The Valley of the Uncanny- Photoshop Gone Wrong

If you have school age children, you are well aware that it is school picture time.  The flier in my son’s backpack boasted the same advice I heard as a kid- dress in your best, don’t wear white, etc.  But another mom shared an offering from her daughter’s school that was not around in my time- digital photo retouching.  Of course, retouching is nothing new, but I hadn’t realized it had reached so far as elementary school year book photos.

As a fortieth birthday present to myself, I had my half sleeve redone.  I had taken a self portrait when I had the color touched up eight years prior.  I always loved that photo and thought it might be fun to take the exact same picture, and see the changes in both my appearance and that of my tattoo.  Here is the photo from eight years ago;


At that point in my life, I was in love with Photoshop- for artistic purposes, but also for eliminating blemishes, fading wrinkles, and my favorite- hiding the under eye circles I have had since birth.  I knew the photo was altered, but I remembered it being an easy touch up on a few pimples, adding “stars” to the eyes, and a simple “glow” filter- not more than a few minutes of work.

I stopped Photoshopping my pictures a few years ago.  I determined that I wanted my photos to look like me- not some vampire who travels through time without aging.  But to capture the same look as the original photo, I knew I would have to retouch- I just didn’t know how much.

Having not used Photoshop in years (other than cropping and minor color adjustments) I forgot many of the techniques I was once familiar with.  It took me a few tries to become reacquainted with the program.  But as I began to work the current photo, I realized just how much I had done to the original- it wasn’t a few minor tweaks.  I enlarged the eyes, blurred every pore, filtered numerous times.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the look of the original.

Granted, the camera, setting and lighting are different on the new picture- it is eight years later.  But I was amazed at how much work I had done to the original photo, yet how that work escaped my memory- in my mind, over the years and viewings, I somehow began to believe I actually looked like that.

Here are the latest versions, eight years later- both the original photographs and my attempts to recreate the look from the original picture.


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I look at the retouched versions and they look nothing like me- they don’t even look human really.  Granted, I used to be a lot better at this Photoshop thing, but when you get rid of the blemishes and wrinkles they just look creepy.

I’m sure you are asking “why are you bringing this up?  I’m not some narcissistic freak who retouched my photographs beyond all recognition.”  No, you probably aren’t like me.  But I think my photographs tell an interesting story.

We all have little lies we tell ourselves over and over to the point we start to believe them.  Things that make us feel a little better about ourselves and help us to fit in with those around us a little more.  Be careful with that game.  Those little tricks add up- you might find yourself completely unrecognizable in the end.

I believe it is important to love who you are in the body you are in- not the one you had ten years ago, not the one you will have when you lose twenty pounds.  When I altered my photos, I told myself I was taking artistic license- and for a photo shoot like this, there is some room for negotiation.  But I also remember slimming my arms in a family photo, getting rid of my wrinkles in vacation pics.  Once you know the tricks, it becomes difficult not to use them.

I have two small boys, so I’m friends with a lot of mothers with young kids.  We all agree we would never want our kids growing up critiquing their appearances the way we do.  Even though we can talk about self confidence and body acceptance, our children are watching.  They see us gritting our teeth when we hop on the scale, and skipping meals when they are eating.  I have no doubt my sons can look at these photos and think “those look nothing like Mommy.”

We compare ourselves to models and actresses.  We know the photos are retouched, but we still want to look like the celebrities in magazines.  It’s  not real!  If I can look like a robot with my five year old version of Photoshop, no formal training, and ten minutes to spare, what do you think the professionals are doing?

I took a photo to promote t-shirts with my doodles on them.

Just a quick snapshot with no retouching other than a crop and autoadjust.  It feels like me!  It has life.  I love it a thousand times more than my creepy retouched ones.


Love who you are.  Love the skin you are in.  Its the only body you’ve got.  Enjoy it!


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