my coworker photoshopped my head shot to make me look younger and thinner

A reader writes:

Today I find myself so offended at work that I can barely concentrate.

I am doing a six-week rotation in my very, very large company. It is a leadership rotation that is very competitive and prestigious. When it’s over, I’ll go back to my regular job in a smaller division, but still at this company. I am one of the younger participants to have ever done it, but I am mid-30s and have been in this career for over a decade.

As part of the rotation, the admin assistant asked me to submit a head shot for the website. I sent one, which he said wasn’t high enough quality and asked me to schedule a portrait with our corporate photographer. I did this, took 10 headshots, and sent the admin my favorite one. Last night, I received an email from him saying that my bio and an edited version of the photo were on the website, and he attached the edited photo that he himself had edited.

To be blunt, he photoshopped the hell out of it. He made me much thinner, removed all wrinkles, darkened my lips, whitened my teeth, removed freckles, gave me a tan on my neck, etc. It doesn’t even look like me – it’s an egregious overstep and I can’t help but feel like it’s because I’m a woman (as in, no way would he have felt entitled to take a headshot of a man and make him thinner, younger, and “prettier” without asking and then post it on the website). I calmly emailed back and asked him to use the unedited photo, but I feel like he should know that this was offensive and unprofessional. I’m only here for three more weeks, but should I raise this with his supervisor? Give him a lecture about it? Let it go?

What the hell?!

Minor retouching is pretty common. Heavy photoshopping is not.

At a minimum, I’d say something to him about it — because yes, this is ridiculous and offensive. Depending on his reaction, I might then say something to his manager too, but I’d start with him and see where that gets you.

As for what to say to him, I’d say this: “I noticed you did some very heavy photoshopping on the original version. Can you tell me why?”

He’ll probably (a) be uncomfortable (which is good) and (b) say something vague, like that he just wanted to polish it up.

At that point, you can say, “You didn’t just polish it. You made me thinner, removed wrinkles and freckles, changed the color of my lips and teeth, and even gave me a tan. It’s really not okay to just decide on your own to make someone look younger and thinner. This isn’t a magazine shoot where people need to look like models; these are professional head shots. I’m sure you meant to be helpful, but it’s actually pretty offensive to do that, and I want to urge you not to do it to people in the future.”

If he blows you off, then at that point I’d mention it to his manager, along with an explanation that you talked to him about it directly but he didn’t seem to get why it was a problem.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. Pokebunny*

    What the hell indeed.

    This does make me wonder how common it is to photoshop pictures on a corporate biography pages.

    1. CMS*

      New employees at my last company didn’t actually recognize the CEO when they met him not because we were using very old photos of him on our website, but because he would have photographers photoshop the heck out of him. He’d have them add hair, color his hair, remove wrinkles, make him more tan, etc. It used to confused people to no end when a 70 year old man who looked 70 years old would come in and introduce himself as the young, spry guy on the website.

      1. A Bug!*

        Yes, that’s a real problem too! If the employer or admin are dismissive of OP’s feelings, this would be a good practical argument to make. It risks putting people in an awkward position when they do their research prior to meeting a person, and the person looks nothing like their photo. Being misled to expect something that’s not true is worse than simply not knowing what to expect.

    2. Delyssia*

      From what I understand, it’s incredibly common for professional headshots to be lightly retouched. Stuff like cleaning up stray hairs sticking out, maybe removing a zit, making it so people’s eyes don’t look freakishly small through their glasses… All of that happens a lot. (I wouldn’t go so far as to say always, but really, really a lot.)

      It’s not unheard of to soften the appearance of wrinkles or under-eye bags or that sort of thing, but removing wrinkles/under-eye bags entirely, making someone look thinner, etc. would be out of bounds in any environment I’ve worked in.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Nothing you mention in the first paragraph would upset me in the least. The second paragraph, not too much as long as, as you say, it didn’t go beyond softening a little bit.

        As a general rule, if it makes you look like yourself on a good day (good hair day, alert, not tired or zoned out from travel, hormones not acting up) then I’m not too troubled by it. It should not, however, make you look like a sibling of yourself, or worse, someone totally different.

        1. Kelly L.*

          When I saw the headline, I was prepared to think the aspect ratio was off or something–I’ve seen people end up weirdly elongated on websites due to technical goofs. But NOOOOPE.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              oh god. I’d forgotten about the Engineer’s Guide to Cats. That thing’s hysterical!

            2. Anna the Accounting Grad*

              Well, I suppose some of the retouchings apply to things that “drift.”

            3. MommaTRex*

              Thank-you, the gold digger. I have not seen that video before, but I really needed it today. It’s what the interwebs were made for!

        2. Kelly L.*

          And I’m thinking, this is another dating analogy. Your picture on a dating site can be the best picture of generally current you that has ever been taken–great! But it shouldn’t be Heavily Photoshopped You, or 20 Years Ago You, or Scarlett Johansson. Except in this case, it’s someone else mucking up the photo and not the photograph-ee themselves!

      2. Christopher Tracy (formerly Doriana Gray)*

        From what I understand, it’s incredibly common for professional headshots to be lightly retouched.

        Yup, in my industry it is anyway (and in theater, which obviously, that makes sense). But even my current company touches up people’s photos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a division head who looks vastly different than his company photo (because oddly enough, it’s the men who are retouched to all hell).

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yeah, the person who does our company photos shows them to you and asks which one you want to use if you want anything touched up.

          1. Christopher Tracy (formerly Doriana Gray)*

            Sadly, my list of demands would be too much for our corporate photographer, so I’ve passed on the opportunity and just use old acting headshots. (Somebody with a PhD in Photoshop and airbrushing needs to get on staff STAT!)

        2. alter_ego*

          I can actually see that. Most women would probably wear makeup to get a professional headshot done, so they’ve almost sort of done some of the “retouching” work ahead of time.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Depends on what was meant by “retouched all the hell.” I wear makeup, but it doesn’t make me look younger or thinner or make my hair less gray or make me look like I have more of it or make my teeth whiter. And not all women wear makeup or wear much of it. And I’ve known a loooot of very vain men (but I work in the legal field, so that’s not surprising).

          2. Chinook*

            “Most women would probably wear makeup to get a professional headshot done, so they’ve almost sort of done some of the “retouching” work ahead of time.”

            There is a world of difference from hiding minor flaws and changing someone’s skin tone, which is what you are doing if you remove freckles and add a tan. I am the “whitest white woman” you’ll ever see (quote from a friend) who has a complexion that, if airbrushed out or make up applied to heavily, makes me pale as a ghost or 3 shades darker (which can’t naturally happen as I am incapable of tanning). I would be angry if someone did that to me because they are essentially hiding my ethnicity because it is not aesthetically pleasing to them. What is next? Changing red hair to brown or blonde? Changing eye colour so everyone has blue eyes?

          3. Mom*

            I told my kindergarten son he had to take a make-up picture for his school picture because he was scowling at the camera (it was cute and funny, but not OK for The School Photo).
            He refused and got REALLY mad. I would not back down. Finally he said, “Mommy do you know why I don’t want to take a make-up picture? I don’t want to wear make-up! I HATE MAKE-UP!”

            I had to leave the room to laugh and then came back to explain how make-up can mean re-do (I did not explain that it does NOT mean “photoshop”)

      3. SystemsLady*

        And to think I was disappointed when our photographer didn’t even try to edit (or wait out!) the remaining polarization on my transition glasses and wind-fallen stray hairs on my shirt from just having been outside. This level of editing is ridiculous.

        (Luckily resizing down hid the stray hairs so that wasn’t a big deal)

        1. SystemsLady*

          OP’s colleague’s level, I was saying random edits like that are almost something I’d expect for a corporate photo.

    3. Kt*

      Every company I’ve worked for has-removed acne, hair flyaways, reduced shiny skin, brightened teeth (slightly! Sometimes the flash or backdrop can make teeth look sallow) but the goal is to make the person look like they would on their best day, not like an artificial version.

      Though I got headshot done for my freelancing page, and j look gorgeous. Just a shame I don’t look like me

    4. Z*

      I desperately wanted to PhotoShop my former boss’ photo, but only to soften the glare on his bald spot. I couldn’t believe the professional photographer hadn’t angled the light differently to avoid it.

    5. KTM*

      Pretty common for me (engineering in industry). Our marketing and website stuff all features employees and they are typically lightly touched up e.g. some wrinkle removal and hair flyaways but nothing too major. On occasion they’ve really done some doozies where it just looked a little amateur but are typically called out on it by the employees. Nothing to this extent that I’m aware.

