Snip-snap!

If you’re not happy with what you see in the mirror, it’s time to go on the digital diet, says Deirdre Reynolds

By Deirdre Reynolds

Friday September 19 2008

It’s meant to immortalise all the happiest moments of your life, but for women across the country, the family photo album only seems to freeze frame their double chin, love handles and crooked teeth forever.

And despite being the only thing to make tumbling temperatures tolerable until next summer, few females will be displaying their holiday bikini snaps around the office or home — unless they’re stuck to the fridge as a diet aid.

It’s long been acknowledged that the camera adds 10lbs. But now a new survey has shown that image-conscious women believe it highlights a myriad of other imperfections too.

The poll by Hewlett Packard discovered that two-thirds of us are “deeply embarrassed” by snaps of ourselves. And it’s women especially who are left shuddering over their spare tyre rather than smiling at the memories of weddings, birthdays and holidays gone by. Females aged 35-44 are most susceptible to photo-phobia, according to the research.

But while in previous years, the only way to stop dodgy snaps from coming back to haunt you was to commandeer the camera and delete the offending images, new digital advancements have made it possible to create more flattering memories instead.

The company has come up with a camera that can actually shave inches off, not add them on. A new feature — dubbed digital dieting — stretches the image, helping subjects lose around 10lbs in seconds.

It’s a far cry from the days when removing evil-looking red eye was the most anyone did to improve their mugshot.

UK processing store Snappy Snaps, which also has branches in Ireland, recently launched an airbrushing service for people who are willing to pay to appear more photogenic. And there’s no shortage of those happy to cheat their way to snaps they’re not ashamed to show off — the company reported a 550pc increase in photo-retouching services such as leg elongation and erasing ageing under-eye shadows.

Meanwhile, a number of websites have also sprung up in response to the growing demand for flawless photos. Self-conscious sorts can splash out on some virtual nip/tuck on sites such as http://www.digitalfacelift.com or http://www.retouchphoto.co.uk

Ireland AM presenter Sinead Desmond is slowly acclimatising to life in front of the lens. But the bubbly brunette says she stills cringes at seeing her picture in print.

“The one thing I will never get used to about my job is seeing pictures of myself in the papers and magazine,” Sinead said. “I still feel self-conscious posing, although I’ve gotten a bit better at it.

“Photos are strange things,” she added, “Sometimes they can be really forgiving but a bad angle can also be really cruel. Then there are those awful occasions when you see an outfit that you thought looked good in the mirror, but clearly looked awful in reality.”

But unlike your mirror reflection, it’s impossible to fix your hair or change your outfit in a photo if you don’t like what you see. It’s the static nature of snapshots that leaves even supermodels red-faced flicking through their photo album, according to psychologist David Kavanagh.

“In photographic form, we are reminded of our imperfections,” Kavanagh said. “With a mirror, you can walk away and alter your appearance but you can’t change a photo.”

And even when you remember to sit in advantageous lighting, increase your spine and tilt your head slightly, chances are the snap will still seem crap in comparison to the airbrushed beauties found in the fashion glossies.

“Body image problems among women are a relatively recent phenomenon,” Kavanagh continued. “Nowhere in history have women obsessed so negatively about their appearance as in the past few decades.

“The problem is that we are bombarded with images of perfection on everything from Corn Flakes boxes to billboards.

“From morning to night, we are reminded that there is a right way to look. By making us insecure about our appearance, we then go out and buy gym membership, diet books, anti-ageing creams — or in this case, have our photos airbrushed.

“Many of the industries we now take for granted couldn’t exist if we didn’t feel in some way imperfect.”

But using professional photos of some of the most beautiful people on the planet as a barometer for spontaneous DIY snaps is a bad idea to begin with, believes renowned fashion photographer Lili Forberg.

“People judge their holiday snaps by the pictures they see in fashion magazines, even though they are not ignorant to the fact that they are highly constructed,” the Dublin-based snapper said.

“They judge themselves according to the ideal portrayed by magazines, which has no bearing to the average-looking woman.

“It takes time, lighting, a team of hairdressers, make-up artists and stylists, as well as digital retouching to make a person look their best.”

The award-winning photographer revealed how Irish women are swapping disposable cameras for the studio, calling in the pros in a bid to preserve the best possible version of themselves.

“I get a lot of girls coming to the studio to get photos done of themselves,” Forberg told. “Many get them done because they are confident about their looks;

however, others get them done to gain confidence.

“There’s always such a relaxed atmosphere in my studio that women are immediately at ease. Most are thrilled with the end result and say they gained a lot of confidence from the photoshoot itself.

“I don’t see any harm in people paying to have their own photographs retouched either,” she added.

“In fact, it’s a positive thing because it means that people are acknowledging that the photographs they see in magazines are airbrushed and that they cannot live up to that ideal.

“Touching up your pictures is much healthier than starving yourself to try and achieve a certain look. Digital teeth whitening is also cheaper than the real thing!”

Ireland’s first Page 3 girl Claire Tully says there’s no room for being precious over your photo in her game.

“Girls have their own insecurities and that’s what they immediately look for in a photo, even if nobody else has ever noticed that particular thing about them.

“But I don’t really get a say in it any more — an editor might think your picture looks great when you think it’s awful. It’s all subjective.

“When you have your photograph taken for a living, you look at it differently — you’re looking to see that the background or the colours work. I don’t get embarrassed about seeing myself on Page 3 — I just think it looks like me with no make-up on.

“But looking from the outside in, I can see how women could get disillusioned and just see someone who looks great rather than thinking about all the work that goes into the picture in order to sell it.”

And while most women would kill for the confidence to pose in nothing but their pants, Claire said that her most treasured snaps are the ones that capture her having a laugh with family and friends — not her sizzling glamour shots.

“Photographs are meant to capture you having fun, not looking completely perfect,” she said.

“Your photos are your memories — and it speaks volumes about someone if they’re not happy enough with their memories that they have to change them.”

Presenter Sinead Desmond agrees: “I take photos all the time but I wouldn’t bother getting photos airbrushed.

“People shouldn’t look perfect, they should look real.

“I think the best photos of anyone, including myself, are the ones that are taken when you’re not posing, but genuinely relaxed and having fun.”

– Deirdre Reynolds

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