By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from my editors asking me to come by the newsroom to have a new photograph taken. They wanted to update the small mug shot they run with the column, and they said they might use the photo in some promotional materials. Part of me was delighted to be considered worthy of promotional materials, but the other part of me cringed. Ugh. Why couldn’t they have asked me to do something easier and more pleasant, like pouring rubbing alcohol on a paper cut or translating the Bill of Rights into Portuguese?
Like so many women (and a few men, too), I’m not a fan of getting my picture made. I’ve never liked it. It’s ironic, too, because I love photography and the way pictures tell a story or capture a mood.
So I’ve been asking myself these past few weeks why I, along with so many other camera-shy people (and you know who you are), want to sprint from the room anytime a lens gets pointed in our direction. I think I’ve figured it out.
We all think we know how we look as we go about our daily lives. But we’re wrong. Inside my head, I have a picture of what I think I look like. But then I see my photograph and realize how far off my mental picture is from the real thing. That’s the problem with mental pictures – they’re always younger, thinner and better-looking, so it’s hard to measure up. I’m guessing we must snap that mental photo when we’re about 22-years-old, when gravity is still on our side and the bloom of youth is fresh on our faces.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not deluded. It’s not as if there’s a snapshot of Heidi Klum running around in my head, driving my minivan and doing my grocery shopping. But every time I see my photo, my first thought is “Do I really look like that? Gah!”
Part of the problem is that I ALWAYS over think it. In the seconds before the camera flash goes off, here’s what goes through my head:
“Okay, now just smile and look natural. But don’t smile too much because then your upper lip disappears. Remember to open your eyes wider so you won’t look sleepy. But not too wide because then you’ll just look really surprised. Gotta turn my head a little to the side so it won’t look like a straight-on mug shot of Gary Busey. Is my shirt wrinkled? Because if it’s wrinkled it’s going to end up looking like a fat roll whether it is or not. Oh, that reminds me to suck it in. Keep sucking it in! But how can I smile naturally if I’m not breathing. I’m running out of air now. Take the freaking picture already!” Click.
Is it any wonder my photos look a little strained?
Fortunately, there are rare times when the stars line up just right, the lighting is good and the camera angle is kind. When you luck upon a good photo of yourself, you cherish it. It becomes your “go to” photo anytime you need one. It’s the one you use on Facebook, the one on your Christmas card, the only one in your house you consider frame-worthy. If you’re really lucky, you might even have four or five of these “best pictures.”
What I’ve been realizing lately, however, is that I’m going to have to let go of that mental picture, accept the real evidence and learn to appreciate it – on good days and bad.
Women and mothers in particular are terrible about editing ourselves out of the family photo album. We go through each photo and throw out the ones where we look fat, the ones where our hair didn’t look right, the ones where we’re not smiling enough, the ones where we had on a weird shirt, the ones where we weren’t wearing make-up – the reasons go on and on. Or some of us dodge the issue altogether by insisting on being the one behind the camera instead of letting someone else shoot us in action.
If we keep letting our inner critics weed through photos, we might end up with one or two pictures in the entire album. And years from now, our kids will wonder where in the heck we were all those years. They’ll have less to remember us by, and we will have robbed them of memories they deserve to keep.
So…back to that editors’ photo request. I trudged to the newsroom at the last possible minute and dutifully had my picture taken. I haven’t seen the shot yet, but, chances are, I’ll think I look really weird in it. If so, just put your thumb over the little picture while you’re reading. Because whether I like it or not, that’s me – in all my glorious imperfection.