      1. ggg*

        I kind of wish they would photoshop my badge photo. It’s bad (I had just come back from maternity leave, and look exhausted). And they used it for a company 50th anniversary yearbook. Yay.

        But if I could make our company photographers prioritize one thing, it would be MAKE EVERYONE’S HEAD THE SAME SIZE IN THE FRAME. Some people have extreme closeups and others look like they have tiny pinheads. It’s kind of hilarious.

    6. Spooky*

      I had to do this in one of my earliest jobs – I was asked to photoshop our president after I had managed (only somewhat successfully, in my mind) to photoshop a few missing colleagues into a group photo. It was mostly smoothing out wrinkles, covering spots, and brightening eyes, but it still felt weird to do. My rule of thumb was that the president herself should be able to look at the photo and simply think she looked great, without ever actually noticing that it had been ‘shopped. I don’t know how successful I was, though.

    7. Allison*

      If anything, depending on the context, I’d probably expect a photographer to do some light retouching on a photograph of me – things like fixing a stray hair, or a pimple, or some shine on my forehead, etc. is often par for the course and I may even be disappointed if stuff like that was left unfixed.

      1. Brooke*

        … also please keep in mind some photos are just OLD and make someone look way younger because they WERE younger when the photo was taken. And understandably, people want to use that photo probably longer than they probably should.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. This just made me realize that the photo on my “about” page on this site is from nine years ago, when I first started the site. I’m going to pretend it’s good for another nine years.

          1. Brooke*

            Happens all the time :)

            At the risk of repeating myself, as very experienced designer/retoucher at a company who expects/requires a heavy hand with photos, I want those on the “HOW DARE THEY” bandwagon to consider:
            1) This level of photoshopping may be a company norm
            2) A heavily photoshopped photo is not necessarily indicative of skill or lack thereof
            3) This is a really subjective, charged topic but please try not to take it personally
            4) A photoshopped photo is no reason to berate a colleague

            Thanks for reading; I’ll show myself out now ;)

            1. Caity*

              He changed her skin color! This isn’t a question of correcting some flyaway hair, he made a decision that her ethnicity wasn’t pretty or professional enough based on his own opinions. What if he had lightened the skin of a person of color?

            2. fposte*

              All these things may be true, but it can still be a terrible idea. I’m thinking of the Katie Couric photoshopping firestorm back a few years.

            3. Jeanne*

              For me, your comments relate to the info we don’t have. Is serious retouching also done to photos of male executives or just to the women or just to this woman? Remove the pimples, check the shiny forehead, etc. But to me the editing described sounds like you are too ugly to represent us unless we change you. Why did he make her thinner? Is this normal?

            4. Mookie*

              This is a really subjective, charged topic but please try not to take it personally

              Nope. It’s if it’s “subjective” and “charged” it is highly personal and can’t logically be expected to be otherwise. It’s up to the company to mitigate normal, predictable reactions to such “charged” matters. They need to be more upfront about their policies and sensitive to how egregious photoshops might affect their employees.

            5. CoffeeLover*

              Ya, I can understand not wanting an over-photoshopped professional photo, but I don’t really see the need to feel insulted. I would feel weird going to my manager about this; it it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d escalate. There’s plenty of people who want their photos excessively photoshopped (as some of you have pointed out). The photographer assumed you were one of those people, so all you really need to do is let him know you’re not and possibly suggest he asks future clients what kind of photoshopping (if any) they would like before jumping the gun.

            6. Bob*

              1) This level of photoshopping may be a company norm

              My first thought was OP should check the other photos on the site and compare them to the actual people she works with. I would want to know if those photos, especially of the men, are also heavily retouched. If so, I might address this as more of a cultural issue at the company.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Ha! I’m sure you don’t look that much different. ;)

            I need a new headshot for my blog. Haven’t got round to it, so I used the hair selfie that’s in my gravatar for now, LOL.

    8. ginger ale for all*

      One co-worker changed my hair color and made me a redhead. I didn’t mind, believe it or not. I had been curious about what I would look like with red hair. He didn’t take out the pink splotches on my face that my Irish ancestry gave me though. The university later had us take photos with the official photographer and I had my normal hair color back and they made my skin look splotchless.

    9. Connie-Lynne*

      I’ve submitted headshots for conference speaking positions, vendor interviews, and a corporate blog. None were photoshopped beyond cropping to fit.

      That’s way out of line.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        I just realized that the photographer (my roomie! Very convenient!) did retouch a weird light flare on my glasses and fixed the color balance.

        But that was before he even sent me the shot to give to other sites. He also shopped demon eyes onto the same photo, which I did not use professionally. ;)

    10. CADMonkey007*

      We recently had a photographer do headshots for our whole company (roughly 25 people) and it included “retouching.” The original proofs were nice as is and very professional, but the final “retouched” versions are crazy. Heavy airbrushing and everyone’s eyes and skin look like they are glowing. I guess there is consolation that we all equally look like vampires on our website, but seriously WTH.

    11. MissDisplaced*

      Very, Very Common.
      But usually not to THAT extent. I don’t know, perhaps the Admin ran it through one of those “glamour” APPS people are using for social media or something.

  2. Macedon*

    That’s disgusting. Sorry you have to deal with that kind of thing, OP. Wish I could say it’s the first time I’ve heard of something along these lines happening. Would tentatively suggest not approaching the assistant too aggressively, because sometimes it’s a policy that comes from High Above, and you might be directing your (more than understandable) displeasure at the wrong person.

    Separately, Alison – the blog is crashing or slowing my browser (Google Chrome) something fierce these days. The problems disappear when I turn AdBlock on the page. Obviously, I could just keep AdBlock on permanently when visiting this site, but I feel this wouldn’t be too helpful on your end. If there’s anything you can do to investigate the ongoing issues you’ve been having with your ad provider, perhaps worth undertaking.

    1. Liana*

      Same here! Never had issues with this site before, but it does keep crashing (I didn’t even think to turn AdBlock on, but I also don’t want to have a negative impact on Alison’s revenue).

    2. BringtheCannoli*

      Me too. I started using Firefox instead because Chrome couldn’t handle it. Firefox struggles as well, just not as much.

      1. alter_ego*

        Funnily enough, I switched from Firefox to Chrome because my Firefox couldn’t handle it.

      2. LiveAndLetDie*

        My Firefox occasionally hangs completely up and gives me a “script not responding on this page” prompt that recurs when I try to dismiss it to the point that the site becomes unusable and I have to close the tab. :(

    3. Kittymommy*

      My first thought was why assume this was coming from the assistant and not a directive he was given. I figure he was instructed to do it or it’s SOP.

      1. Karo*

        Eh, I have a coworker who takes it upon himself to photoshop the crap out of everyone. Sometimes it really is the idiot with the tool instead of a directive from on high.

      1. Karlee*

        I have trouble with Safari. It’s either javascript that forces the page to reload or perhaps the videos that autoplay (which is kind of a no-no). I’m not sure why they’re behaving that way when they didn’t in the past but it’s made it difficult for me to look at the site on anything but my computer. Which makes me sad!

      2. Liza*

        Alison, does it help your revenue if we turn AdBlock off for this site from time to time, and then turn it back on?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Probably not in a noticeable way. Seriously, if the ads make the site hard to use, you really do have my blessing to use Ad Blocker. Most revenue is coming from non-commenters, so do not feel guilty. (Thank you for offering that though!)

          1. Tara*

            Another good option for people is to whitelist the homepage, but not child pages, if the ones in home page don’t give you trouble. You can do this by clicking ‘don’t block ads on this page’ rather than ‘don’t block ads on this domain’. That’s what I do, and it works great.

  3. Lanya*

    Most professional images are lightly photoshopped to remove blemishes and balance skin tone/color or remove glare from greasy skin…but this is beyond normal, and you have every right to feel insulted, OP.

    1. TL -*

      Every professional image should be run through Lightroom or Photoshop (or equivalent) for minor retouches. That generally does include removing blemishes, evening out skin tone or balancing overall tones in the pictures. Anything more than that should be discussed with the client first.

      1. Jeanne*

        This might be more of the outrage. Why wasn’t it discussed with her? Or why wasn’t she shown the new image before it was posted?

