Heck, it's only a touch-up


Many countries require manufacturers to place health warnings on tobacco and alcohol products or on processed foods containing genetically modified ingredients. But for several years now, France's parliament has been mulling over the idea of requiring warning labels on manipulated or digitally-enhanced images used in advertisements or product labels.

Supporters of the proposal want warnings to say something to the effect, "Image retouched to modify the physical appearance of this person." A fine would be imposed for violations. And of course, the advertising industry is up in arms, arguing that such rules undermine the attraction of "perfectly photographed people". Many advertisers could care less that confusing an enhanced photo with the real thing is misleading.

So, what about my image?
OK, so we're being taken for a ride by the advertising and marketing industries. We're pretty much aware of that. However, what about asking yourself whether you are taking people for a ride by the image you put out? Do you project your real and authentic self? Or do you try to persuade the world that you're somebody you're not?

Here are four short scenarios around "self-enhanced" images. Do any resonate with you?

First, physically. How do I dress and carry myself? Am I enhancing myself in some way? What do my clothes (and what I wear underneath my clothes), my accessories, and my posture say about me - and how does this image sync up with who I am inside? What kind of persona am I trying to project? And why? Am I appearing successful when I'm not or unsuccessful when I am? Am I "puffed up" when, in reality, I feel lost, unsafe or insecure?

Second, mentally. Do I enhance my image by projecting a walking "Trivial Pursuit" or "Jeopardy" persona, a know-it-all, a faux intellectual who is always spouting facts and others' ideas but who never has an original thought of my own? Do I use my intellect as a shield against allowing others in?

Third, emotionally. Am I projecting a happy-go-lucky persona when, inside, I am unhappy, sad, depressed, angry, jealous, resentful or ashamed? Am I projecting a quiet, silent-type, a "go-along-to-get-along" accommodating, compliant persona when inside I disagree, or want to have my voice and be heard?

Fourth, spiritually. Do I project a chameleon-type personality, espousing others' values and causes when they go against my inner core values? Do I engage in the art of the "put-down," gossip or bullying even though deep down I know it's inappropriate? Do I project a "faux" spirituality?

False expectations and living in a parallel world
Enhancing our own image is based on the false expectation that projecting the enhanced, "Photoshopped" version of me will lead to acceptance, recognition, approval and love. But these expectations always lose their allure and, in the end, reflect the unenhanced "me". When that happens - if it hasn't happened already – how will you react?

Some questions for self-reflection

  • In what ways do you allow your real self to show up? And how do you suppress your real self through enhancement?
  • Would people close to you describe you as being "authentic?"
  • Are you aware you enhance your image? What does that get you?
  • Do you ever long to be "real" with anyone? What prevents your real-ness?
  • What was being "real" like when you were growing up? Were you around "real" people?
  • Do you ever give away your power, your voice or your real-ness? How does that make you feel?
  • Can you envision a world where people are real and there's no need for enhancement?

Living a life that is a minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, person-to-person conflict between expectations and reality is a fundamental source of unhappiness. Not only that, living a Photoshopped life is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting.

The enhanced version and the negative
So what consequences do you experience from putting out a fake persona? One major issue is that choosing to be enhanced rather than authentic means we never get to work on ourselves, we never mature and develop and never experience real self-fulfillment. And, sadly, the enhanced version says, deep down - and we all know it - "I" don't exist.

"Dead Man Walking" was the title of a popular movie. Isn't that who we project when we enhance our "photo" and present it to the world as being real? Is that the title of the enhanced image that reflects how you live your life?

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.