July 23, 2014

Why I Won’t Use My Airbrushed Photos. ~ Mariah Dolan

before&after 500x500

My new website was all set to launch when a voice inside my head screamed stop.

It was at the kind of volume that simply can’t be ignored.

Instead of jumping for joy and cracking open the bubbly, so to speak, I was paralyzed with gut-wrenching guilt.

All because of this photo:

photo provided by author

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, it’s not me.

I mean, it’s not the real me.

This is an airbrushed version of me.

The belly button in the photo is from someone else’s body. The skin around my stomach has been tucked and my thighs have been trimmed. My age spots and ​freckles​ have been erased.

That photo isn’t the real me. It’s not the me I’m proud of or the me I respect. It’s certainly not the me I’ve learned to love after having four C-sections.

Here’s what I really look like:

Photo proved by author

I was the one who begged my photographer to airbrush my photos in the first place. Once I saw my saggy stomach, I thought there’s no way I could showcase those photos proudly on my website. Who’s going to want to work with me if I don’t look perfect?

But as my website was nearly finished and ready to launch, I realized it became more important to be honest and authentic than to look perfect. I told my photographer that I needed my un-retouched photos.

It was important to show my life-brushed photos. That is, the real, untouched photos that honor the experiences I’ve had. Including four C-sections.

Images of perfection are everywhere.

As women, we’re inundated with messages that tell us we need to look like we stepped out of a magazine cover. Perfect hair. Perfect smile. Perfect body.

Those magazine covers and editorials defy the laws of nature. We won’t find blemishes, bumps, bruises, scars, laugh lines, under-eye dark circles, saggy skin or jiggly bits anywhere on the women they show.

Herein lies the problem.

Airbrushed photos of female models set standards of unattainable perfection.

And for some crazy reason, we hold ourselves to those standards. We expect to somehow find a way to live up to standards that don’t even exist. The models themselves don’t even exist. They’ve been airbrushed too.

Little by little, our self esteem vanishes.

Our self worth tanks.

We start to resent ourselves.

What we do to take care of ourselves is overshadowed by this feeling of not-enough. Of failure. All because we don’t look like airbrushed models. All because we have blemishes, bumps, bruises, scars, laugh lines, under-eye dark circles, saggy skin and jiggly bits.

We look at photos of ourselves and spot the flaws first. We seldom notice how happy we look, or how we’re surrounded by people who love us.

So, when it came time to showcase my airbrushed photos, I just couldn’t do it.

Here’s why:

As a health coach, personal trainer and physical therapist, I feel it’s my responsibility to:

• encourage women to accept and love their bodies

• teach women to let go of warped body image issues

• inspire women to look past imperfections to see how amazing their bodies are

How can I accomplish those goals if I can’t accept my own body?

How can I truly encourage, teach or inspire women when I’m hiding behind Photoshop?

So, I said no. Not me. It’s not true to who I am or what I believe in.

I refuse to add another airbrushed photo into the world’s collection of airbrushed photos. I refuse to be part of a process that could make women feel bad about themselves.

The hypocrisy of it all would drive me mad.

Portraying anything other than the real me breaches integrity and is a disservice to my clients.

After having four babies, I have saggy belly skin. There’s nothing I can do about that short of having a tummy tuck. Surgery isn’t an option since I don’t have an extra $8,000 lying around. But I’ll be honest with you—even if I did, I wouldn’t spend it on cosmetic surgery. I’d take my kids to Disney World!

That saggy belly isn’t an imperfection; it’s a testament to how I brought my children into the world.

That saggy belly doesn’t define the whole of who I am; it’s a piece of my story, and I don’t want to hide it. Why should I feel ashamed of a blemish that represents the four best blessings in my life?

I’ve come to realize that celebrating my accomplishments trumps self-loathing. I’m done beating myself up for not looking like an airbrushed model-version of myself.

Just the other day, my five-year-old daughter asked about my C-section scar as I stepped out of the shower. “What’s that?” she wanted to know. When I told her that’s how she and her three sisters came into the world, she said, “That’s awesome.”

I immediately dismissed her reaction because, of course, everybody knows C-section scars are suppose​d​ to be ugly. But for one brief second, I saw my body as she saw it. From a non-judgemental perspective, I could see how awesome my scar was.

That “ugly” scar marks the place where my daughters entered the world. My body did what it wasn’t designed to do, four times.

That ugly scar is evidence of the physical pain I endured for the love of my family. Looking at my scar now, I accept how it looks because of what it represents. It’s no longer ugly. It’s cool, gnarly and beautiful.

I’m not afraid to let my children see, admire, or learn about my C-section scar. I’m not ashamed to show my husband, either.

Ladies, when was the last time your man screamed in terror when he saw you naked?

I’ll tell you how many times that’s happened to me: Never!

Because men don’t care about all that trivial stuff. Especially when it’s time to get it on!

Your man could care less about that butt dimple, skin sag, stretch mark, belly button outtie or any other imperfection you’re desperately hiding from him.

He cares more about confidence. He wants you to rock what you have. Don’t believe me? Ask him!

The sexiest woman is the woman who is comfortable in her own skin.

But first, let’s stop being our own worst enemies. We’re the ones—the only ones!—demanding an unattainable perfection for ourselves. Our children, husbands, partners, and families don’t see the imperfections we spend so much time and energy obsessing over. And if they do, it’s time we ask them to accept our bodies for what they are—beautiful masterpieces of a life well lived.

Nobody’s perfect.

We all have flaws.

Let’s stop comparing ourself to airbrushed models. Or to an unrealistic idea of what we think we should look like.

Focus on what we can control.

Life’s a wild ride as it is. Embrace our imperfections as part of who we are.

After all, they make us interesting, real, and loveable. They make us, well, us.

And that’s reason enough to love them.


Relephant Reads: 

This Kind of Photoshop Manipulation Has to Stop

Do You Think This Girl is Fat? 


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Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Yvonne Denault

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Mariah Dolan