Ethical retouching & body positivity

I want my photography to encourage women to love themselves at every stage of life. There's nothing wrong with using tools like makeup and shape wear to enhance your appearance. I'm happy to remove acne, scars and rogue strands of hair but I draw the line at body and face alterations. If you want me to use software to change your face, make you look 20 years younger or 50 pounds lighter, I'm simply the wrong photographer for you. Here's why.

Heavy Retouching is bad for your mental health

Before hiring me, women ofter ask if I can alter and remove parts of their body to make them 'look better' (their words, not mine). They want me to perform a virtual nip tuck; get rid of their stomach, make their noses look smoother and slim down their arms (and cheeks and legs), and make them look younger. In the past, I would oblige these types of requests but after receiving their edited images, the client would still pick themselves apart. Anything that looked remotely natural was despised. They were clearly suffering from body insecurities and expected me to 'fix' them with photoshop. This kind of negative self perception is happening all over the world.

Some problems can't be fixed in Photoshop

Several studies have concluded that the overuse of photo editing has negative effects on one's mental health. Rather than feeling confident, these filters and retouching techniques increase feelings of shame around the way our bodies look. Both young and middle aged women report dissatisfaction with their own faces. And when the person in the mirror looks nothing like the one on your phone, feelings of inadequacy and depression increase.

Altered images can influence people to adopt harmful lifestyle choices, like eating disorders or life threatening surgery, to try and become the photoshopped version of themselves. It's common knowledge that not even the Kardashians look like the Kardashians without several surgeries and a team of stylists. And yet, so many of us still strive to match their aesthetic.

Toxic industry standards

'High End' retouching has gone from an advertising tactic to an industry standard for consumer based photo experiences. Photographers have become perpetuators of unhealthy, unrealistic beauty standards for the sake of profit. People are paying thousands of dollars to see themselves altered beyond the point of recognition. The more artificial looking, the better. The professionals who heavily rely on retouching are often viewed as the best in their field.

Other signs of body insecurity

Those who cannot afford surgery or hiring a high end photographer often resort to other tactics in order to make themselves less noticeable in photographs. I can't tell you how many times I've seen women duck behind other people (husbands, friends and children) in order to hide themselves from the camera. When I ask them to move near the front of be photographed alone, their eyes fill with dread. These are the same women who take hundreds of selfies before settling on one that only shows their face and neck (and even those are taken from an extremely high level). Then they slap a few filters on for good measure.

So many women tell me that if it wasn't for the fact that they hated the way they looked in pictures, they'd schedule a shoot. I have an aunt who has outright refused to be photographed at all for the last two decades. It breaks my heart.

At the end, none of it matters!

The truth is, no one who loves you cares if you're fat, skinny, young, old, have acne or clear skin. Your spouse and your dearest friends aren't looking for your imperfections in pictures; they're looking for your presence! They love you. When they look back at these memories, they want to see you standing, sitting or having fun alongside them them.

When a mom tries to opt out of being in a photo, I say "Your kids aren't going to look at your family photos and comment on your size. They're only going see their mom, someone who has loved and supported them from day one. In 20 years, when they've grown up and left the house, you'll cherish every image you have of yourself interacting with your children when they were young."

One day, prayerfully several decades from now, you won't be here. The only thing your loved ones will have left of you will be the memories and the photos. Every single image will become a precious treasure. And none of it will be because of how you look, not then and not now.