charmingly flawed photos of school children. Parents are asking photography companies to get rid of their kids’ cowlicks, scabs and other imperfections. If you didn’t sire designer children, the logic seems to go, you can at least have designer memories.
I know a little something about this photoshopping world, as it happens. (It’s not in my own repertoire, of course. As you may have noticed, this blog averages about two photos a year. Usually, I have to nag my husband to take a picture, then I have to work like a dog to transfer it to my computer. Sometimes it looks okay, but it’s rarely worth the struggle, even though every blogging expert on earth tells you you have to include lots of photos to “break up” all the boring writing that’s such an Internet turnoff. By the time I’ve finally managed to center and publish a photo, I’m so exhausted I have to rest for several months.)
Still, I do have experience on the other side of the camera — in front of it — a place where I’m equally uncomfortable. Two or three years ago, I agreed to take part in some kind of Lance Armstrong tell-cancer-to-fuck-off campaign (I am paraphrasing just a bit here). On video, I was supposed to get tough with cancer and insult it or something. I don’t think I did that particularly well — not being the combative sort — so my video time was limited. But posters and photos of me in a yellow T-shirt, with my hands on my hips, trying to look tough, surface now and then. If you look closely enough, you can see my little “I am a SURVIVOR” nametag, with my own penned-in addition of “so far.” Which probably tells you everything you need to know about me and my lack of pugnacious spirit; when it comes to cancer, I’m superstitious, not pugnacious.
Anyway, let me get to the photoshopping point. Every time someone spies one of these posters, they report back to me how great I look in it. At first, I was flattered. Then, I started looking more closely at the photo. I quickly realized that I looked good since every crease and sag in my face had been airbrushed out. Hell, half my face was missing.
“You look so great!”
“It’s not me! It’s photoshop!” Either I say it or I think it.
Unlike today’s kids, I didn’t grow up in a world like this, where photo imperfections and sartorial mistakes can simply be edited away to make a more pleasing image. In fact, I think back at the old black-and-white images of my sister and me — especially those of my extended awkward years that lasted, roughly, from ages 3 to 18. What if I hadn’t usually closed my eyes or grimaced? What if my teeth had been straight? What if my posture had been good and I’d been a little more svelte? What if — let’s dream big — the backdrop had been Hawaii or Nepal, instead of Oklahoma or West Texas?
“If you could, would you have any of your bad memories erased?” the CNN poll asked today — in what I took to be a photoshopping question. I stared at the question and answered it, finally, saying no. According to the survey, the no’s had it, 54-46 percent, which I found quite interesting.
I’d like to give myself a lot of credit for my answer — how I’m reality-based and wise and oh-so honest. I could claim that bad memories like pimples and braces and shyness and bad family vacations have formed me as much as any good luck or hard work. Which is true, but too limited.
But I think the more accurate appraisal is that I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had horrific memories in my life that are so unbearable I need to erase them.
Then I have to add, well, so far, since, as I mentioned, I’m superstitious. In fact, I’m as superstitious about life as I am about cancer. If you have to ask why, then you haven’t been paying much attention to the world around you. Some things you can’t photoshop away.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts called — I kid you not — 25 Things About Me, Part 1