Answering my own questions since 2001

Photoshopping Your Partner in Christmas Cards

A friend of mine emails with an amusing ethical conundrum. With her permission and assurance of anonymity (the names are changed to protect the innocent), here it is:

I’ve just done a photo shoot with Clarence for pics to send out with Christmas cards, and I am feeling guilty as all get-out because I used Photoshop to straighten Clarence’s teeth. I am dying for some third-party input. Is it bad to alter your loved one’s facial features so they look more cosmetically attractive in the annual Christmas card photo? Is it less bad if I add the fact that I reshaped my own eyebrows?

In a follow-up email, she goes on to explain:

The question is not so much about whether it’s okay to alter your photos, but more whether it’s offensive to correct your loved ones’ dental work…without asking them. Whitening wasn’t actually required, but I filled in a bit of a gap where one tooth is kind of turned crooked. His crooked teeth are a distinctive part of him, but the corrected version looks quite good… er, better. I just wonder if this is the height of vanity and I am falling victim to the bombardment of commercial messages that say teeth should look perfect. And, since the loved one in question is out of town at the moment, what kind of reception should I expect from him in the matter when he does arrive home to find that I want to order prints of this altered photo to include in this year’s Christmas cards?

And, would it be more acceptable if I had done it to myself? I should point out that I did do some cosmetic pixel work on myself, fixing an eyebrow which was thoroughly cocked up by pulling a sweater over my head just before the shot was taken. I didn’t, however, change any permanent facial feature of my own. And there, as they say, is the rub.

I told her not to sweat it. Every single photo that ever gets published gets the crap photoshopped out of it. So, why not one’s Christmas cards?

As for your signficant other’s response to a little aesthetic modification? That’s harder to call. To rely on a stereotype, if the genders were switched, I wouldn’t dream of doing this. It’s a variation of the wrong answer to the “do I look fat in this” question, and fraught with danger. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t mind it if somebody else ‘straightened up’ my photo, though it might make me think twice about the feature they were fixing.

6 Responses to “Photoshopping Your Partner in Christmas Cards”

  1. Chris

    Ah, another potential problem that I’ll never have to deal with due to my general disdain of all things christmas (cards, decorations, pointless gifts, etc.).

    For anyone out there thinking of getting me a present, make it cash or something handmade.

  2. sxKitten

    It’s an interesting dilemma. I was going to say it’s a new one, brought on by technology, but on second thought I suspect cosmetic alterations have been the stock in trade of portrait artists for centuries.

    I have to agree with Darren that if someone photoshopped some element of my face, I’d start fretting about that feature. Having said that, however, I’d love to be able to photoshop my nose straight. It has a curve that isn’t particularly obvious in person, but stands out quite markedly in most photos. I wasn’t even aware of it until I fell in love with a photographer.

  3. harp

    I’d say that the medium of taking a photo (analog or digital) introduces it’s own anomalies such as shiny skin or red eye, and that “add 10 pound” cliche can sometimes be true, so why not use technology to tweak the appearance as long as it isn’t overtly done? I white up my teeth and get rid of flash reflection in photos all the time and see nothing wrong with it. If I say, made myself blonde or something then maybe it’d be weird though…

  4. daryl

    there is nothing wrong with making something appear better than it actually is.

  5. Julie Leung: Seedlings & Sprouts

    Christmas and holiday posts

    At one point I had planned to weave together some of my favorite holiday posts into one piece, but now I’ve collected too many links. So I thought I’d simply list them all for others to enjoy… Christmas: Simplify and…

Comments are closed.