Beyond picture-perfect

Photoshop can make a pretty face, but it hides the features that show the joy and care of a life fully lived.

It had been a while since I'd had a professional photograph taken of myself. When the photographer put my mug up on the screen, I was shocked to see how much I'd aged. It's not as if I don't look in mirrors, but viewing the enlarged, high-resolution head shot made me cringe.

That's when he told me not to worry; he could fix just about any flaw I wanted him to. In fact, he asked how many years I'd like to erase. Five? Ten? Fifteen? Did I want my teeth whiter, my hair smoother, the lines around my eyes erased? The joys of Photoshop were at his disposal – and mine.

Out of curiosity, I asked him to make me look "refreshed." With a few skilled strokes of the mouse, my eyes looked less tired, the crease around my mouth softened and the stray, wiry gray hairs blended into my hairline. I was enthralled. So I asked him to take me back about 15 years.

When that much younger woman smiled back at me, it took a moment to catch my breath. Fifteen years – gone. It was a creepy sight, though. Repelling as much as it was alluring. The truth is, I was never that pretty, that youthful, that cover-girl plastic.

In spite of our youth-worshiping culture, I believe that a woman's face is interesting because of its years. The original photo shows a woman who has laughed a lot, raised teenage girls, run a marathon, cried into her pillow, celebrated, mourned, and lived life fully.

The enhanced version didn't so much take me back to a better time as it did make me appreciate the present.

It also made me realize that I don't see a middle-aged woman in the mirror. Sure, I get a glimpse of her now and then. Sometimes even a flash of, "Hey, there goes my mother." But I don't really see her. I'm too preoccupied with things that don't require mirrors.

And I've always believed in the quaint notion that true beauty shines from within. My teenage daughters laugh at the thought that anyone actually believes in such a concept as internal beauty.

But I cling to the concept that intellect, compassion, wit, and passion can transform any combination of features into beautiful ones. And I don't think that photographs should be manipulated to disguise flaws.

The air-brushed, altered celebrities and supermodels gracing magazine covers are as distorted and fabricated as the version I saw smiling from the photographer's screen.

Nice face but I wouldn't want to know her.

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