Let’s get one thing clear: even through its changes in my 40s, I am quite fond of my face. I manage a blurry smile at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning. I moisturise and use sunscreen. And I love how I catch glimpses of my much-missed mother in it, more and more with each passing year. But despite this, being in the hands of the image experts is a powerful, powerful drug that can make you forget the essentials.
I loved getting my professional portrait done. I mean, come on: you are pampered by a hair and makeup artist who remarks on the beauty of your skin/eyes/earlobes and then proceeds to bring out the best in you. Then comes the photography session, where you get to pretend you’re Cindy Crawford (albeit – ahem – a few dress sizes up) and pose and smile for a photographer who snaps away while telling you you’re the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen. (Disclaimer: the photographer in question was, in fact, my lovely husband. So he’s supposed to say that kind of thing – even if he has photographed models before.) I like to think I have depths and facets, at least on a good day, but still… it’s heady stuff.
When it was time to grade the photographs I chose, I issued the edict: NO PHOTOSHOP. NO FILTERS.
Now… I’d like to take some credit for being virtuous here, but I need to point out that it was incredibly tempting to have my husband Photoshop and filter me into virtual perfection. As much as I love my portrait, I know that when I put it next other, more doctored portraits, mine isn’t as polished, smooth, or soft. So at that point, after I’d been primped and flattered into this new queen-like state by makeup artist and photographer, I was thinking, “A little bit more won’t hurt.”
Except, of course, that it would. First, I can’t be banging on about the psychological effect of Photoshopped women’s images in the media and then go ahead and do the same thing to myself. And second, and more importantly, I can’t be obliterating what is essentially my story from my face.
The tweaking that professionals do to portraits gives us one thing: uniformity. Sameness. But this pursuit of sameness also destroys something precious and individual: the story.
Branding is, even at its most genuine, a construct. (It has to be, because there is no way you can present everything about you and your company down to its finest minutiae – you’d bore people to tears, even if you managed to forced them to stick around that long.) But when creating this construct, what are you aiming for? Something that reflects you, or something that reflects what people expect? It’s fine if you choose to go for the latter; just understand that when this happens, you will find yourself in the world of uniformity and sameness. The world of business, and the world in general, is full of people and who present themselves as what others expect, and you will be one of legion. But what if you choose to construct something that reflects you?
Here’s what you need to do: NO PHOTOSHOP. NO FILTERS. It’ll be you. You at your best, sure, but still with visible bumps and shadows and imperfections: the little things that differentiate you from the same-same legion. This is your story, writ large in your communications and your brand.
It’s risky. You are at your most vulnerable, because you’re holding your real entity up to scrutiny. It takes courage to stand apart.
But as risky as it is, it’s worth the leap of faith, because this is what happens when your story is genuine: connection. Stories are as effective as they are because they connect us, and they connect us because they humanise us. We don’t get that sense of connected humanity because we’re all the same, but because we’re diverse beings all having a human experience. It is one of those contradictions in life that when you honestly present your story in all its faulty human glory, rather than being shunned, you are embraced. You are embraced, by other faulty humans.
If you’re still not willing to take the risk, and you’re still tempted to Photoshop your story so that it’s like everyone else’s, get this: that story is already being told, countless times a day, by countless people, all over the world. In the meantime, you real story languishes untold. If you don’t tell it, who will? And if you don’t tell it, what connections will you miss?