Women want to feel beautiful. That’s different from being beautiful, looking beautiful or being seen as beautiful. It’s also different from feeling, looking or being seen as “sexy”. Feeling beautiful is something that comes very much from within.
Most women don’t feel beautiful most of the time. Men see this a lot. Unfortunately most of them are entirely ill-equipped to help. If you’re male, you’ve probably witnessed this scene. Your favourite woman looks gorgeous, but she doesn’t feel it. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, not least pregnancy & childbirth, when she feels like a beached whale, those flowing locks of beautiful hair just get in the way, and those bounteous boobs are no longer remotely sexual. As a result, she does one of two things. Either she withdraws, or she over-compensates. She dresses down, stops looking after her appearance, doesn’t want to go out, and the one that really hurts is the loss of sex-drive. As a man you feel so helpless, so utterly useless, and alas you’re apt to take it personally. It must be you. She doesn’t love you any more. Maybe she’s having an affair. At the other extreme, she becomes totally obsessed with her appearance, and end up wearing far too much makeup, dressing in clothes that really don’t suit her and can even appear rather slutty, and worst of all she projects it all back on you. You’re a slob, you’ve got fat, you don’t love her any more.
In either of these situations you need help. Both of you do.
Of course it’s not just women in relationships who suffer from a lack of self-esteem. You can be left feeling like nothing after the break-up of a relationship – particularly the woman of a certain age left for a younger woman. Teenage girls can be affected in all sorts of ways, and it’s not just the self-harmers who have major crises of confidence. Parental break-ups, an unhappy mum, a seemingly uncaring dad, general family issues – all are triggers, not just the big stuff like rape or abuse.
The Unilever/Dove Campaign for Real Beauty thing petred out after initial promise, probably because everyone saw it as just a big public relations exercise. There have also been quite a few programmes on television that attempt to address the problem. Dear old Trinny and Susannah had a good go in What Not To Wear, but their approach was never holistic enough to my mind. But Gok Wan has really hit the nail on the head with How To Look Good Naked on Channel 4 – where real women with real bodies and real confidence crises are seen going through a formulaic process which helps them to see themselves as they really are. It’s not difficult, and I hope the formula works long-term for all the women who appear on the programme, rather than being just a quick-fix for TV. I get that feeling about the ubiquitous photographic makeover sometimes – it’s like a sticking plaster for major organ failure. The only criticism I have is that sometimes the women could do with losing a few pounds if only for health reasons, and I hope the boost in confidence they get from the programme helps them achieve this long after the cameras have gone away.
Makeover: a service provided by some photographic studios where you get far too much makeup slapped on by the girl who answers the phone and then shoe-horned into a whole load of really cheesy poses for some photos which are heavily airbrushed and digitally altered and set in soft-focus before you’re sat down in front of them and made to buy them for far too much money with the aid of bright lights in your eyes and thumb-screws before being released into the open air gasping for freedom. OK but you get my point.
I don’t do makeovers like that. I hate the term makeover because it conjours up the aforementioned makeover studio monstrosity – but I have no idea what else to call what we do at Southdown Studio. I think all women are beautiful – and all I have to do is make them feel it, because then I can photograph it. With sensitively applied makeup, custom designed for your colouring and facial structure, you start to feel more confident. I help you choose items from your available wardrobe that do good things for your figure. When I take a photo you’ll like, and show you on the back of the camera, you’ll start to feel even more confident. I’ll help you achieve poses that show off your natural shape. It may begin to dawn upon you that you’re actually quite good-looking. You’ll spend the next hour or so with growing confidence, gradually feeling more beautiful. The results will be amazing – a complete transformation. Best of all you get to hold onto that feeling every time you look at the photos. You can look at them as often as you like for free, in the comfort of your own home, and without some pushy salesperson looking over your shoulder, breathing down your neck and pressurising you into buying them. When you do choose to buy a print or CD, it’s at reasonable prices and on your terms. The most important thing about my makeover photos though is that they’re generally in no need of airbrushing or digital enhancement – in other words instead of looking great once someone has completely altered your image, you look fantastic just from what the camera pointed at you has seen. Since the camera never lies, it simply must be true. Job done.
A girl came to see me recently. Her mum realised her daughter’s confidence was at rock-bottom, and brought her along for a makeover. The young lady started out terribly uncomfortable, and quite scared. She had been looking forward to the experience but now she was here in front of the camera with her professional makeup job, she felt quite intimidated. She told me that her boyfriend rarely compliments her, in fact quite the opposite, meaning probably that he calls her fat or ugly or worse. To me she wasn’t fat, or ugly, or particularly beautiful, but I knew this could change if only she started to feel different about herself. She said she wished she’d had a drink before she arrived. So I tried to help her to relax without alcohol. Deep breaths, a good line in distracting conversation, lots of questions about her. It’s like a date really, but without the intent. She started off not liking her images but then I changed to an unfamiliar angle. She immediately liked the photo and started to relax. Of course then it snowballed – she became more relaxed and confident with each iteration and eventually went for her last change of outfit, into the lingerie her mum had bought her for Christmas. Within minutes she was looking every bit the fifties pinup, like the tasteful but ever-so-slightly risqué classic Hollywood glamour photo, where the eyes draw you in seductively past the heaving bosom and the full red lips and hold you there mesmerised by her unquestionable beauty (regardless of the knowledge that the woman in the photo had a terrible personal life). You can see the change happening through the photos, and if you compare one of the earliest with one of the last, the difference is astounding – to the point where you might question if it’s the same girl. Needless to say, the girl loved the photos, bought loads, gained a major boost in her confidence, chucked the derogatory boyfriend, gave up smoking and now has something to hang onto whenever she’s not feeling so beautiful, to remind her how good she can feel AND look.
I’ve helped female friends feel better about themselves just by giving them a bit of time and attention, usually around the shops. Patiently sitting in a shop and commenting honestly but constructively as she tries on a few outfits, perhaps. Or chatting away to her as she chooses makeup colours. Basically chaps, forget the football and the pub sometimes and remember your lady needs a bit of preening, as do you. Girls can help each other out as well. Next time you go shopping, actually say what you think as your short-legged friend emerges from the changing room with short-legged turned-up low-waisted skinny jeans, flat shoes and a wide low-slung belt. Stop saying “oh yes that’s so cool on you” and try nudging her towards clothes that actually work for her figure. She’ll might just start doing the same for you, and before long we’ll hopefully end up with a far more happy, content and confident nation that has a proper understanding of what beauty really is.
If you’re in the Brighton or Sussex area, and would like to try my version of the makeover photoshoot experience, you’ll find Southdown Studio’s makeover services for Brighton & Sussex here.
Jon Silver is a Sussex photographer based in Brighton.