Sunday, October 4, 2015

What's Real?

It was a surprise comment, from an occasional reader of my blog, off the topic and appended to a recent blog post. I didn't publish it on the post because it didn't address, even remotely, the theme of that post.

But the comment made me think because it was a rather personal criticism and it raised an issue that hasn't come up before the past few weeks in this and a few less strongly voiced comments. I wondered if others might have the same thoughts, still unvoiced.

This is the comment:

This is totally off topic. I used to be a reader of your blog a long time ago. I was used to your 2011 photo. I have to admit that when I came back to read your blog today I was completely shocked by your new 2015 photograph. At first I thought you had plastic surgery until I read the caption under your new 2015 and how you had a photographer to the stars do your photo. As a photographer myself I am shocked at the massive use of photo touch up software he did to your photo, especially your neck and the false whitening of your teeth. For a medical person who advises people to own up to their age and who they truly are, I found the whole matter hypocritical. You may think you look good but to my eye you're just another phony like those celebrities you imagine yourself to be. Shame on you! So disappointed. You're fooling nobody except your vane self. on Envisioning the Future with Your Adult Child

I was surprised by the vehemence about the photo, which is visible postage stamp size on the side of this blog, in a time when there are so many truly important issues to spark our outrage. And I was puzzled: I hadn't discussed the new photo or the photographer on this blog and only very briefly on Facebook and Google+.

My dear blogging friend Dee Ready suggested that perhaps the reader fears change in her own life and is bothered when she sees change in others, even situations that seem inconsequential, like a changed appearance in a photo. What's real to this person may be the past, not a changed present.

This reader's comment did make me think: what IS real? Especially when we're looking at the life of another, so much that seems to be real and true may not be.

In my case, the appearance changes between these two professional pictures that the reader referenced -- both of which were enhanced by a makeup artist and by photographic retouching -- actually reflect some changing realities in my life: I'm happier, healthier and lighter now than I was in 2008.

But the comment also misses a point about professional pictures.

"2011" Photo (taken in 2008)

2015 Photo

For most of us who are still working in our later years, there is the challenge to radiate vitality as well as demonstrating a certain level of expertise in technology and the social media. In my efforts to revitalize my professional writing career, under the guidance of a new literary agent and an expert media consultant, I have been challenged to update the "platform" so necessary for non-fiction writers today.

For many of us, there is a certain disconnect physically between our personal and professional lives. Personally, I live in shorts, capris and T-shirts, rarely wear make-up, have let my real white hair emerge, am frank about my age and happy to be seventy, a privilege denied many I have loved. That is the real me.                                                      

Professionally, it's not so simple. When seeing patients, I dress in business attire and put on a little makeup. When having a professional picture taken -- as opposed to an informal snapshot with family or friends, many of which I have posted on this blog -- heavier makeup and some retouching is part of the package. It is not so much vanity as professional necessity. That is also the real me.

We are all blends of our personal and professional identities.

We look one way while hanging around the house with family (and few of us, I imagine, do the Donna Reed thing in heels and pearls) and quite another at work or at a special social event. There are fun snapshots and then there are business and professional head shots. They are all real, all us, just in different parts of our lives.

My most recent professional picture -- taken for my new website -- is actually more authentic than the one it replaced.

In the 2008 picture, I was still coloring my hair.  A makeup artist applied even heavier makeup -- to cover the dark circles and facial splotches that were due to my working three jobs, not getting enough sleep and eating on the run.  The photographer then -- also one specializing in actor headshots -- chose to shoot the photos at 9:30 at night, feeling that darkness combined with a touch of artificial lighting would be kinder to my aging face. And there was even more retouching to that photo than there was to the current one.

In contrast, the new photo was taken at high noon in late July at an outside mall in Scottsdale, AZ with the temperature 108 degrees and the humidity high. I was wearing a T-shirt and my hair was its natural color and the cut my typical wash and wear style. My lifestyle is less frantic these days. I'm in a much happier phase of my life and that shows in my face. So does continuing weight loss. A professional makeup artist gave me a more polished look for the camera this time around as well. There was a bit of -- but not massive -- retouching around the neck. Personally, I'm not ashamed of my neck. Professionally, an aging neck is not an asset. This was a professional picture, taken as part of a campaign, not as a wanna-be celebrity, but to revitalize my professional "platform/image" so that I can continue to earn a living as a writer.

Professional pictures -- like professional clothes -- are necessary at times. The photo is on my blog because, even though I started the blog as a personal pleasure and adventure -- and it still is -- it is now also part of my professional platform. It's a matter of my personal and professional pursuits crossing paths.

The new picture isn't an attempt to fool readers. I couldn't, even if I wanted to, Most of you who read my blog regularly have seen photos of me in all the aspects of my life -- from making a speech to lounging shoeless on a patio with my brother and sister to hugging a beloved cat and now to posing for a professional picture.

And, as you experience in all aspects of your own lives as well, all of it is real.


  1. Well, if you look at it the way your reader did, then ANY make-up and any dressing to maximize your assets and conceal problem areas would all be hypocritical too. It seems like part of getting older it being able to choose which of those things we want to do, and which we don't. And we have only ourselves to answer to - not anyone else, including readers. If your photos were touched up, that's no different than wearing concealer to hide dark circles under your eyes or a scarf to conceal a scar you're uncomfortable with. But the comment says volumes about the person judging those things. How sad.