  4. Kyrielle*

    Ugh. Offensive, and potentially bad for your career! You’re already one of the youngest to do this leadership program, so this guy makes you look younger? That’s…not a selling point for leadership.

    Not that I think he was trying to hamper your career, but whatever his motivations were, that could have been another side effect of it if you’d let the changes stand.

    It’s one thing to offer edits if desired (and then let the person ask for specific ones), but to just do it for anything beyond ‘oops, get the power cord out of the edge of the photo’ type things…and then to do it to make a woman look more ‘conventionally pretty’ and young?

    Ugh ugh ugh.

  5. Analyst*

    I’m glad celebrity women have been pointing this out and pushing back on the aggressive photoshop more and more as well. It’s disgustingly paternalistic to think that all women would appreciate a younger/thinner photoshop as their representation, as though we think that all of our accomplishments somehow aren’t as interesting to know about (on your company website, in a magazine article about an actress, etc.) when linked to a realistic photo of the accomplished party.

    1. Analyst*

      Also my husband just had head shots taken for his company website, and the photographer did same light editing on his that they did with all the men and women – just things like balancing tones (NOT changing skin color) and removing blemishes.

    2. Koko*

      In fact, sadly, there is some evidence that a woman being too attractive can undermine the perception of her professional competence.

      1. Christopher Tracy (formerly Doriana Gray)*

        One of my former managers actually told me to take down my one acting headshot (a charming black and white photo) and put up a pic of me from my training program because my acting headshot was “too sexy” and I shouldn’t want to be known around the organization as “Sexy Teapot Recovery Representative.” She said it was a nice photo, but that higher-ups in the organization might take me less seriously because of it, and I was extremely confused by this feedback because by virtue of the fact that it was just a photo of my head, it couldn’t be sexy. Lord help us all if I’d shown my neck!

  6. Bee Eye LL*

    I once had the director of finance (the #3 position in the whole organization) sent me an “updated” photo for the company website and it was a portrait that had to be from the mid 1980’s. I thought it was so funny that not only did I post the photo but I made it 3x larger than any other employee profile photos on our site.

  7. Important Moi*

    The entirety of the of photo-shopping made you look like a different person. I don’t think the whitened teeth are a bad thing.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        I was worried I’d missed a Wednesday deadline when I saw the second letter! I swear my heart stopped!

    1. Emilia Bedelia*

      I think this is a subtle reminder that WTF Wednesday is not actually a thing :) Wildly inappropriate workplace behavior has no sense of time or space

      1. BRR*

        But it has been hinted that some of the more outlandish posts tend to fall on Wednesdays. It’s thrown of my sense of time this week.

        I do agree though that wildly inappropriate workplace behavior has no sense of time or space.

        1. CMT*

          And two Wednesdays ago, Alison started an answer with “What the actual F.” which doesn’t help make WTF Wednesdays less of a thing.

      2. OhNo*

        I know WTF Wednesday isn’t a thing, but I do like that there is a kind of shorthand comment for “this is way beyond normal levels of workplace weirdness”. Maybe we could come up with a different shorthand for that instead, so people didn’t have to keep referencing Wednesday?

        1. CMT*

          I’m curious as to why people push back on the idea of WTF Wednesday. There’s lots of shorthand and in-jokes on this site. Maybe it doesn’t have to be officially sanctioned, but I don’t think WTF Wednesday is harmful. (But I admit there could be many things I’m missing and I’m open hearing about them.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            For the record, there is no WTF Wednesday! On my end, that’s largely because it would feel mean if the WTF was about the letter-writer.

          2. BRR*

            Also as one who jokes about WTF Wednesdays, not all letters published on Wednesday are WTF. There are plenty that are about job hunting or office situations.

      3. Liza*

        +1 to “Wildly inappropriate workplace behavior has no sense of time or space”. (Also, Emilia Bedelia, I loved those books. And the one about the kitten with a pot over her ears.)

      4. Apollo Warbucks*

        I know WTF Wednesday isn’t a thing I was making a joke about how outrageous I thought this and the letter from be cancer patient were.

        1. Person of Interest*

          I seriously thought it must be Wednesday when I saw the cancer patient’s post.

  8. Chickaletta*

    Someone’s harboring an unrealized career in graphic design.

    Having been in charge of corporate websites in the past, I’ve been responsible for adding employee headshots to the website and I’d never dream of editing someone’s photo like that. I make sure that the photo is complementary, professional, and representative of the person and the business, and I also always made sure to have the employees approval before going live by emailing them the photo I planned to use. Once or twice I had someone say they wanted something else because they didn’t like their chin or whatever and I always obliged, I think it’s important for the individual to have control over a public image of themselves.

    Definitely speak up.

    Also, I’m dying for a link. (Don’t really do that, I’m just saying). :)

  9. Rhiannon*

    Ugh, this sucks and I’m sorry OP. That was super presumptuous of the admin to assume you wanted your photo “improved”. My company photo is only on my name badge and not the website, but they lengthened my pixie cut hair to shoulder length and made it darker. They also thinned out my face. And why? It’s not like anyone sees it.

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      Wait, the name badge that is generally understood to have a security function — where someone might have to look at the photo on it and compare it to your face to see whether you’re authorized to be there? WTELF?

      1. Rhiannon*

        Our badges are used to scan into the building but we don’t have a security desk or anything. I don’t know why there are pictures on them at all. But yeah, I don’t get it either. I mean it doesn’t NOT look like me, it just looks like a long-haired version of me. Idk if the face thinning was intentional or a photo distortion.

        1. Mike C.*

          There are pictures on them so that if someone doesn’t recognize who you are they can look at your badge and match your face with it. Even if there isn’t a specific security desk, everyone should be empowered to challenge strangers who look like they don’t belong.

          1. Connie-Lynne*


            Once a friend at JPL wore his Disneyland Annual Pass at work all day for Halloween and nobody noticed.

    2. TootsNYC*

      My security photo was skewed once–it was a function of a crummy camera, or a badly positioned lens, not any Photoshopping.

    3. Anonophone*

      That’s some incredible photoshop work though – maybe someone had a few days to spare?

      I’m imagining my mum now: ‘oh but sweetie I just think it looks so much nicer this way!’

    4. many bells down*

      I have a very noticeable scar on my chest, and whenever it’s been visible in professional photos, they’ve ‘shopped it out without asking. I always find that so presumptuous! I’ve had this scar since I was 2 years old, it’s part of me!

  10. Becky*

    Unrelated to the content of this post, but it’s the first one that has shown up as abbreviated in my feed reader, forcing me to click through to read it.

    Alison, I understand you need the clicks, but I still really dislike it.

    Also, the “teaser” text in my feed reader doesn’t say anything indicating it’s truncated and that one needs to click to read the whole post. If you must proceed with this method, I would recommend including a slug with every post that says this is a preview. It’s confusing otherwise.

    This is all that shows up, in entirety:

    When a coworker photoshops you so you don’t even look like yourself, what should you say?

    1. Laura*

      Same for me! I won’t be able to read AAM as often if I need to load every page and can’t just read it from feedly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Reading from Feedly means that I don’t get the traffic or the ad revenue, so I’m experimenting with ways around that. I dislike the way this one looks as much as y’all do though.

        1. LQ*

          I know you’ve talked about how something like getting people to donate wouldn’t pay for the site, but would you consider setting up a paid version so people could get the same content in more convenient ways (like Feedly/no ads) for those who do pay? I know there is generally a large additional level of set up, but not sure if that would be an option for you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think it’s feasible for a number of reasons, unfortunately (including that I’m at my limit of time and resources I can invest).

    2. Lily*

      +1 I like reading them on feedly but I still click to the articles to read the comments most of the time. The “teaster” text is just annoying.

      1. Indi*

        I would be cool if the letter text were the teaser and I had to click through to see the answer from my RSS reader, but the one liner really isn’t enough to pull me in. I actually only clicked through this time because I thought it was a mistake and wanted to see if I was right, or if there was a video that wasn’t showing up.

    3. Jubilance*

      I just came in to share this.

      I love that AAM is one of the blogs I can read via Feedly that posts the entire article – are you making tweaks to that Alison? I do generally click through to see the comments, but if I need to do that to see the entire piece I will probably just delete AAM from my Feedly.

    4. GeekChic*

      Ditto on being sad about not being a fanof this. I really like being able to read stuff from my RSS feed – the ads on the site crash my phone browser something fierce, so being able to read new content off the site is really handy.

