Everywhere you look in today’s popular culture, you see idealized images of human beauty. They are inescapable - found on billboards, in magazines, on TV, and in other visual media. Yet these images depict an unattainable “perfection” that no real person can achieve. Virtually all of these images of models, movie stars, the rich and famous, are retouched. They have been digitally manipulated to create a flawless appearance that is entirely unrealistic. As most of us know by now, those magazine covers of our most beautiful celebrities do not show us the often wrinkled, sometimes sagging reality.
My belief is that in perpetuating these idealized images, our society has distorted traditional notions of human beauty – and as a result, made a majority of us increasingly dissatisfied with our individual appearance. I realized just how powerful this effect can be. I was taking images of individuals whom I initially thought were beautiful and retouching them. What I found was that my perception of what was beautiful had been altered. The natural became the unsightly and the artificial the beautiful. I was intrigued by the technical aspects of retouching, but horrified by the psychological effect it had on me.
In Beauty Blueprints I set out to explore this effect by asking my subjects to “mark up” their own images based on what they would like to see altered through beauty retouching. I took straightforward, close-up headshots of my subjects, all lit the same, in order to reduce the chance that I, the photographer, would do something to make the photograph more flattering. These images were not meant to capture the subjects’ personality – only to record their facial topography. After the subjects marked up their own image I went ahead and retouched the image according to the requested changes.
This process allowed me to see how my subjects felt about their own appearance, good and bad. As a whole, their markups also showed what type of facial features they considered attractive or unattractive. My conclusion from this “experiment“ was that men tend not to want to make any drastic changes, or are at least not as willing to admit what they dislike about their appearance, as women. Most of their requests involved removal of facial hair and blemishes. My results were more varied regarding the women I photographed and retouched. Facial hair and blemish removal were also requested, but the most common “procedure” was to make the lips fuller, followed by slenderizing of the face. With the women, I noticed that the more drastic changes I make to a specific area of the face, the more the entire face was thrown out of proportion. For me, the end results conclude proof that people are inherently balanced, while also showing that people may acquire a distorted perception regarding their own self-image from being subjected to societal ideas of beauty.