Growing up in Las Vegas, surrounded by exaggerated showgirl images of womanly perfection, a girl gets a harsh sense of her own physical imperfections.
Growing up anywhere in America, bombarded by plastic surgery-altered images of celebrities, a woman gets a clear image of a possible path to physical perfection or at least improvement.
In my youth, I scoffed at the idea of surgical alternations, but now that I’m older, I’m not so sure. Like many a middle-aged woman, I stare in the mirror and catalog a growing litany of facial flaws – jowls, bags under the eyes, thinning lips. Need I say more? And so, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should rethink that long-held anti-plastic surgery stance.
Well, amazingly I just found a non-surgical solution to my sagging features and equally sagging self-image – one that restores my former youthful glow and good-(ish) enough looks. And best of all, it didn’t involve a trip to the plastic surgeon’s office.
My Path to Rejuvenation
I had long needed a new professional photo, a black-and-white head shot, and yet, with the great dread and vanity known to a once comely, now slightly homely older woman, I delayed scheduling an appointment.
I tried taking a selfie or five. Ego-sucking mistakes all. No matter the light – sunlight, indoor, candlelight, under a shroud. No matter the make-up – pan-cake, liquid, powder, oil-based. I simply could not stretch my arm far enough to soften the ravages of time so clearly etched, no chiseled, upon my once cute face.
Bags and dark circles under the eyes, droopy brows and mouth, jowls, ruddy complexion, saggy neck—all were on vivid display. Perfect “before” shots in a plastic surgeon’s office.
I despaired and realized it was time for professional help. I consulted Yelp and quickly found a highly recommended (highly yelped?) photographer
His website portfolio offered not only the predictable array of comely young people but a large number of decent looking middle-aged folks, too.
I made an appointment.
Then I read a baker’s dozen or so articles on “How to Pose for Pictures,” all the while eating a baker’s dozen (or so) of cookies. As the cookies crumbled on my matronly bosom, I practiced tilting my head this way and that, angling one shoulder forward and relaxing my (non-cookie clutching) hand.
Meeting my Re-maker
On the appointed day, I walked into the photographer’s studio, head high, and chin stretched forward to counter the shadows of a sagging neck (another photo tip). I was armed with a clutch of wardrobe options and enough make-up to pancake my enemy, Old Age, into submission.
Standing before me, sipping from a trendy recyclable water bottle, was a wizard of what I was to learn were astonishing skills of prestidigitation. Slight of build with a subtle mysterious accent of unknown origin, he introduced himself as “The Photographer.”
He led me to a stool placed in front of a light-gray backdrop. Lights flashed. The camera whirred. The backdrop changed from gray to blue to pink. I smiled. I sat solemnly. I smiled again. Broad smile. A hint of a smile a la Mona Lisa. I was ordered to turn right, then left, to drop my shoulder, to cross and then uncross my arms.
Then, all was silent.
Working his Magic
The young man motioned for me to follow him to a looming, wall-mounted computer screen, where he quickly downloaded the photos. We picked the best two photos out of the batch of 100 or so.
Then, without a word, he began to work his magic.
First, he applied a digital “wash” to rid my face of ruddiness. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could have asked for no more effective painless treatment for his blazing proboscis.
My wizard, I mean photographer, next waved some sort of digital wand that slimmed my face, lifted my jowls, slimmed my neck, transforming my face into an almost Barbie-doll-like standardized image of contemporary beauty. He then calibrated the photo, dialing it back a notch or two. At that point, I looked a bit more like me, but a whole lot better me.
His digital doctoring was nothing short of witchcraft. The photographer uttered no incantations, nor even one “Abracadabra.” There were no signs of the occult or sacrifices to the Devil. Yet, I looked positively cute and yes, younger. Presto change-o, I was photo-shopped!
My God, where had this magician, I mean photographer, been all my life!
His feats of magic were not over. With another flick of the finger, he started fine tuning my face, I mean the photo. He erased a stray hair here and there, removed the lipstick (and lunch) from my front teeth, and brushed away the not-so-fine lines around my mouth.
My adrenaline was flowing; my blood pressure elevated. I was hooked. And like any junkie, I begged for more. How about a little more lightening here? A little more shading there? A lot less wrinkle there? And there? And there? He obliged for a while, but then stopped.
Gently placing his hand on my shoulder, my image-altering magician solemnly asked, “You do want people to recognize you, don’t you? You don’t want old friends to laugh and new acquaintances to wonder how many years ago the photo was taken.”
Inside I was screaming, “No, no. I don’t care. Photo-shop me some more.” But reluctantly, I realized he was right. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” I mumbled.
And so, the session ended. I was re-born or at least digitally renewed. I paid the photographer, gathered up my pile of clothes and make-up, and reluctantly left the studio.
Outside a clock chimed the hour. It tolled for me. The transitory illusion of a more youthful me had ended. It was time to go home. I was again a middle-aged wife and mother with dinner to cook and laundry to do. I slowly walked to the bus surrounded by a sea of young, carefree, wrinkle-free, university students in downtown Berkeley.
Not ready to surrender to the harsh, unforgiving light of day, I sat on a bench inside the building’s lobby and forwarded copies of my photo-shopped fantastic face to family and friends. As an afterthought, I sent a copy to my electronic file of “Important Family Papers,” which includes such cheery documents as my will and organ donor directive. Beside the photo I typed in red, bold-faced, underlined, capital letters: “USE THIS PHOTO FOR MY OBITUARY.”
Yes, thanks to the Internet, I — or at least my face — would live on in jowl-less eternal glory.