      I tend to browse AAM if I’m after particular information, and I click through on RSS link when I’m on a desktop, but having the post contents available in an RSS reader is really nice – and I’d’ve guessed niche enough nowadays to not really make a huge difference to pageviews?

      1. GeekChic*

        Ah – I see comments saying it won’t stay this way. Glad to hear it!

        Also, like – the ads still consistently crash my mobile and tablet browsers, and introduce a significant performance hit on desktop. Fixing that would seem like the low-hanging fruit of how to increase pageviews and session length, to me!

          1. BRR*

            Wow that’s really interesting. I’m sorry for complaining about anything ad related. I appreciate how much you time and effort you have put into it and didn’t realize how common of an issue this was.

          2. GeekChic*

            Hm, interesting! Thanks for the link.

            I’ve only ever worked with ad networks that stick to static text or images. This definitely reinforces my belief that the only good way to do web advertising is by not letting the advertisers serve code to clients.

  11. voyager1*

    Before you do anything, I would see what the photographer replies with in his email. Honestly he might do this for everyone and not understand why you are offended.

    But to answer your main question. I don’t know this company and I probably don’t work there, but is this enough of problem to really ruffle feathers over. You state that this rotation is “competitive and prestigious”… to me that means that folks are watching you to see if you are promotable…. Do you really want to possibly ruin that over a picture? Only you can answer that.

    But I do get the being offended part.

    1. Roscoe*

      That is my thing, we don’t even know that the guy at her company did this. Its very possible that OP sent the proof of the shot that she wanted, he told the photographer, and the photographer did all the editing. So maybe don’t get super angry at your co-worker unless you know for sure it was him

      1. voyager1*

        Well I was more thinking, if this is one of those management candidate programs companies do to see how people might do in managment. At two of the banks I have worked at many people who go into these programs did well in their careers. Managment used the programs to identify good people for promotable positions.

        At the same time those folks who ran these programs got a lot of feedback from folks who worked with these candidates. A bad feedback could have consquences… like complaining about a picture. The company photographer might know people in high places. Hence why I am hestitant to go with AAM’s advice.

        1. GeekChic*

          The thing is, putting up a heavily edited photo without having run it by the OP was seriously unprofessional. if the OP was being rude or not working well with others, that could have consequences. But Alison’s advice isn’t – it’s just being directly in steering someone’s who’s done something pretty rude themselves towards not doing it again.

          I think most good managers would see an email chain with that kind of calm but clear exchange in and go “yup, good, OP will speak up to make sure things get done right”.

          1. Brooke*

            “The thing is, putting up a heavily edited photo without having run it by the OP was seriously unprofessional.”

            As a designer/retoucher, if had to run people’s photo by everyone before they were posted my workload would triple. It’s just not expected or part of the process. These things are for org charts and company intranets; this is not a dating site or an 8×10 glossy.

            1. ToxicNudibranch*

              If you don’t mind me asking, what is the “normal” amount of retouching you do on these things? Most people seems to be wholly and completely accepting of color correction, fixing flyaways, removing glares, subtle teeth whitening, blemish removal, and perhaps enhancing eyes or softening wrinkles. I would think it’s totally reasonable not to get the okay on retouching of that sort.

              It’s the whole making significant changes to physical features (like flat out changing someone’s skin tone, eliminating a double chin or making the face skinny, or as one commenter had done, changing her hairstyle from pixie to shoulder length) that most people are balking at.

              1. Brooke*

                Toxic – not everyone needs the same amount or the same types of retouching. It’s sort of like asking “what’s a normal house these days?”

                1. ToxicNudibranch*

                  Right, but there has to be some threshhold. I can’t think of a single legitimate reason to change the shape of someone’s face or hairstyle *without explicit instructions to do so*

            2. Jeanne*

              I figured this was *not* for a company intranet. They had her go to the company photographer and get 10 shots to choose from. I suspect it is a website outsiders can view.

    2. Observer*

      Getting super angry is not a good idea, in any case.

      But, YES this is something to get ruffled over. It’s the kind of thing that makes women in general feel unwelcome and devalued, and with good reason. Basically, what it seems to be saying is “Oh my! We can’t allow the company to be represented by a woman who isn’t young and svelte!”

      1. bridget*

        And, I think that professionally standing up for oneself really shouldn’t get any points docked in the context of a “leadership rotation.” Leaders need to be able to push back (without getting angry, for sure, but firmly) and get the result that makes the most sense. If this somehow counts against you, then … this isn’t really a leadership cultivation program.

    3. CMT*

      Well, the letter says the admin assistant edited himself, and we take letter writers at their word here. So bringing it up with him is the correct thing to do. And this is a big deal, and your saying that LW shouldn’t make it one sounds a little dismissive. I didn’t get the impression from the letter that she was planning on storming into any offices or sending angry missives.

      1. OP*

        Nope, he never had contact with the corporate photographer. I gave the admin the digital file, he said thanks. A week later he emailed and said “I finally finished editing your portrait! Your bio and the edited picture have been posted, and here’s a copy of the edited picture for you to keep. :)”

          1. OP*

            I just thanked him for letting me know the picture had posted, and told him I’d strongly prefer he use the unedited. I didn’t add any commentary at the time. He responded right away that it was no problem and it would take up to 48 hours to replace the photo. That was late last week, and the original photo is now up.

            1. voyager1*

              Follow up on the photo and see what he says, I would probably call him. If you have to leave a VM wait 24 hrs and follow up with an email.

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          I love the “finally”. And offering it “for you to keep”!!! He’s so proud of his work, it took him so long to make you un-hideous. So clueless.

          1. Jeanne*

            That’s how I see it. Thanks for letting me know you could change me into someone acceptable to look at. Blech.

        2. TL -*

          So there are a couple of problems here (besides the obvious!) .

          Generally, photographers do their own editing, which means there’s a 99% chance that the photographer handed you an *already edited* photo. Which means the admin took the edited photo, ran it through photoshop (and actually probably degraded the quality of the photo) and then posted it.

          Depending on the contract the photographer has with your company, it is quite possible that the look/edits of the photos were spelled out contractually. It is also possible, though less likely with a corporate contract, that the corporation doesn’t actually have editing rights to the photos – basically, the photographer’s contract says they give them the final version and that’s all they’re allowed to use. (Sometimes corporations buy the RAW files and do in-house edits but that doesn’t sound like what’s happening here.)

          Also, if I was the photographer and I saw someone had edited a photo I had provided professionally, I would be very, very annoyed.

      2. voyager1*

        I think a few of you are missing my point. I am not saying she shouldn’t be offended, I am saying consider how making an issue of this might affect her career or chances for advancement. She needs to consider that IMHO.

        1. OP*

          I agree, that’s why I wrote to Alison. If I worked with this guy permanently, if definitely want it cleared up. But he is admin for the Grand Poobahs of this company, I’m only here for a short time … is it worth taking him to task for this? I don’t want to give too many details about where I work, but we are very progressive and honestly I’m surprised this guy doesn’t get it. I’m sure his supervisor has no idea.

          1. Afiendishthingy*

            I don’t think it has to be about taking him to task, though. Anyway it’s a leadership training, right? Lead him to use a picture that actually looks like you. You aren’t throwing a hissy fit, you’d be calmly addressing a… Miscommunication?

          2. TootsNYC*

            “taking him to task” is NOT the only way to communicate your displeasure with this.

            There’s, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know why I didn’t like that edited version. In addition to the skin tones being uneven now, it’s important to me that I not seem to be ‘faking’ myself. any difference between the photo and my actual face will actually reflect on me, because people will assume that I asked o the alterations or approved them. And then I look like one of those people who posts misleading pictures on Tinder, LOL! I look unconfident and unprofessional
            “Also, making me look skinnier, removing wrinkles, and removing my freckles sends a message that these attributes are not desirable–so much so that they need to be removed. That’s a message I’m really uncomfortable receiving–that the way I look isn’t ‘good enough,’ when it’s really, that’s just the way my face is made, and if I’m OK with it, the company is too. (Just wanted to give you some background; I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who thinks this way.)
            “Anyway, thanks for your help with this!”

            1. Zillah*

              I get what you’re saying, but something like what you’re suggesting is way too soft and actually gives the impression that there’s room for reasonable disagreement, IMO – and LOL and comments about Tinder in a serious email are pretty inappropriate all on their own. The OP can be direct and to the point about this.

