I hate having my photo taken.
This does not make me unique; many of us dislike the experience. We don’t like the way we look. Part of it is scientific, at least according to my son. The picture we see in the photographs is not the one we’re used to seeing when we look at ourselves in a mirror. Our mirror image is flipped. The one taken with a camera is not, and the discrepancy can be mentally problematic, leading us to cry “I don’t look like that” right before we hit delete.
Instant erasure is one of the advantages of the digital age. We can easily get rid of photos we don’t like. I remember film, waiting for hard copies to arrive and being the first to grab the envelope, to cull offending photos before anyone else had a chance to look at them. I even went so far as to cut up the negatives.
I don’t like the way I look to an extreme degree. I’ve hated my appearance for most of my life and I’ve done a great many harmful things in an effort to make changes. It’s fortunate I didn’t have access to unlimited funds, or I’d have a list of corrective surgical procedures under my belt.
Fix the nose, correct that flat spot by my right eye, alter the chin, and amp up the cheekbones. Suck out the fat from the thighs. Lift the breasts. I’d have had it all done, despite my dislike of pain. One must suffer for perfection, after all, and that’s what my brain tells me I need to have – perfection.
In my pursuit of beauty, and in response to minute flaws, I developed a cutting habit; the face that I once deplored for not being perfectly beautiful is now riddled with scars. So much for perfection.
So much for photographs.
The scars cause pulling and tension; the smile I was desperate to improve is now skewed and off-kilter, sitting on a chin that is oddly misshapen.
On the bright side, I’m alive. At times I worried that wouldn’t be the case; the infections and trauma was that severe.
But I still can’t bear to have my photo taken, can barely stand to look at myself in a mirror and I realized today, that’s a shame.
The screen saver on my computer is set to the photograph file. When the computer is at rest, it plays a montage of all the pictures I’ve taken and uploaded, ever. What a wonderful thing that is.
I get to see pictures of my children when they were young, of my parents when they were young too. I revisit vacations and school concerts and birthday parties. I see funny moments, and serious ones, and tender ones too. Sometimes, I just sit at the desk and watch my life roll by.
I’m not in it very much.
What will my children see? How will they remember me when there is such an abbreviated record of my existence?
We are more than how we look. We hold that up to be vitally important and yet it’s ultimately insignificant.
I struggle with mental illness and have my whole life and even now, in the dark days I find myself calling out for my mother. I’m not calling out to her because she’s beautiful, though I think she is. I want her love, and her support, and her compassion, and her understanding. I want her to make me feel better. I feel all those things when I see her image flash across the screen.
Do I think so little of my friends and family that I imagine the only value I have for them is a physically perfect form? This is eating disorder thinking, though I suspect others struggle with it too. We are more than thin thighs and arching cheekbones. The idea that I need to be perfect to be valued is one that I struggle with and challenge, but I realize I haven’t addressed it regarding photographs.
I can’t bear to see photos of myself, with family or friends, especially posted on line. Tag me and I’ll delete what you post. All I see are the scars and imperfections. All I see is that I’m not model-perfect. I don’t see the fun, don’t see the love, and don’t celebrate the moment.
One day, however, I’ll be gone. We all will. Life is finite, and the older I get, the shorter it seems. I owe it to the people I love to be in the moments with them, so that one day they can sit and look at pictures on a screen and remember comforting hands, kind words, a healing touch when they were sick, sympathy, and love.
A family friend died shortly before Christmas this past year. He was in his eighties and went in his sleep. He had a good life and a peaceful death. The celebration of his life is coming up; my parents are putting it on for the family. My mother told me that she put some photos in frames to display around the house and printed up a stack of photos for people who wanted to take home a remembrance. I’m reasonably certain no one will be looking at them and thinking that his hair should’ve been different and maybe he should’ve given some thought to Botox. They’ll be glad of the memory, glad to have the opportunity to see him one more time.