Yesterday I placed an emergency call to my friend Ali because I needed a stat family picture for my husband’s new employer. Incidentally, only a very selfless friend would ask a full-term pregnant mother to drop everything, pack up her small children and drive 45 minutes to take a picture with the only payment being a freezer meal she helped make. I threw on some makeup and a clean shirt and proceeded to chase down my kids to scrub the dirt off their faces and drag a brush through their hair. I also had to change my son out of his jammy pants. After 30 minutes spent transforming from what we really look like into what we’d like the community to think we look like, we were ready.
Ali is a rock star professional photographer and has this magical ability to do things like park the family in front of our pasture filled with piles of horse manure and make it appear like we were on a sun-kissed hill in some idyllic countryside locale. By the time she’s finished you’d never know how many times we had to plead, threaten, and cajole our kids into looking at the camera and smiling. And as usual we had great pictures to choose from.
But as we were looking through the pictures all I could focus on was picking apart my appearance. I looked large. Ugh, my thighs. My hair is terrible. My smile is crooked. I didn’t realize my teeth have such a gap. My eyes are too squinty. Which, as usual, made me wonder if I should have even been in the picture at all – because clearly I am ruining the otherwise beautiful family photo.
I showed Ali the one we planned to use and pointed out how I hated how wide my face looks. She was surprised and said it doesn’t look wide at all. I had to take her word for it given the fact that she was sitting beside me and could assess with certainty something so high stakes as the width of my face.
For years I have hated myself in pictures. I especially dislike when they will be seen publicly. Ashamed of my post-baby body. Wincing at my hair, my clothes, my skin. But my friends never know what I am talking about when I point out the flaws. No one ever unfriended me on social medial because I looked like … myself … in a picture. And my kids like the way I look just fine. To them I just look like mom. The only one scrutinizing every roll, zit, and disheveled hairdo is me.
Candid pictures of our kids usually wind up our favorites. We like to remember their stages just as they were. Smudged faces. Mismatched clothes. Wind-blown hair. The same is true of pictures of grandparents and loved ones. I love every last wrinkle on my grandmother’s face when I stare at her picture. I laugh because I have the exact same crooked crease between my eyes. (A crease I know she detested.) So why do we hate it when we look like ourselves in pictures?
Here’s the thing. We can pretend we don’t look the way we do. We can even take drastic steps to ensure every picture of ourselves is perfect. We can wait for the day when we are thin, coiffed, made up, and clothed just right to post pictures of ourselves. Or we can just be who we are.
Sure, I still hope to drop some weight. (I AM an American woman after all, with the obligatory concern for my diet all the while shoving cookies down my gullet and planning to start tomorrow.) And there’s nothing wrong with trying to look nice for a picture. But until Tammie’s hair, makeup, wardrobe, vegan chef and personal training crew are on the payroll I plan to start chilling out about my appearance in pictures. Maybe I’ll even bless you with some of me in my favorite faded yoga pants. OK maybe not.