Posts Tagged: beauty

The Photographed Body

Hi all – comments shouldn’t have been closed on this post. Re-posting so they’re open. Apologies – still no idea why this randomly happens sometimes …

woman and camera

A few months back, reader K emailed me about posing for photos. She told me that overall, she really loved her body, loved how it looked, and felt confident that it was lovely and strong. But whenever she saw still photos of herself, everything shifted.

I would wager that within the past few years, I’ve been very displeased with about 75% of pictures taken of me. I’ll see the pictures and immediately think, ugh my shoulders look huge, my breasts are too big for my body, my stomach pooches out in an unsightly manner, my arms look doughy and huge, and my thighs look massive. Then, after I see said unflattering pictures, my body confidence takes a huge hit. I’ll wonder, what is the real me that people see? Is it the one who I love to see in the mirror every day?

I’ve written about what it means to be photogenic before, and I feel compelled to lift this marvelous lyric from that post.

“It took me too long to realize that I don’t take good pictures ’cause I have the kind of beauty that moves.”
~ Ani DiFranco, “Evolve”

The first time I heard this phrase, I nearly fell over. It had literally never occurred to me that someone who appeared beautiful in person could look odd in photos, all photos, and that this disconnect could come down to the difference between still beauty and beauty in motion. But it made so much sense. In some cases, what makes us unique and lovely is specific to the nuances of live action. When we’re frozen in time, we just don’t look the same.

But beyond that, I think there is an element of cultural expectation and manipulation at play here. We see photos of people every day. And the VAST majority of those photos have been digitally manipulated in some way. Ridiculously Photoshopped magazine and ad photos may come immediately to mind, but consider the number of “beautification” apps available that can change the shapes, tones, and colors in our simple phone selfies. Truly candid, unretouched, unfiltered photos are relatively rare. And though many of us post images to social media, the ones that include our own images are meticulously selected to show our bodies and faces at their best. At our best.

There are ways to position yourself so you look slimmer in photos – turning your face slightly instead of looking straight into the lens, shifting your body so you’re seen slightly from the side instead of dead-on, good posture, rolled-back shoulders, and more – but if you try these and still loathe the results? There may be something deeper going on. You may be expecting to see a still image that mirrors the photos of digitally perfected women you see all around you. You may have the kind of beauty that moves. Or you may have some buried body image concern or issue that only ever surfaces when you see yourself in photographs.

In the first case, spending some time with old photo albums might be helpful. Immerse yourself in images that are truly candid, truly unretouched, and remind yourself that people can look wacky and soft and ordinary and disproportionate in still photos, and that is completely fine. Photos that include makeup and styling staff, professional lighting and photography, and post-production manipulation look amazing. Photos that were taken at the beach or while sledding or during a birthday party look amazing, too, but in a wholly different way.

In the second case, consider taking some short videos of yourself or asking for help creating some. Seeing yourself photographed but in motion may help things click into place. Some beauty moves. It might not make you feel any better when you get tagged on Facebook, but when someone whips out a camera you can breathe, manage your expectations, and remind yourself that still photos will never accurately represent the real you.

In the third case? Oh, I wish I had some actionable advice that would work for everyone, but I just don’t. I’ve watched as Vivienne McMaster has created and expanded her Be Your Own Beloved offerings, which focus on cultivating self-love through self-portraiture, and cruising through her blog may help shake some things loose. She also has workshops and e-courses that focus on body image and photography. But in some cases, unearthing what’s buried may be deeply personal.

One thing that may be helpful to anyone who dislikes her image in still photos? Remember that photos are not you. Just as your body is not all there is to your self, your image is not all there is to your body, your beauty, your identity. I know this can be tough to swallow since photos are how other people see us, in many cases. But you can’t control what others think of you, be it in person or through the lens. You can only control how you react. And reacting by remembering that your still image captures only a fragment of your unique beauty may help.

Our culture is obsessed with capturing moments on camera, but our lives are lived in motion. Two-dimensional versions will never compare to the living, breathing, thinking, feeling being that is you. Still photos of you are not you. Because more often than not, beauty moves.

Image courtesy Lauren Powell-Smothers

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The Photographed Body

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Makeup and Professionalism

sally_mcgraw_makeup_

Over the past few months, I’ve read several essays linking makeup and professionalism. Written by stylish women working in corporate America, these articles insist that daily makeup application is a must for working women, and that going without it may degrade your image of competence and reliability. They inevitably cite a recent study, the results of which indicate that women wearing just the right amount of makeup appear more trustworthy and likable to most observers. And they send readers scrambling to Sephora to upgrade their stashes.

I never experimented with makeup as a girl and didn’t even learn to pluck my eyebrows until I was 30. The older I get, the more I find myself relying on cosmetics to define and conceal, shape and highlight my features. And although I’d rather spend my precious minutes reading or sleeping or kissing my husband, I don’t actively resent my ever-expanding makeup application routine.

