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“I want you to Photoshop all of my cellulite, all of my angry red stretch marks, ALL of my fat, and all of my wrinkles. Just make it go away. I just want to feel gorgeous just once.”

This was the request that San Antonio–based photographer Victoria Caroline Haltom received from her fortysomething client. Haltom had been commissioned to take artistic, semi-erotic photographs of the woman, which she would give as a flirtatious Christmas gift to her husband in an effort to “spice things up.”

As this was a routine request (and a given in most magazines), the photographer obliged. “I went home, made every last stretch mark disappear, smoothed out every dimple of cellulite, took away every wrinkle,” Haltom said. “I turned her into the epitome of what every woman dreams of being.”

But it wasn’t a story about a woman requesting to be Photoshopped that went viral last week (that’s not news). It was her husband’s response upon receiving the boudoir photos that blew up Facebook and reminded women everywhere that we are lovable, even with all our imperfections.

“When I opened the album that she gave to me, my heart sank,” he wrote to the photographer in the letter she later revealed. “These pictures . . . while they are beautiful . . . they are not my wife.” He never blames Haltom for following through with his wife’s Photoshop requests. But what he says instead is rather heartwarming—and might make even the most skeptical believe in honorable men and true love in marriage:

“When you took away her stretch marks, you took away the documentation of my children. When you took away her wrinkles, you took away over two decades of our laughter and our worries. When you took away her cellulite, you took away her love of baking and all the goodies we have eaten over the years.”

He explains that he’s not writing this to make her feel bad, but instead, to thank her for bringing this realization to light.

“Seeing these images made me realize that I honestly do not tell my wife enough how much I LOVE her and adore her just as she is. She hears it so seldom, that she actually thought these Photoshopped images are what I wanted and needed her to look like.”

The truth is, the quest for unrealistic perfection goes far beyond pictures. It infiltrates our relationships as well. Too often we convince ourselves that we are not good enough. We hide our quirks and “flaws” as best we can, thinking that we’re improving our appeal. But really we just make it that much harder for a man to know—and love—us authentically.

I can’t help but think of my gorgeous, tall friend who refused to show her boyfriend pictures from her past because she spent her childhood “in a perpetual fat phase.” Another friend was embarrassed about her love of top-forty music and instead feigned interest in indie rocker bands, thinking it would seem more intriguing. How many of us have lied about our weight? Our natural hair color? Our favorite movies?

I know that in my own dating past, many of my boyfriends had no idea who I was. I was too busy maintaining a perfect facade. In the end it was this inauthentic veil that ultimately destroyed the relationships. If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that the most solid relationships require vulnerability and honesty. At the end of the day, I realized that many of my exes weren’t even with anyone real. I had given them an entirely different person. It’s no wonder the relationships didn’t work out.

We need to show our husbands and our boyfriends who it is we wish them to love. Our beauty is made up of so much more than our exterior. The men we should be with will see beyond all that. Like Haltom’s client, they’ll look at us and see shared history, and the future, and the possibility for even greater intimacy. In fact, stumbling upon this story, I was instantly reminded of an article that Verily published last Valentine’s Day. In Why I Don’t Want Boudoir Photos for Valentine’s Day, Mitch Boersma says:

“Husbands in possession of [boudoir] photos might be tempted to point to them when their wives ask the nostalgic question we all ask each other and ourselves, ‘When was I at my best?’ But the husbands, loving their wives—body, mind, and soul—will already know the right answer: Tomorrow.”

This is not to say that we should cease to be our best selves in our relationships, that we shouldn’t work on our shortcomings. Rather, this is a reminder that it’s OK to be authentic and wholly lovable. That means sharing our failures, our insecurities, and yes, even our “angry red stretch marks” and wrinkles with our partners.

Cultivating authenticity should begin wherever we are now. Whether you’re committed to someone or single, accept your lovableness today. While you can always work toward self-improvement, it’s critical to stay real and proud of who and where you are in this moment. That’s how you can truly put your best self forward.

Photo Credit: Nima Salimi