Retouching History

An unretouched photo, left, and a "makeover" version, right.

Photo: Courtesy of PicWash

If you could take your summer photos and give yourself a better appearance—take a little jiggle off the upper arm, maybe create a tighter tummy—would you? It’s the premise behind a service called PicWash Slim. You upload your photo to the PicWash’s Web site and $15 and two days later, you get your photo back, “Extreme Makeover” style. Graphic artists have slimmed down your thighs, smoothed cellulite and trimmed your waist, supposedly while keeping the look “natural.”

Sure, magazines have been working this kind of magic for years on celebrities, who always look 15 years younger and 15 pounds thinner on covers than they are in real life. And I’m not above using the anti-red-eye function on a digital camera; no one wants to look satanic in a party pic.

But photos are supposed to capture a moment in time, right? Part of the fun of looking back at these moments is the “wow, check out my perm” or “boy, I had put on a few pounds. This photo is why I went on Weight Watchers.”

And photos are archival. Later in life, we look at images of our younger selves and marvel at, rather than criticize, the appearance we once had.

So what do you think? By altering our photos, are we cheating ourselves? Are we both lying to posterity and living in denial in the present? Or, is this a little harmless fun?