What is Beauty?

posted on: December 14, 2006

Now that you know what I do to an image after it's captured in the camera, let me show you what I DON'T do my images....

To learn more about the above video, visit Campaign for Real Beauty.

Good makeup and lighting can go a long way, but how much of what we see in magazines, television, and movies is REAL? How much of the media messages we're getting are a mere illusion created by great photoshop artists?

As a teenager, I remember feeling a LOT of pressure to be beautiful. Of course, now I can see that most of the pressure was in my own head, but my idea of beauty was fed by fashion magazines, mall window ads, billboards, and movies. When a girl is trying to figure herself out, and trying to appreciate what is beautiful about herself, it's hard to look in the mirror and realize that you don't look like the beautiful people you see in fashion ads. It's also very hard to understand that what you're seeing in fashion ads isn't how people naturally look.

As much as I hate WalMart's employment practices and market bullying, I really appreciate that they use their real employees in their store ads. Granted, they tend to find some of the most outwardly beautiful people that work in their stores, but these aren't people who make their living based on upholding a certain unrealistic vision of beauty aided by personal trainers, professional make-up artists, plastic surgery, botox, and photoshop. I only wish more catalogs and magazines would show REAL people.

One of the hardest decisions I had to make for one wedding was whether or not to whiten a single dark tooth on an important family member related to the bride & groom. If it were me, I would have wanted it whitened because it was so obvious - or I never would have opened my mouth in the first place. However, there may have been a story behind that tooth and why the family member hadn't done anything about it. Perhaps it was the mark of a challenging history with illness, or a memory of an important moment in life. Who am I to alter someone's reality? I asked permission before making any changes, and to this day, I still feel a little weird about whitening that tooth, it's almost as though that image is in someway lying about who that person is. For that reason, and all the others mentioned, I rarely ever do photoshop work on a person unless they request it.

Do you look back at pictures of yourself when you were younger and think about how beautiful you really were back then? Do you think about how stupid you were to think that you were fat or unattractive, and how you were so convinced that you were the ugliest duckling? Now, fast forward to 20 years from now and look back at yourself... think about how beautiful you are today and how you're taking the beauty that you have now for granted. It's always easier to think the grass is greener on the other side, because what we imagine is always more beautiful than the actual reality. Think about the people that you find beautiful... I bet they have a lot of hang-ups about flaws that you've never even noticed because you only see them as beautiful for who they are. Now think about how others perceive you - and that what they see is your natural beauty, not the things which you consume yourself with obsessing over.

Thankfully, I've grown up to appreciate what makes me naturally beautiful while also accepting my differences, and in the process, I've realized that many of the people whom I coveted as beautiful on the outside, can be very unattractive on the inside. As an adult, I now understand that what's on the inside is the most beautiful part of a person because, let's face it, our outside appearance changes over time and while the changes may not always be flattering, how we treat others and what we love about ourselves is ultimately the beauty that we project to others. A person's humility, kindness, caring, passion, and love are what make them beautiful beyond belief, and while that is difficult to capture in a photograph, this natural inner beauty is the ultimate goal I strive for when I'm capturing an image. There are times when it is very challenging, especially if a person is unhappy or unkind, but even then, there is a quiet struggle happening inside- from which a dusty treasure chest of beauty can still be found.

Obviously, this is an issue that I feel so passionately about, and the only way that we can change the status quo is to first understand the reality that we are faced with. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you can help make a difference in small ways. First- love yourself and what makes you beautiful, then- tell other people what you love about them and what makes them beautiful. Appreciate what makes you naturally beautiful - it is unique and unlike any other, therefor it is useless to compare yourself to others. There is beauty to be found everywhere, if only we take the time to see it and appreciate it.

9 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. GREAT post Anne! You rock! You're so right about beauty - it's not about what your nose or your hair or your teeth say. It's about what you are, who you are and what is real.

    That being said I do minimal photoshop - most times nothing at all. Sometimes a bit to enhance. My vision of how much to photoshop is "someone on their best day" - not unreal, but not the day they stayed up til 4am with their sick kid either.

    Keep it real!

  2. Matt - you rock!! Seriously, I'm so glad I had a chance to meet you in Tennessee!!

    I definitely think there's a place for photoshop, and I really appreciate the talent of a portrait artist who can "make miracles" with the use of photoshop. My choice to avoid using it to alter someone's image stems mostly from my personal beliefs - of course I will always oblige if a client makes a request because we all do want to look our best. I also know that if someone wanted to take a closeup portrait of me when I didn't have an opportunity to smother myself in makeup, you can bet money that I'd ask to have a few things "taken care of". ;-) I think your idea about using it only to reflect "someone on their best day" is a great way of looking at it, while not getting carried away with it as they do in fashion magazines.

  3. Anne - I love your perspective, and I think you are such a beautiful person! I will never forget meeting you in Chattanooga and you telling me that I'm more beautiful in person than my avatar - YOU TOTALLY MADE MY NIGHT!

    It's so important to have people around us who support realistic ideas of beauty and who can make us feel beautiful on the WORST days...it's so hard to feel like we're competing with everything else out there.

    All that to say: Great post.

  4. Hi Kaitlin!!! Thank you so much! Your smile was just so infectious... every time I saw you, you just made me want to smile!

    I completely agree with you about having people who support you. I wish there were a way to turn off whatever it is inside of us that makes us feel like we have to compete with others. There are times when it's useful to make us healthier or more giving, but when it comes to things we cannot change- like the shape of our eyes, skin color, or height, it is incredibly detrimental to compare ourselves.

  5. My god, Anne. You are a woman after my own heart. This is exactly why I take nude photos of larger women; because it's real, it's sexy, and it's part of who we are. Thank you for reminding me that there are other small-time activists out there campaigning for the same changes as I am.

    And now I will totally feel like I am missing out if I don't get a chance to see you while I'm in KC!!! You're in town on the 26th, yeah? I think that's our only overlapping day...

  6. Molly, I think what you do is wonderful, and I hope that more people can appreciate how beautiful it is.

    I'm not sure exactly what day we'll be in KC. I just know that we'll be in the area around that time. I'll have to email you my phone so we can get in touch while I'm there!

  7. I'm mcb at mollybennett dot com. :)

  8. Charles Bordner10:53 PM

    This puts things is perspective. I love the opening page to your site. It looks very modern and clean. Love it!!!!! By the way the cab back seat shot is totally rockin!!! Hope you are going to Vegas.

  9. I love this post. Thanks so much for doing it. I just sat my beautiful five and a half year old daughter on my lap to watch that video. I told her that is what they do to most of the models and people we see in magazines. I asked her if she thought she was more beautiful the way she is or if she'd be more beautiful if she was fake... naturally, at five she said the way she is. I hope this is a lesson that will last for a long time. Thanks for making an impact in my world.


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