“Just like a mom! You take all of these pictures, and you’re never in any of them!” said my friend Linda on a hike one chilly morning.
So I bowed to her reasoning that there should be proof that I was on these hikes, too, handed her my camera, and posed in front of the river with my kids.
Then when I got home and put the photos on the computer, I skipped over the ones with me in them as quickly as possible, completely uninterested in seeing myself in all of my stocking-capped glory.
Winter garb or not, I really, really hate seeing pictures of myself.
There are specific things I don’t like. I never like my hair. I either look angry or I’m smiling in a way that shows too much of my gums or makes a shadow that resembles a mustache or my mouth is open too wide. My eyes are two different sizes. My clothes hang on me weird. I’m stumpy.
I look at photos and I pick out all of these things, and no wonder I don’t like seeing pictures of myself.
But the worst part about seeing pictures of myself is knowing that this is how I look. That whether there’s a camera pointed at me or not, I look goofy and stumpy and either scowly or overly gummy. I worry that I’m as goofy and stupid on the inside as I am on the outside.
Of course, I’m not alone in feeling this way about myself. Lots of people hate seeing photos of themselves. But oddly enough, other people hating how they look does not make me feel any better about how I look.
The only reason I ever get in front of the camera is for other people. At my brother’s wedding I posed with the family. Every couple of years, my spouse and kids and I have photos done. And if someone has a camera and wants to take a photo of me, I don’t duck out of the way. For one, what’s the point? I look like I look even without photographic evidence. But also, I know that my kids are going to want photos of me when they get older.
Or maybe they will. It’s possible a random magazine doesn’t know what my children will want when they’re adults.
At the very least, I know that they don’t look at me and see the limp hair or the gummy smile or the disheveled, ill-fitting clothes, or the way my belly pooches out, or at least they don’t attach a value judgement to those things. (Yet.) I’m just Mom to them, and they see me as a whole package, not as these bits and pieces into which I dissect myself.
Actually, there is one other reason I occasionally request a photo of myself. Every now and then I think, “Come on. You can’t look as bad as you think you do!” So I’ll hand my spouse the camera at the beach and say, “Get some photos of me with the kids!”
Then I look at the photos later and rediscover that I do, in fact, look as bad as I thought I did. A lot of the time, I actually look worse because I’d half convinced myself that the image in my head was worse than reality. Turns out, reality is a bitch.
It wouldn’t even be an issue if I didn’t have an online presence, you know? I do my best to avoid posting actual photos of myself. My current Facebook profile picture is a goat. The one before that was a strawberry.
But when nothing but my visage will do, I mostly use shots of myself in sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat that make me look like I’m in the
Witness Protection Program.
Or I use the one cropped photo of me from our family photo shoot in 2011. That’s the one on my About page, and it’s about the only photo of me taken in the past twenty years that I almost like. The next most-recent photo that doesn’t make me cringe is my Freshman-year college photo. I would just keep recycling that one if it weren’t so obviously more than two decades old.
To be honest, I’m not all that comfortable with being seen at all, even outside of pictures. I don’t feel comfortable with people making judgements or assumptions about me or even really thinking about me based on my appearance at all. A couple of years ago my spouse informed me that all men fantasize about the women they see around them and that he’s certain I’ve been fantasized about by someone other than him. I think he said this to be supportive and to help me see myself through his eyes, but it was shortly after this that I began wearing floor-length skirts. I’ve always liked dressing in layers, but his comment has really made me embrace the practice.
Now, since this is a blog, I’m supposed to turn things around and end with some kind of upbeat, “I’m not going to think this way anymore!” and a vow to post a selfie a day for a year, but I won’t be doing that.
The bottom line is, I have difficulty accepting that this is the physical form I’ve been given to carry my soul through the world. No bold declaration is going to change this. I’ll either learn to stop cringing or I won’t.
It’s likely I will never like how I look in photos, and really, so what if I don’t?