"The entire media climate is filled with manipulation," said Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University. Therefore, he added, "on the level of family and friends, there's much less resistance to altering images."
INDEED, in a world where so many images of the beautiful and famous are enhanced, ordinary people sometimes believe they need to prettify pictures of themselves just to keep pace. Keze Stroebel-Haft, 23, a retoucher for an advertising agency in San Francisco, said she uses Photoshop to remove blemishes or double chins from photos of herself she posts on MySpace and Facebook.
"It's everywhere," she said. "On the covers of magazines, all the beautiful women are Photoshopped, their skin is cleaned up. Everybody does it."
But even as evolving technology gives people more power to reconstruct their personal histories, those old, unretouched photographs in their family album retain a powerful psychological value.
Alan D. Entin, a clinical psychologist in Richmond, Va., uses patients' family photographs as raw material to inspire discussion and analysis of their roles and relationships within their family.
"They're a record," he said. "They have existed over time and space. They are important documents."
To alter them is to invite self-deception, he said. "The value to accepting a photograph of yourself as you are is that you're accepting the reality of who you are, and how you look, and accepting yourself that way, warts and all. I think the pictures you hate say as much about you as pictures you love."