STUMBLING ON THE TERM “FLATTERING”
Recently I was shooting some corporate headshots for a company in Seattle, and a woman asked me as she stepped in front of the camera, “I notice that almost all headshots are at an angle to the camera rather than straight on – why do we have to be at an angle?”
This made me pause.
Well, first off, I answered, you don’t have to be at an angle, but most (women in particular) are very concerned with getting the most flattering image possible and placing you at an angle to the camera tends to achieve that more than a straight on shot does.
She looked at me.
So I continued (somewhat derailed)… “We’ll do a variety and you can see which you like best .”
At that point it seemed like she’d got her answer, but it also felt like it was less than satisfactory…and I felt somehow unnerved. I finished up the session, packed up my gear, and thought about it the whole way home.
Why was this bothering me?
Somehow I felt as though I’d been called out on something. Someone had pointed directly at the elephant in the room. And my response had been… thin.
I want to say, almost 100% of the time that women step in front of my lens, I get some kind of “list” of what they’re concerned or self conscious about. Men, in contrast, nearly 100% of the time step in front of my lens seemingly unconcerned.
It is heartbreaking.
A few days later I was listening to an episode of the “Play it Brave” podcast with photographer and business coach D’Arcy Benincosa, and she was interviewing photographer Rachel Larsen Weaver, and they dove into the shadow side of “flattering”.
Mostly when we use “flattering” in photography terms, we mean ‘how can we make her look thinnerRachel Larsen Weaver
This is true. So what is the larger underlying message here? I’m genuinely conflicted because I see both the light and dark side of this, and I want to make damn sure that while I show my clients at their best in their images, I don’t want to be perpetuating the idea that “skinny” is inherently what we’re all ultimately striving for, and that it’s the primary or only goal of the image.
This may seem like drilling down too deep, and I can appreciate that – we are exhausted by keeping up with all the ever changing “rules” and “do’s and dont’s”. But I am also deeply angered and disturbed by our culture’s obsessiveness with beauty standards for women. And it’s even more disturbing when women are selling that lie to other women. I don’t want to be a part of that – ever.
Women have always been jugglers. We bear the children (or not), we work within and/or outside the home, we still bear more of the domestic duties regardless of the other work we do, and yet despite all this we also somehow ended up being the ones who are targeted for the ageless-beauty-be-thin marketing mallet to the head (thank you patriarchy).
So here’s where I’ve landed – for the most part, although it’s an ongoing conversation that I welcome your thoughts on!
When I shoot brand photography for a client, I do want to show her at her best for the images she’ll use on her website/social media/book/PR materials…but what does that mean?
For me, it means showing up feeling the way you’d want to for something that’s really important to you. Rested, refreshed, excited, prepared, and dressed and presenting in a way that represents you at your most confident and expressing your true personality. I also often get the messy behind the scenes process shots that show the truth of what it takes to get that product or service delivered.
We can’t just pretend that we aren’t dealing with all the messaging, but we can acknowledge it and decide to carve another path – both for ourselves and the generations to follow. It’s messy. And it can be hard to get right. I encourage both myself and my clients to embrace radical self love and observe the way it changes how they show up.
Recognizing beauty and feeling beautiful is essential to our humanity and sensuality – but we each get to define what that is for ourselves, and integrating our mind and body in that is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.
Showing up as professional while still grappling with our insecurities is as real as it gets for entrepreneurs. But like anything else, the more we see of the truth of ourselves as a whole, the more accepted it becomes, and we start shifting that paradigm.
I’d love to hear where you’re at…what’s most important to you in an image of yourself?
PS. I highly encourage you to go listen to D’Arcy’s episode with Rachel. If nothing else, go to approx 55:27 minutes in and listen to her read one of her brief newsletters. It might make you cry (I did) but in the best possible way.