Meredith Day says a lifetime of dieting can put strange thoughts in your head.
The Sun Valley photographer was browsing through a film laboratory last fall when she noticed an odd machine. Typed pages were fed into one end, and came out the other end the same size--but with skinnier words.
"My very first thought was, 'This is for me!' " she recalled. "I said, 'I'm going to run one of my pictures through it, and if I look good skinny, it will be great.' "
With the flick of a switch, Day had cheekbones.
She also had a new business. As of last week, she offers Think Thin Photos, in which anyone can look instantly slimmer.
"It's hilariously funny, and it's really neat for people who need a little kick-start to lose weight," said Day, 40. "Friends of mine put it up on their refrigerator door as inspiration."
At $10 a photograph, Day does not expect to make much money at this venture. She still spends most of her time snapping black-and-white portraits of rock musicians. And she has begun another business using a highly technical camera to shoot commercial photographs.
There are loftier motivations behind "Think Thin."
"Having been overweight most of my life," she said, "my goal in taking pictures of people is to make them look as good as I can."
Looking good is a heavily marketed commodity these days. Workout gyms and low-calorie TV dinners abound. NutraSweet Co. last week announced it will market a natural fat substitute that can be used to make low-calorie butter and ice cream.
But it seems some people can't wait for natural processes to run their course, and photographers have historically been called upon to work magic on unwanted girth. For years, portraits have been shot from unusual angles, artfully shaded and painted over.
In his book, "Scavullo Women," New York fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo displayed a panorama of these techniques in "before" and "after" photographs.
More recently, it was reported that a rock singer had certain scenes in her video electronically compressed so that her figure looked sleeker for the television screen.
Even after Day discovered that she could similarly alter photographs, it did not occur to her to do this for anyone but herself and a few friends.
Diane Barnhill changed all that.
Barnhill, a gospel singer, hired Day to shoot her for an album cover. Day, on a whim, photographically "thinned " a picture of Barnhill and gave it to the singer.
A few months later, Barnhill sent a letter to the photographer. She wrote that the altered picture had inspired her to join Overeaters Anonymous. In two months, she had lost 20 pounds.
"People need all the motivation they can get along the path to weight loss," said Dr. Albert Marston, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at USC. "Anything visual, like a photograph, that reminds them of their goal is very useful."
In his book "The Undiet," Marston recommended that dieters find old snapshots of themselves when they were thin, or have an artist draw a less-than-faithful rendering. He said he recommends other such psychological tricks in his current "In Control: Home Video Weight-Loss Program."
"I wouldn't say that it's going to cure obesity," Marston said. "It's an aid, an additional tool that you can use that will help you along."
Sight Is a Shock
In her letter to Day, Barnhill wrote that she had always been overweight and assumed that she always would be. Seeing a thin version of herself was a shock.
"The realization of being able to be pretty was very emotional and scary, and I realized that I wanted it," Barnhill wrote. "I felt like I had been hit in the face with a ton of bricks."
Day soon decided to market the photographic slimming process. She returns to the film lab to have pictures altered by a machine that uses special lenses to "bend" the photograph from side-to-side or top-to-bottom. (Day did not want to reveal the name of the machine.)
In the meantime, she is shooting advertisements using a specialized camera that produces 3-dimensional photographs--a higher-quality version of the shiny 3-D pictures that come in Cracker Jack boxes and on postcards.
So "Think Thin Photos" remain an amusing sideline. Day has placed a small advertisement in a Los Angeles newspaper and gets some work by word of mouth. Scattered about her Pasadena studio are before and after shots of people she has thinned. Day said she can also add weight to thin people, but that isn't where her heart lies.
"There's such a small percentage of people who want to gain weight, I've been concentrating on people who want to lose it," she said. "I've always been on a diet. I know how tough it can be."