I look like a wreck in photographs. My arms are flabby, the small pooch beneath my waist is suddenly a gut, and my face turns a pasty shade of eggshell. But worst of all is that damned double chin — the one that makes me look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. What will all the high-school and college friends I just reconnected with on Facebook think? Will ex-boyfriends wonder why I've let myself go?
It's not that I'm ugly. When I do a once-over in the mirror before a night out — wearing my favorite blue tank with the plunging neckline, just a little smoke around the eyes, and a hit of blush — I'm generally satisfied. So why is it that the next day, when I'm flipping through the pics mass e-mailed from my friends' Shutterfly accounts, I look like I could pass for Jack Black's twin sister?
"What makes one person more photogenic than another is how light bounces off the face. It's in the bone structure," explains TRESemmé hairstylist Nathaniel Hawkins, who has worked with the aspiring mannequins on Project Runway for several seasons. "That's why some models or actresses who look relatively average in person can look so stunning in a photo."
"The camera often lies," says celeb photographer Patrick McMullan. "For the bad and for the good, there's always a subtle distortion." So, how do I distort my image for the better?
Hawkins suggests manipulating the hair — with layers and subtle highlights — to create shadows or brightness in the right areas of your face. In my case, with bangs, tucking my hair behind my ears is like opening the curtains and letting in the light. Luminosity also works wonders for the strands, creating dimension, depth, and the appearance of health — especially for us brunettes, as darker shades tend to appear dull on film.
"But if there's a big overhead light, you're not going to look pretty," insists designer and style guru Isaac Mizrahi. "You're going to look like a ghoul because it creates shadows under your eyes."
That's where the makeup comes in. I want to wear as little as possible yet still look fresh and polished. Makeup artist Lori Taylor of Smashbox — a brand that offers "Camera Ready" foundations and concealers — says it requires more than the three minutes of face-painting I was used to investing: spot foundation to neutralize redness and dark circles, a liberal sweep of peachy blush high on the cheekbones, a light lip gloss for that bee-stung effect, and a deep purple liner with black mascara to make my blue eyes pop.
I implement the tips and make my mother take practice shots. Huge improvement, but there's still the issue of the multiple chins. And the blubbery arms. And when did I get pregnant?
"Arms always look bigger than they are, just because they're slightly in front of the rest of you," says McMullan. "Some model types lean into the camera, and that makes the head look a little bigger. By default, the arms look smaller." (This explains the celebrity lollipop-head syndrome.)
To my surprise, everyone I consult about how to look slimmer recommends standing with one hand on your hip and turning your lower body at a three-quarter angle to the camera, la Paris Hilton. The problem is that you wind up feeling like Paris. Nonetheless, the trick actually works.
Also shockingly effective is jutting out your hips, as suggested by Matthew Rolston, a fashion and celebrity lensman who manages to make Angelina Jolie and Jack Nicholson look equally alluring. "Don't arch your back," he says. "It just makes your stomach look bigger. Round it instead, and tuck in your tummy at the same time." That said, you also have to pull your shoulders back and down to elongate your neck — and avoid looking like a hunchback.
Of course, bearing all this in mind while posing is hard work. The more thought I put into it, the more uptight I look in snaps.
"You'd drive yourself bonkers trying to perfect every detail," says McMullan. "You don't want to lose the spontaneity." Bearing that in mind, I've dropped some of the rules and learned to pose more, er, naturally. Although I have hung onto this one essential trick from Mizrahi: "Make sure you're always being shot from overhead," he says. "The next time you see a photographer sitting below you, looking up at your nostrils, kick him out of the way."
YOUR PHOTO CHEAT SHEET
HAIR & MAKEUP
- A peachy blush creates a healthy glow when placed high on cheekbones. To break up any semblance of a double chin, use a matte bronzer along the jawline.
- Dust a light iridescent shimmer just under the eyebrows, on the inside corners of eyes, and along cheekbones for definition.
- To add shine to hair, mix a silicone-based glossing serum with mousse for styling.
- Highlights around the hairline should be one shade lighter than your natural color to amp up shine.
- Avoid light colors or anything shiny on areas of your body that you want to detract from.
- To help thin out your face, tilt your head slightly up and forward.
- If you're sitting, cross your legs to cut the apparent width of your body in half, then lean slightly forward.
- In group shots, avoid standing at the end — that person always looks heavier.