I do, however, resent the implication that a woman without makeup doesn’t belong in the workplace, or that applying makeup is essential to career success. And here’s why:

Laws versus policing

I encourage my readers and clients to select clothing that fits their figures and broadcasts their confidence and self-respect. I believe that dressing is a social contract and that understanding the norms surrounding appropriate dressing choices for various life situations will ease human relationships. But I am also aware that there are laws about clothing. Actual laws that apply to both men and women. To go about in public and not be fined or arrested, humans must be clothed. And in my opinion, since we’ve got to get dressed anyway, we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good. Since dressing is social, we can also make style choices that will make us appear polished, impressive, and self-aware. So, in my view, acquiring an understanding of how to dress is both beneficial and required.

There are no laws about wearing makeup. Makeup is entirely optional everywhere. Although some men wear makeup, the majority of makeup consumers and wearers are women. And to tell these women that they should feel obliged to apply makeup on a daily basis in order to garner the respect and admiration of their colleagues is to police their behaviors based solely on social norms. To say that makeup is essential to workplace achievement is to promote the belief that the performance of traditional femininity is the only route to professional success for women. To insist on a set of grooming-related behaviors that doesn’t remove dirt or odor, doesn’t make something that is naturally messy look neater, and really only serves to “enhance” or “amplify” certain facial features is to remind women that their physical selves are never going to be acceptable in their natural state.

I understand that there are plenty of voluntary behaviors that human beings engage to further their personal goals, plenty of things we do because they’re beneficial though not required. And yet this case is so focused on forcing women to be and look one specific way, I can’t help but feel it is more about reinforcing existing social norms than it is about ensuring the professional success of women as a group.

The fine line

But what about that study, you ask? Well, first off, it was funded by Procter & Gamble, a company that manufactures and sells makeup and was undoubtedly thrilled to see results linking makeup and trustworthiness. But perhaps more importantly, the results emphasized that while barefaced is too little, “glamorous” is too much. If you apply just the right amount of eyeshadow and blush, you appear more capable, reliable and amiable. But overdo it and “there may be a lowering of trust.”

So not only are you being asked to spend money on cosmetics and spend your time and energy applying them, you must be very careful not to apply too little or too much or you risk ruining everything. Without makeup, you’re unprofessional, inexperienced, a hippie or a child or a socially oblivious loser. With too much makeup you’re unprofessional in an entirely different way, still socially oblivious but more on the sexualized diva end of the spectrum.

There are parallels to dressing, here, of course: Women are expected to dress in ways that aren’t too dowdy or too slutty. Fall too far on either side and you risk ridicule and censure by the lady-policing machinery built into modern society. This is nothing you’ll ever hear me defending. But again, wearing clothing is required by law and since you’ve got to get dressed anyway, choosing to align your lawfully required garments with social expectations may work to your benefit. Makeup is optional. And if you aren’t naturally interested in it and you ARE going to be judged negatively should you fail to apply the exact right amount of it, why bother at all?

Focus on accomplishment

I give presentations on professional dress and grooming to college seniors and women’s leadership programs, so you’ll never hear me say that how you present your physical self in professional situations is irrelevant. But here’s a tidbit that goes into every single lecture I deliver: Comportment, demeanor, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.

What I hope to convey to my audience members is that blending personal style and comfort preferences with environmental expectations can help you create looks that feel great and allow you to forget all about what you look like so you can focus on your message, your work, your passion. I also remind them that badly applied makeup is generally considered to be worse than no makeup at all, and that it’s completely fine to skip it. I want them to feel confident and empowered, and I want them to think more about their goals than their shoes.

By telling women that a perfectly applied face of makeup is a prerequisite for career success, we are telling them that how they look is more important than what they know or what they have achieved. We are telling them that their natural faces will distract people, that being pretty is necessary regardless of circumstance, that performing femininity in exactly the right way isn’t just helpful, it’s essential. Insisting that makeup become integral to a professional woman’s daily life subtly tells her that if she doesn’t look right it won’t matter how smart or creative or innovative or capable she is. And that is patently untrue.

Since I’ve admitted to being a makeup novice myself, I realize I may sound defensive. And maybe I am. When I read this spate of makeup-career articles, the underlying message I got was, “If you don’t wear makeup, you don’t look like a grownup to other grownups.” And that sentiment makes me want to break things. Some adult women wear makeup and others don’t. Learning to apply makeup is a rite of passage for many, but it is not a skill set required for acceptance into the Grown-Ass Woman Club. Any more than having children or going to college or losing your virginity or working outside the home or any of the other arbitrary markers of so-called “real” womanhood are. Being a woman can be done in infinite ways, and forging a successful career path can play out in infinite ways. Accomplished, professional, grown women can take on the world at any age, at any stage, and in any way they see fit.

And they can do it with or without lipstick and foundation.

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