              1. Christopher Tracy (formerly Doriana Gray)*

                Yup. “Hi Fergus, I asked you last week to remove the retouched version of my company photo and replace it with the unedited version, and you said you would. I see that still hasn’t been done. Please do so by Friday. Thank you.”

              2. surlywench*

                Yeah, this would strike me as a hugely unprofessional wording. Also, it’s just… not how people talk in real life! It strikes me as trying to be hip with the kidz, and really dilutes the importance of the message.

            2. OP*

              You’re right, “take him to task” is totally the wrong expression here and would not be helpful. As a non confrontational person, I’ve been debating whether it’s worth trying to explain to this guy that what he did was wrong, or if I could just go to his supervisor (or mine). Or just let it go. Thanks, all, for your helpful feedback!

              1. TootsNYC*

                I think you have lots of routes. And you can use all of them, with different approaches

                So, be firm in saying, “Fergus, please replace that photo right away; it’s been more time than you said it would take.”

                Then you can also go to Fergus’s boss and say, “here’s what happened, and I was actually pretty annoyed about it–nobody’s going to blame Fergus if my picture looks wrong and stupid; they’ll blame me. And I really don’t like the underlying message–I realize that could be just Fergus, but it’s troubling nonetheless, and I really don’t think I’d be the only one who’d object. Plus, his Photoshop skills are really not up to that level of intervention. I thought I’d tell you, so you could be the one to coach him on it.”

                or you could say something to Fergus–since you’re not his boss, I’d suggest it in a “friendly and more experienced colleague cluing you in to something you probably haven’t thought of” way. Simply because it will be more effective. (This, btw, does not negate or replace the firm, “Fergus, please put the proper picture up right away; I’m waiting over here…” conversation.

              2. Jeanne*

                I would probably not handle it best. “Why did you edit my picture? Why did you change the hair? Why did you change the teeth? Why did you change the skin tone?” for each detail. Then I would ask if he understood why were discussing it. Then I would explain to him how demeaning it is to treat women that way and that by singling me out he could cause real problems for himself.

                If this is the only photo he’s ever done this to, he’s on very thin ice, in the sexual harrassment area.

      3. Elsajeni*

        As far as taking OPs at their word, I don’t think raising questions like “Could it actually have been the photographer who did the editing, or do you know for sure it was the admin?” violate that — it’s more about assuming the OP isn’t lying, but it’s fair to point out that there may be things they don’t know or places where they’ve drawn a conclusion that might not be true. (I see that in this case the OP has clarified that, yup, the admin told her himself that he did the editing — just making the general point.)

  12. JS*

    To me its only an issue he made OP thinner remarkably thinner. Removing wrinkles, freckles, whiting teeth and darkening lips and even the tan isn’t that big of a deal. A corporate photo is supposed to look polished.

      1. JS*

        It depends on the background, certain backgrounds can completely wash a fair skin person out, or if what they are wearing does. I think a light tan is fine.

        1. SystemsLady*

          Sure, but you can also color balance with a focus on making the background color different.

          1. JS*

            Color balance wont help here. It’s about the exposure/contrast settings. Color balance wont change exposure which is why people get washed out in photos. Of course a good photographer would compensate for this pre-shutter snap but if they are filling everyone through on the same background lighting, that isnt always going to flatter everyone. I have a degree in photography.

            1. Chickaletta*

              Color balance is one thing. But do you really believe that changing the color of someone’s teeth, lips, and removing freckles and wrinkles, is really professional? I’ve seen many beautiful portraits with these things left alone. And if these things do need touch up to correct color imbalance, it should be subtle enough that the person either doesn’t notice or is flattered. If the subject is offended by the retouch then that’s a clear sign that it went too far.

              1. JS*

                Yes its professional if you dont want to look bad. No one wants to see scruffy executives in a corporate photo.

            2. Jeanne*

              This is the company’s professional photographer. I believe that means it was done right by someone who knows.

              1. JS*

                Not really. Not knocking photographer skills but the company could have ask for the same generic set up for each person which may not flatter each person. You dont have creative licences here with these kinds of photos when it comes to setup. Also photoshop is an extra cost. If the company knows someone who is skillful in photoshop who works for company they could just be trying to save money by not asking for the photographer to do it themselves.

        2. Macedon*

          Or you could change the colour scheme on the background and on what they’re wearing. I don’t think a wall or textile can get easily offended.

          Come on, this is photoshop. Layers are made for this.

          1. JS*

            As I’ve said a good photographer would change the background, lighting , etc, to adjust for the person they are taking the photo of. People get washed out due to exposure settings. You cant adjust the background and clothing to change a person’s skin that was overexposed after the fact.

        3. Paris*

          I am so pale I’m nearly translucent and I have grown to like it. Someone putting a “light tan” on me would be a no-go. If I get washed out, I get washed out. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. At least I would actually look like myself.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            As another pale person, I agree. The picture would no longer look like me. Also, I dress for my skin tone, so I’d look weird with a tan. And a good pro photographer should have a background that won’t wash me out.

            On the other hand, editors are more than welcome to retouch the red glow that my eyes get from most flash bulbs.

            1. JS*

              Agreed a good pro photog would but often the cookie cutter photographers they hire for portraits do one standard aesthetic for all on the company’s request.

          2. Caity*

            I’m very pale and after having survived the early 2000s tanning boom where I was asked weekly if I was going to go tanning or just flat out told I should, I have learned to love my skin immensely and take great care of it AND the color. Honestly with the money I spend on sunscreen you better not artificially tan me.

      2. Chocolate lover*

        Changing the color of any part of my anatomy (skin, lips, even teeth) is not ok with me. I’m not a supermodel and don’t pretend to be one on the internet. You don’t need to do any of those things to look “polished” as far as I’m concerned.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            I’m sure it is standard to edit corporate photos. I still object to some of the specific things that are edited, and wouldn’t be ok with it myself.

      3. blackcat*

        One of my friends had a corporate photo of her edited to drastically lighten her skin tone. She found that horrible offensive; she’s a dark skinned Black woman.

    1. esra*

      Since when does polish mean I need to look younger, more tanned, and free of freckles?

      1. Jeanne*

        You can’t be an executive if you look like a real woman I guess. We’re all out of luck after 35.

    2. SystemsLady*

      Having dark lips, being thinner, having no wrinkles and freckles, and being tan aren’t things you need to look “polished”, period.

      Even tooth whitening crosses a line for me if it goes too far beyond tone smoothing/removing streaks and tints some types of plaque can cause.

      If that’s what the person getting photographed is asking for and the company’s OK with it then sure, but most of these cross a line for me.

    3. Katniss*

      Doesn’t this imply that people with wrinkes, freckles, imperfect teeth, or the wrong complexion or skin color are inherently unpolished and therefore unprofessional?

      Do we really need to all fit into a cookie-cutter ideal to look “professional”?

    4. SpaceySteph*

      My freckles are an important part of my face. Photoshopping them out is a huge no go for me.

      Relatedly, when my sister got married her makeup artist concealer-ed the heck out of my face. Toward the end of the night one dark spot on my right cheek was starting to peek through the makeup as it wore off and a relative was like “you have a smudge here.” He’d never noticed it before because it’s usually in a constellation of lighter freckles, but in this case it was the only one that could be seen through the makeup. My husband and I got a real laugh out of “it’s not a smudge, it’s my face!”

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        I know- it’s really rude to assume someone wants to look younger or unfreckled. Freckles are pretty easy to cover up with makeup, op knew she was having a professional headshot taken. a reasonable person would assume that if she wanted to hide her freckles, she would have.

      2. Tiffin*

        My mom once told me I had a spot of dirt on my ear and I had to explain that it’s a freckle I’ve had for at least 20 years. She’s super observant.

    5. Koko*

      I resent the implication that my freckles are some kind of blemish or imperfection. They’re as much a part of my appearance as a cheetah’s spots are part of theirs. My freckles are a marker of my ethnic ancestry, they are permanent, and I love them.

      1. blackcat*

        Yeah, any editing that edits things that could be markers of ethnicity/race (skin tone, freckles, nose shape, etc) are really inappropriate.

    6. OriginalYup*

      Nope. It’s all a big deal. A little bit of retouching so that someone looks like themself on a good day with lots of sleep is within the bounds of acceptable vanity. Noticeably changing someone’s looks to better conform with narrow standards of how people “should” look is both bullsh*t and harmful to every single of us by reinforcing appearance based biases. This is the slippery slope down which it becomes normal or expected to change photos in order to lighten darker-complected skin, whittle the waists and enhance the busts or pecs, make sure no one ever appears over the age of 50, and ensure that no one ever ever is portrayed with a visible disability like using a wheelchair.

