How “real people” irritate fashion people.

I’m in this issue of Womens Weekly (except in Qld)

Having your photograph taken is unnatural and weird.  When you’re not a model or an actress, magazine people refer to you as a ‘real person’ and would generally prefer to eat a box of tissues than take your photo. It’s nothing personal, you’re just…irritating. This is because you’re imperfect. Aesthetically displeasing. You have bits that sag or bulge and are out of proportion to your other saggy, bulgy bits. You have pores. You’re not a sample size. And – this is the worst part – you have opinions about what you want to wear and how you want to be portrayed.

Last month the Women’s Weekly came to my house for a shoot to go with an interview they’d done with me. Right before they arrived, there was an unfortunate potty situation, the details of which I will spare you. Suffice to say, there were things smeared around my lounge room that really didn’t belong there. Welcome to my gracious home.

It takes a village to take a photo. There’s the photographer with up to four assistants, digital operator, hair and make-up artist, stylist with assistant (sometimes two) and the art director. Add my three children and dog and it was like a house party except with muffins instead of vodka.

Overwhelmed, I retreated to my bedroom where the stylist was unpacking the clothes onto a portable rack. There, I awaited further instruction.

As a ‘real person’, the dance you do with a stylist and art director on a shoot is fraught. The power balance is delicate. They’re in charge of the pictures but they’re not the boss of you.  Notably, they are visual, aesthetic people. Lovely but visual. They don’t care who you are, what you do or how you like to wear your hair. Nor are they interested in the fact that you’ll need a chiropractor if you follow their command to “twist more to the left, lift your face to the light, chin down, front shoulder up, tilt your head the other way and cross your left leg at the back.”

It’s their job to get a great shot of you looking your best. Their vision of your best.

Often, they are correct. Frequently, we THINK we know what looks flattering on us but we’re simply in a rut. Or subjectively clueless. Stylists, photographers and art directors are paid to know what looks good. Models are paid to park their personal preferences and make like play dough, ready to be moulded by the crew. This makes life far easier for everyone except perhaps the model herself but remember the part about being paid? That.

Real people aren’t ever paid.  Usually they’re being photographed to illustrate a story about something they’ve done and here, where fashion meets real, worlds collide. Boom.

For example, stylists adore ball gowns worn with bare feet. They love the incongruity of this combination. The contrast. The IRONY. Oh the irony.


And so it was one hot weekday morning, I came to be wearing a full-length orange ball gown without shoes while lying horizontally on a steep grassy hill trying to smile serenely instead of rolling down it.

I did not complain however because I’m very passive on photo shoots. Partly, it’s because I have a mortal fear of everyone involved and the talents they bring. Mostly though, it’s because I loathe having my photo taken and tend to zone out, going to my happy place; one where I’m not standing in my control knickers waiting to be told what to wear.


Generally, this is an effective way to get through the boring bits of a shoot but the downside is I frequently find myself agreeing to silly things because I’m not concentrating. It’s only afterwards that I regain my voice and use it to call myself an idiot for not saying, “No, I’d rather not”.

On this particular shoot, there was more to come. “Um, the editor said something about your harem jumpsuit?” ventured the stylist uncertainly. “She wants you to do one picture in that?”  (Editors are a powerful presence on shoots, even though they’re back at the office. Everyone wants to please them.)

I was surprised by this request. Over the summer holidays, in a demented moment of heat exhaustion at Byron Bay markets, I’d bought a paisley sundress.  I didn’t have the will to try on but it was only $20. How bad could it be? Bad. Because it wasn’t a dress, it was a harem-pant jumpsuit with a poo-catcher crotch that hung below my knees. I’d posted a photo of it on my website (see it here) which editor Helen McCabe had obviously seen. Now she wanted me to model the offending item to amuse her vast audience.

“Oh, OK” I replied and obediently fetched it from the back of a drawer where it was scrunched into a ball. The brave stylist tried not to faint or cry as she gingerly handed it to her assistant for steaming. Steaming! Only later did the editor call me in fits of laughter, “I was JOKING about the jumpsuit. I can’t believe everyone took me seriously. Oh well, we’re using the shot.”

And they did.

But here’s something else you should know. Like every shoot I do, I asked that my photographs not be re-touched. The editor agreed. “Of course not” she said. “I understand”.

Smile and pose- the shoot for Australian Women’s Weekly

When we had dinner a week or so after the shoot, she told me that she had been waging a battle against her entire staff who had come into her office, one by one, throughout the week, begging to be allowed to alter the photos.

These are not bad people. These are simply passionate aesthetes. It drove them to distraction that there were lines on my face, shadows on my body, imperfections in the shots. Why wouldn’t I (and the editor) want the photographs to look as good as humanly possible? Except they would have been humanly IMPOSSIBLE because the images would have been created with a computer.

Helen held her ground.

I thank her for that. But when you flip through the magazine (if you’re in Queensland you won’t see the story because of expanded Cyclone Yasi coverage in that state), my shots DO look very different. I will admit, it’s difficult for your vanity to flick past pages of flawless people and then see yourself looking….natural. I think it’s important and I will continue to do it. I only wish more people would do the same. Instead, I am told most people who are photographed for magazines request EXTRA re-touching.

So just be aware that even when you’re looking at photos of ‘real’ people like me in magazines, they’re actually not ‘real’ at all……..

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