Arriving on the scene for a portrait shoot, as I have done thousands of times, I am greeted by a friendly group of people. I am happy, the weather is nice, the folks are relaxed, attractive and reasonably fit. All in all, it looks to be an easy shoot. I break out some gear and select the positions for the people. Suddenly I get that spidey sense that something is up. Experience tells me it’s not a question of will they ask, it’s only a question of when.
“Can you make me skinny?” one asks. Another pipes up, “Yeah, can you Photoshop off a few inches?” “Take off all of my double chins?” Remove all my wrinkldes? In an effort to please I sometimes agreed, and in the process, got myself into trouble. There are definite limits to the Photoshop weight reduction plan. The lesson I learned from this oft-repeated experience is about lack of self-worth. They know they should be eating better and exercising but instead would rather have a quick fix.
I remember feeling the same way. The year was 2001 and we needed a photo for the publisher’s letter. I was strongly resisting, but the art director insisted. The photographer wanted to make me look cool, so he had me lean back and put my feet on the desk. “You will look like a man’s man, strong, powerful and in charge,” he said. Just over 40, with a full head of dark hair, I might have been a little cocky, so I did as he asked. The negatives came back (yes, it was so long ago we were using film) and I was, well, somewhat upset. What am I saying? I was furious. I stormed into the art director and said with quite the tone, “These photos make me look fat!” Calmly he looked up and replied, “Well, that is because you are fat,” and then he rolled with laughter while I could find nothing funny at all about publishing a photo that made me look fat. Stubbornly I continued, “What can I do to not look fat?” “Well, you could eat better and try to get some additional exercise,” he said, again followed by a raucous amount of laughter. I was getting seriously irritated. “No,” I insisted, “what can I do?” Finally he recovered from his laughter. “Never lean back, sit up on the edge of your chair, lean slightly forward and lift your chin a bit. You will be just fine; after all you’re not that fat!” again the laughter that, when at your expense, is so annoying. I was back on the phone to the photographer to schedule another shoot. I love that story, though in the real version there was a lot of profanity. Some real bombs were put in for effect, if you get what I mean. The second shoot happened and I looked really nice.
I was happy because the job was done right the second time and I was happy with how the photo made me feel when I looked at it. That is the art of being a photographer: being able to put your subject at ease and posing them so you can capture the person in their best light.
But the lesson is really about learning to like who you are, exactly as you are, not as some skinny model type who only eats half a can of tuna twice a week. If you’re not happy make a change, but do it because you want too. Your friends and family should love you for you, and if they don’t, that is their problem.
We all get zinged now and again by people that want us to change for them. My advice, don’t do it. Don’t invest yourself in anyone who will not equally invest in you. When we try to force a relationship the focus is never quite right and thats because you are seeing them through the wrong lens, the lens of desire rather than the lens of reality. Just move on to find those who will love you for you!