      1. AnonInSC*

        I really like your description of acceptable retouching – that’s perfect. I’m vain enough I’ve thought about having my makeup done for me the next time I take headshots. My current one is 8 years old. So I would want something to look like me at my best. But the retouching described would make me furious.

      2. Applesauced*

        “Feminists do the best Photoshop because they leave the meat on your bones. They don’t change your size or your skin color. They leave in your disgusting knuckles, but they may take out some armpit stubble. Not because they’re denying its existence, but because they understand that it’s okay to make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light.” – Tina Fey, Bossypants

    7. Nerdling*

      Wrinkles, freckles, and skin tone aren’t defects to be fixed or somehow unpolished. They’re facts of life. I don’t personally believe that having not-perfectly-white teeth or perfectly dark lips is unpolished, but those are things that can be adjusted in minor ways and can often make a picture look, to others, more polished. But my freckles, my wrinkles, my white hairs, my skin color? Back off. I earned the wrinkles and the white hairs. I love my freckles. And my skin color, two or three steps above the shade most commonly known as ghost, isn’t perfect, but it’s mine.

      We’ve already got a society where the expectations for beauty and professionalism are incredibly narrow, particularly for women. Men are allowed to age. Women are expected to defy aging to the bitter end – after all, we become, as Amy Shumer and a host of phenomenal female actors pointed out, unf*ckable in mass media eyes after about 35. Insisting that wrinkles and freckles are somehow unpolished is, quite frankly, something I’m not willing to put up with. It’s ageist, and it’s most often deployed in an incredibly sexist manner. Or do you think Erin Andrews got Botox in her forehead for fun while Tom Bergeron simply continues to age normally?

      1. JS*

        People just named Jennifer Aniston as the most beautiful woman at age 47 so your points are moot.

        1. Kelly L.*

          What, that invalidates the whole societal problem? Maggie Gyllenhaal was told at 37 that she was too old to play opposite a man in his fifties.

              1. JS*

                Kind of, the Maggie Gyllenhal comment yes. But I think it’s very hypocritical of people to get offended over editing and then support the Hollywood machine that creates it. Don’t buy the magazines, see the movies, click the articles and support the award shows that promote this sexism if it’s such a big issue to you all. Also as a photographer myself who got a BFA in traditional and digital and someone who works in the entertainment industry I’m not offended. Photos don’t tell truths they tell stories. No one gets their feathers ruffled over paintings that have been doing the exact same thing for centuries. Same story, different art medium.

                I acknowledged that making someone remarkably thinner as well as racially charged skin changing is an issue. However other than that I believe people are way too uptight.

                1. Afiendishthingy*

                  Are you saying that if I’m
                  offended by anything in movies I should stop complaining and just not watch movies? It used to be totally normal for people to perform in blackface. In mainstream movies that won awards, even. Should everyone who was offended by that have shut up and said “I guess pop culture just isn’t for me”????

                2. Afiendishthingy*

                  You and your BFA may not be offended and think OP is being uptight, but OP is offended and wants to look like herself rather than some
                  kid’s “improved” unwrinkled, tan unrecognizable woman. This is not the admin assistant’s “story to tell.” I find it pretty incredible that you seem to be defending his artistic vision here.

                3. JS*

                  Afiendishthingy – Yes. You can’t pick and chose. Only reason blackface still isn’t in moves is because people protested and took action to stop it. They didn’t support the movies that perpetuate that stereotype. In this case people complain that celebrities look “too perfect” and “false” but no one has taken the actions to march, rally or petition against “Hollywood Perfection”. They complain when it makes them feel secure but they are still buying the magazines, clicking on the articles and watching the TV/movies of it.

        2. Lizzy*

          First off, People magazine accolades like “Sexiest Man Alive” and “Most Beautiful Woman” are PR-driven and often coincide with promotion of a famous person’s project; it is no coincidence that Aniston had a movie to promote around the same time. Second, People Magazine’s demographic is a predominantly 40+ female audience who is Aniston’s target demo.

          You are being obtuse to deny that women over 35 are treated abysmally by the mass media just because one 40+ woman received recognition for her looks in a publication that caters to her demo.

        3. Afiendishthingy*

          Good point. It’s like how when people talk about racism and I’m like um hello, we have a black president, racism is gone forever.

        4. Katniss*

          Wow, how incredibly dismissive. Did you actually read the post you responded to?

    8. AW*

      All of that is a huge deal. Frankly, I don’t understand why people keep changing skin color in photos given that there’s always a ton of backlash when they do.

    9. Oryx*

      There are some people where if you take their freckles away they look virtually unrecognizable.

  13. Roscoe*

    I’ll be honest, this sounds excessive, but I don’t think the practice is that uncommon. Even for men. We had a work photographer last year. We picked our favorite shots, and mine was definitely touched up a bit. Nothing as drastic as this sounds like, but it was definitely a more “polished” me than in the original proof. I thought it made the picture better, but I could see how if it was drastic it may have been different.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I have to agree. I’d be more surprised if our corporate photos *weren’t* edited.

    2. Jeanne*

      Just because it is a common practice doesn’t mean we can’t speak up. Lots of things that were common shouldn’t be common.

  14. Laura*

    Way uncool. It would have been fine if he’d done some minor touch-ups, but completely redoing how you look?? No way. Great advice from Alison as usual.

    I had headshots taken at my workplace shortly after coming on board and they were so bad, I immediately deleted them and motioned to not have my photo on the website at all. I wish they’d done some touching up, but I don’t think it would have fully made up for the awful photo quality…

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, I took a new photo for my badge because the badge was getting manky and I completely changed my hair color. A digital camera in a room full of fluorescent lights isn’t the most flattering of tools to accurately represent me–or anybody else!

  15. greenbeans*

    Besides the ridiculous amount of retouching, the other odd thing is that the admin assistant did the retouching rather than the professional corporate photographer.

  16. Anna No Mouse*

    Our graphic designer also is responsible for adding staff head shots to our website. All head shots are in black and white, so she darkens everyone’s lips a bit so they don’t wash out. She also removes some wrinkles, but she does that for everyone, so that we all look super polished. I have never seen her think someone out, and as someone with a very round face and some extra weight, I’d have been the perfect candidate for that. She also tells everyone that she does that ahead of time, because that is what she has been told to do from her supervisor, and someone with a problem could presumably bring it up with him.

    1. SystemsLady*

      Black and white is a bit different because it can exaggerate things like wrinkles and downplay primarily tonal contrasts (lighter lips and skin).

      As long as you can’t really tell a big change was made/making you look younger/tanner isn’t the intent, I don’t see an issue with that kind of tone balancing being applied across the board.

  17. The Cosmic Avenger*

    So basically this admin assistant is putting out the message that it’s not OK to be old, or overweight, or pale, or in any other way imperfect, if you work for this company. Nice.

    I would have a really hard time being cordial about this.

  18. Observer*

    A thought to share with the admin assistant, if he doesn’t “get” it.

    Companies get sued for ageism and sexism all the time. Even when it’s a frivolous suit that gets dismissed with a summary judgement, this is a cost and risk for the organization. Actions like this increase the risk and cost to the organization, even if the organization is actually not sexist / ageist.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think if the men’s photos are left mostly untouched but he did all these things to make her “prettier”, they are also in sexual harrassment territory.

  19. bridget*

    For my last photo on my company’s website, the professional photographer (NOT an admin assistant after the fact, who I assume is not really that great at photoshopping at all) airbrushed a zit off of my forehead and adjusted the lighting to be more flattering; no more intrusive than an instagram filter to make my face seem brighter, really. I was fine with that. I would be livid in your situation.

  20. JM in England*

    I would regard extreme photoshopping of my image as a personal violation. The photographer would certainly get a flea in their ear at the very least!!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Is it necessary to be that extreme in your reaction? Will it get you what you want (which is a long-term change in how this guy thinks)? People who are attacked are defensive; defensive people don’t listen and learn.

      So responding, yes–but with “flea in their ear” as the STARTING point, I don’t know that you’re going to get the best result.

      1. Brooke*

        Yeah, as the person who’s enlisted to do that extent of photoshopping by my own employer, I’d empathize with your POV but berating me is hardly effective.

