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Russ Harrington
Pretty picture, but real me?

The first time I noticed a photo of mine had been retouched was in Nashville while I was pitching my album to a major record company almost six years ago.

Those were my pre-baby years, and if there were ever a time I felt my body looked like the stereotypical definition of “beautiful,” it was then. I had a photo shoot a few weeks before for my album and had just received a stack of press pics for the stations.

I grabbed a copy of the picture and signed my name. But just as I extended my hand to give the photo to one of the record execs, I froze. I yanked my hand back and looked closely at the picture.

“What?” my tour manager asked.

“My face,” I replied, perplexed. “There’s something wrong with my face.”

“Looks great to me!” The man said. “Looks real pretty.”

But it didn’t look ... right. As I studied it, I noticed that my jawline looked much more defined. My cheeks were not as full. My nose looked smaller, and every freckle, mole, hair and wrinkle on my face was gone.

It did look pretty, as the man said. But it did NOT look like me.

I felt very unsettled. "Why did they do that?" I wondered. "Why did they change my face?"

There was nothing really wrong with the picture, except that it simply was not true to who I was, what I really looked like.

Consider the new campaign for the American Eagle line “Aerie.”

“Time to think real. Time to get real. No supermodels. No retouching. Because ... the real you is sexy,” reads the slogan.

Even though it's a lingerie line, the models in the pictures are not posed in provocative or overtly sexy ways. They are beautiful women of all shapes and sizes. The ads are striving for a much more practical and honest approach to selling women's underwear.

Similarly, the magazine Verily believes that every body is beautiful, and it has also taken a stand against changing a picture — changing a human — to sell its product.

“Whereas other magazines photoshop to achieve the ‘ideal’ body type or leave a maximum of three wrinkles, we never alter the body or face structure of our models with Photoshop. We firmly believe that the unique features of women — be it crow's feet, freckles or a less-than-rock-hard body — contribute to their beauty and therefore don’t need to be removed or changed,” reads a statement on Verily's website.

“To re-create a human being using a computer process is a bit of an attack on who you naturally are,” said Aerie model Amber Tolliver in an interview with Elle magazine.

Now, I think there are times when retouching may not necessarily be a bad thing. Like when a giant tour bus is wrapped with your face and they don’t fix your bloodshot eyes, upper lip hair and cold, slightly purple arms, for example.

Or, six years later, when your kids are all screaming during family pictures and you just need ONE good one for crying out loud. So the photographer does some head-swapping to make it appear like we all love each other.

The fact is, the popular, scary, mind-warping world of digital photo editing and retouching is here to stay. So the trick will be to teach our children to notice the difference between real and fake.

If I were to do a photo shoot now, having grown, birthed and nursed three babies, much about my body would look different. Much is different, and there are some days when I look in the mirror and can hardly remember the girl I used to be.

I wish I could go back to pre-baby Carmen and tell myself how much I have to look forward to. That if I felt happy with my body then, just wait until it’s been literally stretched to its limit, having waxed and waned and created life.

I have never felt more beautiful in my life than the moment after I gave birth and was holding in my arms an actual, breathing manifestation of love.

Our bodies are miraculous in all their wonderful stages. They are meant to be taken care of, and they are meant to change.

Really accepting that change and welcoming each new reality will surely be testing, but it can also be a beautiful step toward acceptance and love for who we are.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.