Before I start I'll tell you something: what I'm writing here is not at all what I intended to write before the images were produced. So I'll do something a little odd with this post and tell you the ending first:
...I now actually like my real, ageing, 40 year old face, with all its crinkles, creases and uneven skin tone. I never in a million years thought I'd end up happier with the way my face is ageing than before I went onto Photoshop and picked up that over-used, over-hyped tool we know as Airbrush.
I'd planned to do this post for a while, and I was completely unprepared for the results and my conclusions. I feel really weirded out and quite repulsed by the image I thought I would love, and feel as if I've discovered something about myself I never, ever knew. So I'll try and explain those feelings as best I can...!
The concept with quite simple: taking inspiration from the (mostly) heavily photoshopped pictures in advertising campaigns featuring models and celebrities, I'd always wondered what my face would look like if I gave it the same treatment. No wrinkles, a smooth, even skin tone, no dents or creases or jowly loose bits around my jawline. Beautifully clear, bright eyes and flush cheeks, perfectly arched eyebrows and a sculpted nose. The results in my head looked amazing, just the way I wanted to look in real life. I'd been really looking forward to seeing how I would appear and just how "perfect" I could make myself look. So of course I had to start with an untouched, close-up photo of myself - this would be the scary bit, to put such a close-up of my face on the web, but here I am in all my crinkly glory:
click on the picture to see it reeeeeally close up and high res.
I wouldn't do it without make-up of course (I'm not a masochist), and although it wasn't terrible, I still looked at the photo and just saw wrinkles and creases everywhere. In other words, this was the best I could possibly look in real-life, in natural daylight, but without any help from that cosmetics industry's favourite, Photoshop.
Now don't get me wrong - I do think I've aged kind of okay for a 40 year old. There are things I do like about my face: I strangely quite like the crows' feet round my eyes; I also love my freckles, and my cheekbones have become more pronounced since getting older. I've never smoked, I wear sunscreen and have a reasonably healthy diet and lifestyle, so it's all aided a reasonable level of satisfaction with my ageing face.
So I sat at the computer with the untouched photo, and started perfecting my face toward what I thought would be that gorgeous, smooth look I'd been thinking about for so long.
But what I ended up with was more fascinatingly repulsive than I could possibly have ever imagined:
click on the picture to see it close up and high res.
This face - and I do not exaggerate - totally gives me the heebie jeebies. While I don't think the art direction department at L'Oreal are going to call me any time soon asking me to airbrush their latest wrinkle cream campaign (I have gone overboard with the smoothing out but that was the point), it is still the creepiest, scariest-looking picture I have ever seen of myself.
Nothing about the shape of my face or my features has been changed except the tiniest "lift" to my jawline on the right and some tweaking to make my hair a little more perfect. I simply cloned the wrinkles away, lightened the shadow areas, and airbrushed to oblivion. Then I whitened my eyes, perfected my eyebrows and smoothed the lipstick a little. And with each stage, I got more and more creeped out, all the time looking back at the original and starting to like her a little more, and this new person a little less. I didn't expect that to happen at all.
So my conclusion about the airbrushed adverts? Not for me. I've proved to myself it is too easy to make yourself look like a totally different person, one that's not even real - a plastic, waxy version of oneself. Although I always knew deep down of course the makeup adverts were touched up (and then some!), I still looked longingly at the beautiful, smooth skin and sparkling eyes and wondered if that particular brand of foundation/mascara/lipstick would make me look just as gorgeous.
So in contrast to my original expectations, I now actually like my real, ageing, 40 year old face, with all its crinkles, creases and uneven skin tone. I never in a million years thought I'd end up happier with the way my face is ageing than before I went onto Photoshop and picked up that over-used, over-hyped tool we know as Airbrush.