  21. Former Usher*

    My family once hired a photographer for family portraits. He took the liberty of removing all wrinkles on my forehead, making it look unnaturally smooth. It makes me angry every time I walk by the photo.

  22. LawLady*

    I know one lawyer, Jemma, who’s a perfectly average-looking person in real life, but her picture on her firm’s website is a supermodel with vaguely Jemma-like features. I don’t know if she did that, or if her firm did that, or if there are cultural differences at play (she practices in Israel). But it was a shock the first time I looked her up.

  23. I'm Not Phyllis*

    This happened at a place I used to work … sort of. They didn’t edit pictures to make people look thinner necessarily, but they did photoshop the hell out of some of them to the point where they didn’t look anything like the original person! It’s a weird thing to do, I think. I did find it a little insulting – like my actual face wasn’t good enough? The only reason I didn’t make a huge deal about it was because she literally edited everyone’s picture – from the bottom of the organization to the top.

  24. Allison*

    I agree with the other comments here, it’s normal to blur acne and remove shine, but removing wrinkles and making someone look thinner is out of line. That said, it’s not uncommon for women to ask for those things to be done, so I wonder if the photographer has gotten so many of those requests he just figured it was easier to make that a default part of the editing process, especially if he’s been thanked for doing it without being asked before.

    1. Brooke*

      As a designer/retoucher, the percentage of people who are happy with their photos, retouched or not? Single digits.

      1. OP*

        I was happy with my head shot before I gave it to him. The photographer did not Photoshop it, the admin did. The admin photoshopped it to the extent that I looked totally different, even a totally different face shape.

        1. TL -*

          Oh yeah, the admin should not be editing other people’s photos without prior agreement, too.

          (Most likely the photographer sent over an already edited version as well.)

        2. JS*

          Photoshopping is an extra pricey add on to a photography package. The company or person in charge in this case the admin asst. likely thought they would save money by doing it themselves. The practice of photoshopping isnt uncommon, however it looks like the admin asst went above and beyond normal editing of blemishes, teeth, etc.

      2. Jeanne*

        You seem to keep saying this is ok since it’s done all the time. Do you really believe it’s ok to turn people into something unrecognizable? Shouldn’t we speak up about the way we are treated badly? I just can’t understand photoshopping that results in a whole different look in the corporate world.

  25. AP*

    So, my one eye is like a little bigger than the other one- it’s more open or something. Kinda weird, but totally not noticeable in my daily life. I just happen to know it’s true because it’s my face. Anyway! I got kind of a crappy headshot and they tried to tame my curly hair flyaways in Photoshop and also did some color correction. The end result was that my weird eye was SUPER DUPER noticeable. Not sure why, but something about the angle of the photo and the color correction made me look slightly crazed.

    1. Allison*

      I feel that, I have the same problem and it makes me super unphotogenic! I’d love to see that fixed in professional shots of me, but I have no idea what that edit entails, so I don’t know if it’s something I could expect. But I’ve also worked with amazing photographers who were able to work with light and angles so the eye wasn’t as noticeable.

    2. Kelly L.*

      There is a baseball player in MyNearbyCity who has that. There’s a billboard of him that I see sometimes, and they “fixed” it so his eyes are the same size, and it always throws me a little–I see the guy on TV all the time, I know what he looks like and that’s not it!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I can see that “freezing” someone’s face (in a photo) might make some feature like that look more obvious than it is in real life, and be distracting, actually. But I think there’d have to be some middle ground. Like, you make the smaller eye just a tiny bit bigger than it is in real life, but still leave some level of difference in size.

        1. AP*

          This reminds me: my grandpa always had a pretty noticeable gap in his front teeth. When he got dentures, he took a file and filed them a little bit to keep the gap. It was a little smaller than the gap he actually had, but he still wanted to keep that bit of difference that people noticed.

    3. Oryx*

      I have the exact same problem. I only notice it with photos, because that natural comparison between the two eyes is right there

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        I think it’s actually pretty common… One of my eyes is set ever so slightly more angled than the other. My sister first pointed it out to me when we were kids and we were obligated to point out each other’s flaws, but I doubt anyone else notices. It is more obvious when I smile, so I do think posed photos often emphasize it.

  26. Betty (the other Betty)*

    This guy isn’t a photographer or a professional retoucher. My guess is that he just got carried away with his Photoshop skills, and didn’t have the awareness or skill to know how much to do or when to stop. Don’t attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by lack of knowledge.

    I’d just tell him that the photo is not acceptable as is, and tell him to take it down and put up one of the original, un-retouched photos right away. Then, if it needs it, let him know exactly what retouching is acceptable: adjust color balance and brightness, take out [specific] blemish.

    If someone higher up gets involved, explain that you didn’t approve the retouching (and you could go into why, but I’m not sure it’s necessary).

    1. Hilary Faye*

      Yea I have a friend who is a fashion blogger and really into pretty much every social media platform out there and she edits/filters all of her pictures quite a bit. Honestly she gets a bit carried away with it but I think it’s become second nature to her and it wouldn’t even occur to her that other people might be offended when she “tweaks” (her words lol) their pictures. There’s so many apps out there now that make it so easy to do some pretty heavy editing without having any photoshop skills.

    2. Mockingjay*

      How much do you want to bet that the poor admin got beat up on the other side:

      “Percival, you can’t leave my picture like this. It’s too natural! Go ahead and take a little off the sides. After all, the camera does add 5 pounds. Change my blazer to red – that’s a power color. Oh, and can you brighten up my eye color? I mean, they are really emerald.” And other impossible feats.

      (Percival mutters lines from ‘Tootsie,’ when the cameraman is asked to pull back from the closeup.)

      Photography can be a thankless task.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think so too. Especially if he’s at all “not that experienced.”
      That’s why I might give the sort of feedback I mentioned above: “I thought I’d tell you why I didn’t like that edit….”

    4. Bekx*

      My guess is that he just got carried away with his Photoshop skills, and didn’t have the awareness or skill to know how much to do or when to stop.

      This is what I was going to say. As someone who does photo retouching constantly in her job, I’d say that this sounds like a classic case of “I just learned Photoshop and want to show off how good I am!”.

      1. ZSD*

        Ah, it’s “My First PowerPoint” syndrome applied to a different piece of software.

      2. Chickaletta*

        This. It’s like adding lens flare just because it exists. Just because someone discovered how to darken skin tone and whiten teeth does not mean they should. It’s how you tell the amateurs from the professionals.

        1. Brooke*

          ” It’s how you tell the amateurs from the professionals.”

          Or not. I’ve been doing this work for 16 years. If my employer wants a heavy hand on the retouching for all company portraits, as long as they’re paying me, I do it.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Sometimes a professional’s job is to explain why such a heavy hand can be problematic from a morale and professional image standpoint.

            I know you’re not always going to win that one, but in the case you describe below about a consistency issue – I’d make the case for gradually lightening up the hand going forward until you get to the point where it just makes sense to redo the few overly edited images left to make them match.

            1. Chickaletta*

              “Sometimes a professional’s job is to explain why such a heavy hand can be problematic from a morale and professional image standpoint.”

              Yes, yes, yes. And you can apply this to a lot bad design choices that clients and managers want. When I was just starting out as a graphic designer, I was a yes man. Now that I’ve been doing this for a decade I’ve learned that much of the job is educating the people who are paying you.

              1. Brooke*

                Educating is a huge part of it, but at the end of the day I’m not going to stand my ground so much on something like this that I actually endanger my own employment.

  27. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’ve edited headshots for our website. There are things that are unnoticeable when someone sees you in person, but can really jump out in a photo. It’s the difference between moving 3-d and motionless 2-d. For example, my sister-in-law has such pale eyebrows that they don’t show up in photos at all. In person, she looks fine – the texture, or something, makes it obvious that she does in fact have eyebrows. But in photos she has this weird brow-less appearance that doesn’t even look like her real face. So I always give her some very subtle eyebrows, and it makes a huge difference. But it doesn’t make her look like a different person; it makes her look more like her. Same thing with blemish removal, very subtle teeth whitening, softening dark circles under the eyes, removing eyeglass glare, etc. The point isn’t to make you look different, it’s to make you look like the best version of yourself. And if it’s a B&W photo, then some correction is called for just to fix colors that wash out in that format – it’s not to make you look like you have big fake ruby red lips, but just to make sure your lips are not the same color as your skin, since that’s not how you look in real life.