  2. I find it so bizarre that someone would be offended by your photograph. What possible impact would your photo have on her life? Very strange.
    So, did she want to change your photo? Would that make her more inclined to read your blog differently?
    I think there might be a bit of envy at play here. Also are you sure this was a legitimate reader and not some kind of spam comment? I noticed there was a link at the end of the comment. Was that something she added to the end of her comment? If so it's a sure indication of spam.
    Anyway, I think you and your photo are beautiful!
    By the way, I have to admit, I do a little photo shop touch up myself now and then.

  3. Dr. McCoy, you look beautiful in both pictures and both reflect not just professionalism, but an inner beauty that shines through. I suspect you already know this but you owe no one an explanation on either picture. I too am amazed at the vitriol directed at you as a result of the pictures and suspect the poison pen writer is an person who is not secure in themselves and is envious of you. Regardless, there was no need to make that comment at all. You are right that professional photos are needed. I am an LCSW and the photos taken at my work place are very different than the ones at home, in jeans and tee shirts with little make up. You've posted many such pictures yourself. You owe no one an explanation but again, I'm shocked someone would write you something so mean and petty. BTW I love your blog although I rarely post. Regards, Teri

  4. Comment under discussion closes with "your vane self", which spelling suggests a broad blade attached to a windmill, propeller, or turbine --none of which are in evidence. Nor have I ever detected a vain self in your posts. It's just a new photo, a nice one. I like it.

  5. Oh My Gosh....I had not read that 'other' comment sent by an ANGRY person for sure... That's one thing about blogging and other social media outlets... People feel as if they have the right to say whatever they want to say no matter how it makes the other person feel. That comment is more about HER than it will ever be about you. That person would never have said that to your face the way she did... It's EASY to write ugly things and we see them all of the time now that social media is such a big thing. I'm sorry. Your professional photo is fantastic... You are a beautiful woman --so why not show it off...

    I have a lot of trouble with people who call themselves 'photographers' --and then have the right to criticize what someone else does. I had someone criticize one of my photos once because I had written on it (to use as a header explaining where the photo was taken). This person said that I should NEVER write on a photo since it takes away from the beauty... GADS---I didn't get upset (MUCH)--but did write her back and said that I just love taking pictures and sharing them. I don't consider myself a professional photographer and never will. It's just a JOY for me to snap and share!!!!!

    People are crazy ---but of course, not you and me.... ha ha


  6. Talk about a lot of meat in a post. I don't know where to begin and I'm sure this comment won't be halfway coherent because my brain is rolling around like crazy with this one! But first, when I saw the photo, I thought how lovely you looked and how I admired that you do what I haven't been able to yet -- go to your gray which really looks youthful on you! And that big smile tells me you were having a great time when they took that photo, that you felt great, looked great and life was good. Professional reasons or not, that's what I love to see!

    Second, I know what you mean about the "how you look professionally" from personal experiences that have happened to me because of my being on the telly. When I was very ill, even though I was out and about I rarely wore make-up because I'd lose it so often it was sort of pointless. If I was at the store people would look at me oddly and be very tentative when they asked if I was me. Unlike normally, when they just knew. And I knew what they were thinking and what they were saying when I was out of ear shot. If you're in the public eye there is expectation and you can live up to that while being authentic.

    We change in time. I'll see the obituary of the 85 year-old with a photo from when they were probably 45. I'm inclined to think I'd want to do the same! The point is, we present ourselves as we either want to be or must be or are and sometimes all three things are exactly the same. When I look at that photo, I see a vibrant, authentic woman, happy and comfortable with herself. And gee, after reading you all these years, I believe that's what you are.

    You owed no explanation but I hope this discussion raises an issue that in itself merits discussion. (And frankly, I found the whole thing fascinating because I just don't know how to do that photo touch up thing -- it's been on the to-learn list for too long!)

  7. Wow, I am stunned. What a crude, rude and unattractive person that commenter represents. They are in serious need of a personality touch up. That is one thing I hate about social media--- the cloak of invisibility people hide behind to be mean. You are looking great lady and that is from seeing the candid shots you often post. Keep the grey and keep that lovely smile.

  8. I just commented on another post that I liked your new photo. I haven't been here for awhile and I noticed it right away. I didn't recognize you at first, but realized that you were thinner and your hair was now white. Once I realized that, I could see it was you. It was obviously a professional portrait, but a bright, friendly one. I admire what you have done to move forward professionally. It's a great photo...keep it and keep pushing forward. I'm your peer group and I'm proud to see other senior women continue to contribute and grown. You're a role model for what retirement and our senior years can be.

  9. The comment puzzled me, especially when I looked at both head shots. Then I occurred to me that the photos had nothing to do with anything. The person that wrote the comment must have broken their glasses and they were having a really bad day! Nothing more and nothing less.

    Both the photos were perfect for the time they were taken. Your hair is gorgeous. Don't change a thing!


  10. Wow! I personally think the comment is so far from the truth. Your new profile shot shows that you have definitely changed over the last 7 years and demonstrates that you are incredibly at peace with the changes. I love that you are rocking your natural grey hair. Your current picture is very realistic and certainly does not show evidence of being "touched up".
    Keyboard warriors are rife in the land of blogging and social media... sad but true!