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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Picture perfect

We all like to exert control over our image, so why blame celebrities for their love of air-brushing?

It seems to be an immutable rule of this Internet age that if there is an embarrassing photo (or video) lurking some place in the virtual world, someone somewhere will find a way to leak it. And it is just as inevitable that these photos (or videos) will go ‘viral’; as in people all over the world will be clicking on them to view what was most certainly not meant for our eyes. Then, the chatter on social media will swirl out of control as everyone with a smartphone tries to out-smart the next guy with his one-liners. Columnists like myself will tut-tut about what voyeurs we have become (after taking a good look at the photos/videos, obviously; it’s research, don’t you know?). And then, we will move on effortlessly to the next such ‘scandal’.

And so, after Jennifer Lawrence – whose naked pictures, which she sent to her then-boyfriend, went spectacularly viral a few months ago – it was the turn of Cindy Crawford and Beyonce to suffer the ignominy of a ‘leak’ last week. And to add insult to considerable injury, unlike Jennifer who looked like a Greek goddess in her naked selfies, Cindy and Beyonce looked nothing like their usual selves in the photos that have probably been viewed a few billion times over by now.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Let’s put it this way, instead. Cindy and Beyonce looked exactly like their usual selves – but without the benefit of photo-shopping, air-brushing and sundry other techniques that glossy magazines and advertising agencies use to make women look picture perfect. So, like any other 48-year-old mother of two, Cindy – posing in black lingerie, fur coat and stylish hat – had a few stretch marks along her stomach while her thighs had a faint suggestion of cellulite to them. But that was nothing compared to poor old Bey, who had to contend with photos that showed a crop of acne under heavily-pancaked skin.

So far, so normal. That is what women look like, once they have lived a little (and pushed out a sprog or two). And acne could strike any of us any time (though it usually does just before an important party or, yes, a photo-shoot). So, what was the big deal about these photos being leaked on the net? Nothing at all, really.

And yet, when I looked at the pictures I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for the subjects. It is one thing to voluntarily release unflattering (relatively, of course, these ladies couldn’t look anything but gorgeous if they tried) photographs of yourself, either with a view to showing the world that nobody is as flawless as their public personas may suggest or to help other women who are struggling against the tyranny of perfection. But it is quite another to have such pictures released without your consent or even your knowledge, to have the control you exerted over your image for decades wrested away in a matter of seconds.

It is brave to release images of yourself to show the reality behind those glamour pictures that infest the media. But it is a violation to have pictures that show the ‘real’ you – or, for that matter, any pictures at all – released without your permission.

This is as true of celebrities as it is of ordinary folk like you and me. Which of us can say, hand to heart, that we haven’t done a bit of ‘work’ on pictures before posting them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever other social media site we use? We all delete unflattering pictures the moment after they are taken. We all use photo-shopping and airbrushing apps to the extent our skills allow. And rare is the picture that makes the cut without the judicious application of a filter or two. If a friend or family member tags us with an unflattering picture, we untag ourselves immediately and then harangue them to take the picture down (NOW, if you please!). And if they don’t, unpleasantness usually follows.

That’s the kind of control we exert on our image in the public domain. And that’s when we are not even public figures.

So, if we feel betrayed when ‘unauthorized’ pictures of us make it to social media, how do you think celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Beyonce – whose careers are predicated, in whole and in part, on how they look – feel when their un-retouched images are released and become the subject of public debate.

The truth is that none of us is happy to show her real face to the world. We don’t leave the house unless we have our ‘face’ on; the one we display to the world, with the help of concealers, eyeliners, lipstick, and maybe just the lightest touch of foundation. We bleach, we wax, we tweeze, we pluck, in an effort to improve on Nature’s work. Some of us even go so far as to use Botox, fillers, and other cosmetic procedures to keep the ravages of age at bay.

Nobody looks as good as they do in their Facebook profile pictures of their Twitter DPs (or indeed, in their column pictures!). And that’s fine. It is our inalienable right to present our best faces to the world. And each of us has the right to control our own image, both in the private and public domain.

So, why deny Cindy and Beyonce the control that we take for granted?

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