    Making you thinner? Tanner? Removing freckles? That’s ridiculous. Are you sure he’s never done that to the men? How carefully have you looked at their headshots?

    1. Jeanne*

      I would like to know if she is the only one this happened to. Still doesn’t make it right. Maybe by speaking up she can make a change. It sounds like what you do is to enhance not change.

  28. techfool*

    Maybe he’s just bad at photoshop.
    I arranged for a photographer to come in and take pics. He retouched all of them, men and women, but so well that everyone still looked like themselves but, I guess, how they like to think they look rather than what they really look like. He said it takes a very long time. So I guess if you don’t have the expertise or the time it’s going to be hamfisted. I wouldn’t rush to be offended but ask if they can do a more subtle job.

    1. WIncredulous*

      I just posted below that I photoshop people for the church I work for, especially funeral bulletins. I am very, very subtle about it. It does take take more time than people would think. Even just editing photos for the newsletter takes time that people don’t think about. It really makes a difference though!

  29. Jennifer*

    Btw, the text is showing weird little symbols every time there’s supposed to be an “I’m.” It looks like this: I’d

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      My old company had a really bad photographer. The pictures just keep looking worse. And the worst part is that they haven’t pulled my picture off the site yet.

  30. animaniactoo*

    Okay, my mom issued a ban on me having any pictures of her for awhile after I offered to fix the (genetics) double-chin she has despaired of for her whole life. But you know… that was for chits and giggles.

    In reality, I have *never* retouched someone beyond a temporary issue (think a kid missing a tooth in a costume catalog), such that they did not look like the real current version of themselves. Except for one time and that was at the request of the customer* who was desperate because their cover model had gone to rehab for anorexia, come back 40 lbs heavier, and they were terrified that if she saw the untouched photos, she’d relapse. Even then, they didn’t ask me to go totally extreme. It was maybe 15 lbs worth/toning kind of stuff, and not obvious unless she was posing exactly the same (not an everyday pose). Even then they’d still get away with “real life vs photograph” difference.

    As somebody who has been a professional retoucher – the extent this guy went to is *never* okay when unsolicited or approved by you.

  31. Brooke*

    Two big points:

    1. I’m a professional retoucher/designer. Unnatural retouching is a parasite on our industry.


    I work for a Fortune 100 company who expects company portraits to be pretty heavily photoshopped. It’s how it’s always been and at this point it’s a consistency issue. So, as an employee who sometimes DOES this photoshopping, I do it because it’s expected.

    My main point? It’s not personal.

    1. Newlywed*

      I also worked as a professional retoucher for a while, and the way I was taught to edit was pretty heavy handed. I would walk around and look at people as though I was a plastic surgeon because I had this insane checklist in my head (erase bags under eyes, brighten irises, whiten teeth, smooth wrinkles, add eyelashes, smooth out arm fat/muffin top, etc)…most of our clients wanted that look, and they thought that’s what they actually looked like. It’s pretty likely that the guy just thought he was doing a good job on improving the photo. People’s definition of what’s appropriate when it comes to retouching varies pretty wildly. But that being said, if OP doesn’t want to be represented that way, I’d just ask it to be replaced with the original.

      1. Brooke*

        Yep, we have a checklist as well. I use a much lighter hand when I do freelance retouching.

        I guess is what I’m trying to convey to everyone here who’s up in arms – it’s not personal nor is it necessarily a lack of skill. It may just be the norm at that particular company.

        You have every right to ask the person who did the work but please be respectful about it.

        1. Brooke*

          Sorry, realized you didn’t mean that you had an actual checklist, Newlywed.

          We do here at BigHuge Company. It’s a bit much but you know what – when you’ve got a few dozen photos side by side on a PPT slide, they DO look pretty darn cohesive and nice. So take that for what it is and possibly pick a different battle to fight, OP.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, in some ways I think it’s worse. Basically what this company is saying is that it’s not OK for anyone to work here unless they have a certain “look”. Ew.

        2. Mookie*

          You keep talking about your profession and industry, but the admin doesn’t belong to either. Characterizing egregious editing as “parasitic” while hyperbolically describing others who also dislike such editing as “up in arms” seems contradictory to me. Editing individual features is personal to the individual. Highly personal. Saying otherwise is just obviously untrue and lecturing people to be respectful is not helpful when you yourself recognize that this prevailing custom of white-washing (in some cases, literally) corporate headshots is not healthy.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            And it doesn’t appear this company has such requirements, since the admin put the original photo up when the OP asked him to. So saying that the OP shouldn’t take it personal because the guy was just following policy doesn’t seem to apply here.

            And even if this *is* company policy, the OP should still be annoyed by it. Saying that someone needs to be thin and young-looking to be good enough for the company INTRAnet is ridiculous.

            1. Mookie*

              Right, and as others have said, “personal” is a red herring. It doesn’t matter what the intent is. Handwaving away objections because something isn’t “personal” to the individual affected doesn’t work. There are obvious patterns to even the most banal, mostly invisible forms of discrimination. Saying that someone didn’t intend to personally do someone else harm is not an answer, it’s an excuse and reads as silencing rather than constructive.

    2. CMT*

      It’s not personal doesn’t really matter if you’re still sending the message that the company doesn’t want to be associated with you unless you meet certain appearance standards.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Yeah, I think if someone were offended in the sense of feeling that the application of these standards to their photo constituted a negative assessment of their appearance, it would be reasonable to say, “It’s not personal, they do this to everyone, and that policy may not have been set by the guy who actually did the photoshopping.” But I think it’s fairly clear that the OP is offended by the existence of those standards and what that says about what the workplace (and society) values in women.

  32. The Bimmer Guy*

    Wow. That’s a pretty major overstep. I don’t know what would make him think that this was okay. If things are frosty or awkward between the two of you from now on…it’s entirely his fault.

  33. Kat M*

    I once had a headshot taken. When I got my copy back, it looked like some full-on toddlers in tiaras glamour shoot. And since everyone knows perfectly well I’m pale, never wear makeup, and have bad teeth and frizzy hair, there’s no way I’d let anyone see it, except for a laugh.

  34. WIncredulous*

    I work for a church and I photoshop people, but never crazy photoshop. I always touch up a funeral bulletin photo. Never tons like this scenario sounded, but a bit. Whiten teeth, brighten eyes, color correct the whole photo (removing yellow from older photos), repair damage from original photos, maybe enhance eyebrows, maybe (maybe) lightly smooth deep wrinkles, or remove shine. But my goal is always to make the person look like themself, just a little better. I consider it the last thing I can do, and have the pastor and family sign off. No thinning, no makeup added, no freckles removed, etc. I want people to have that last good memory of their loved one, and I am quite subtle. The last one I did I had to show the pastor multiple times before she could see what I did. I don’t know why this corporation photoshopped the heck out of this lady, but when I photoshop it is my last respect to them and to their family, just so it is a beautiful memory. Maybe I’m wrong, but the families I have helped with the funeral bulletin have all been happy. I guess photoshop is a tool and you can use it for good or evil.

    1. Blue Moon*

      Do people actually ask you to do this? Do you offer before you do anything? Or do you just go ahead and assume it’s OK to do this, and ask grieving relatives to sign off on it after the fact? I REALLY hope it’s not the latter!

      As someone who recently had to do the funeral admin for my grandfather, if anyone had messed with the photos we selected like this there would have been hell to pay. I would have kicked their ass for daring to be so disrespectful. It’s not up to anyone else to decide to make someone “look better”. Better to who, exactly? You, who didn’t even know them? Your “better” is irrelevant here.

  35. stevenz*

    Leaving the more personal comments to others, I would just say that it’s dishonest to portray someone as different from what they are, whether better looking or worse. It’s bad business practice and I would point that out as well as the personal offense it has caused you. I’m sure no offense was meant but *at least* when photos of people are modified they should be asked for approval to use them.

  36. Queenie*

    In my previous job we were all sent to a professional photographer for headshots and they all came back sympathetically photoshopped around the head area.

    The only thing is that they seemed to have a habit of photoshopping staff into suits if they were deemed to look a bit scruffy…

  37. Tara*

    I feel like you shouldn’t be thinking this guy thinks that you aren’t young enough looking already, or whatever. I get the feeling that he probably just likes photoshopping. I wouldn’t actually do something like this, because I get that people might think “Did you think I wasn’t pretty enough before?”, but as someone who really likes retouching I could see someone doing this just because its super fun.

    I agree that its inappropriate, though.

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