Dear Em & Lo,
While on our honeymoon, we took advantage of a rainy day to stay lazily in our beautiful hotel room all day. We crossed a boundary we hadn’t crossed before: nude photography! We’d been playing with the idea for a while, but I was a bit hesitant because I’m overweight and don’t always like how I look in pictures, and it felt like a huge step. After the wedding though, I was feeling like a million dollars and told my husband I was ready to go ahead. We made that big legal commitment, I was ready for the emotional commitment of nudes as well.
It was an incredibly sexy to be in front of my husband’s lens, he checked in often with me to see if I was still comfortable, we talked ideas through before going ahead. I felt very safe and in control. We also agreed I could veto any photo I didn’t like, and it would be immediately erased. We ended up with a set of pictures we both liked, and my husband was going to do some post-production in photoshop, to fix lighting problems and get rid of power outlets etc.
In most pictures, that is exactly what he did, but I recently found out that in some pictures, he also slightly photoshopped my body: he made my upper arms and thighs a bit slimmer, smoothed out my love handles, minimized cellulite on my bum. It’s not extreme: I don’t suddenly look like a supermodel or anything. It’s just a slightly glamorized version of me, but I still can’t help feeling hurt and confused. Yes, the pictures look a bit nicer, but I was very happy with how I looked in the originals.
I know my husband adores me, but I suddenly feel like I have to compete with a digital version of myself and I’m afraid I won’t live up to the challenge. I am working on losing weight (have been for a while) but weight loss isn’t like photoshop: you can’t target offending points and trim those and keep other spots as they are. I think I’ll still have slightly flabby arms when I’m slimmer and I might just lose the fat in the wrong places…
How do I get my self-confidence back? How do we get past this?
Thanks for your advice,
Oh, man. Serious honeymoon period buzz kill. We are so sorry that something that started off so wonderfully — hot monogamy! breaking taboos together! loving your naked body! — ended up hurting you so much.
Your husband sounds like one of the Good Ones. He made you feel sexy in front of his lens, he made you feel comfortable, he made you feel safe, and he made you feel in control. That’s the million-dollar combination — no wonder you felt like a million bucks! And then he went and fucked it all up with a little Photoshop. But given that he’s one of the Good Ones — we’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that he is — we’re convinced his intentions were good.
He wasn’t trying to make you feel bad about yourself — he thought he was doing something nice for you. And he wasn’t trying to make you look the way he wishes you looked — he was trying to make you look the way he thinks you wishes you looked. Stupid fucking women’s magazines/celebrity anorexics/looming billboard advertisements. They are a hundred times more to blame than your husband is. Remember, he took the original pictures. He asked you to get naked. He married you. He’s turned on by you. That way you felt under his lens? That’s more real than anything else. Unless you catch him jerking off to your digitally altered picture every night instead of ever jumping your bones, we’re pretty sure he prefers the real, live, fleshy you.
If it makes you feel better, you’re in good company. Every single actress — even the underfed, underweight, seriously malnourished ones — get Photoshopped on magazine covers. Even the mutantly, impossibly gorgeous ones. Even the ones who make public statements about women’s body image and how fucked up Photoshop is (hi Kate Winslet) — even they get Photoshopped. Which doesn’t make it okay, it’s just a reminder of how insidious this is. Be glad that you don’t have a job that requires you to starve yourself, shun all carbs, and then, after all that, STILL get Photoshopped on magazine covers. Be grateful for ice cream and french fries and sexy curves and bones that don’t break under the weight of making love.
We know it seems like your digitally altered image is a figment of your husband’s imagination, someone he wishes you could be, and someone you now feel like you’re in competition with. (Em sometimes looks back at her high school yearbook photo and is astounded at the golden, glowing girl she sees there. And then she remembers how the studio photoshopped out her raging acne — and she is touched by how brightly and optimistically that girl smiled despite the acne.) But people are constantly presenting glamorized versions of themselves — online personal ads, for example. Or the way we are at happy hour drinks with co-workers. Or the images and status updates we choose to post to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram et al. Or the way we look on a date night. The great thing about marriage is that you get it all — you get to live with each other’s glamorized selves, AND you get to live with the real selves. Your husband isn’t choosing between the two, or favoring one over the other — he wants it all.
By the way, in a slight defense of your husband: Nude photos are tough. The wrong angle or the wrong lighting can be disastrous, even for Angelina Jolie (okay, maybe for everyone EXCEPT her). This is why we often recommend people use Polaroids (or Polaroid-style filters) and candlelight and even an artsy blurred approach. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little artistic license in the nude-photo department.
But. There’s nothing wrong with cellulite, either, and we hope your husband realizes this. Have you told him how hurt you were by his amateur Photoshopping? You should. Be kind and gentle, but tell him. Tell him how much you loved the original photos, and how much it meant to you that he took them. Chances are, he had no idea his actions would upset you so. You’re still in the honeymoon period, after all! The way you get past this is to be honest with each other, to listen to each other, and to be kind to each other. Also, to lust after each other!
As to how you can regain your confidence: Be patient. Accept your husband’s compliments. Initiate sex. Work out* (for the psychological boost as much as anything — it will fill you with energy and confidence). Be more patient. Take more pictures of each other (we highly recommend photo filters!). Make a saucy video together. Google celebrities who have been Photoshopped. (Okay, we realize that isn’t so high-minded or mindful, but sometimes it helps.) Take up yoga. Write in a gratitude journal each day, focusing on your sex life — focus on what you love about your marriage, your husband, your body. Have more sex. Enjoy ice cream and french fries.
Em & Lo
* Sure, weight loss alone isn’t like Photoshop in terms of targeting the spots that bother you — that’s what exercise is for! (Combined with portion control.) And everyone has time for a 7-Minute Workout each day.