The beau and I don’t argue very often. But lately, when we do, it’s been about photographs.
Specifically, how I hate any photograph of me ever taken. And how he’s a dick for insisting that he wants to keep the photographs he takes of me, like a total dick would.
This particular series of arguments began in earnest several months ago, when my boss asked me for a picture of me for the company profile. I took a mental survey of the handful of known photographs of myself that I actually like and quickly ruled them all out since they all involved me either 1) wearing a wedding dress or 2) grasping an adult beverage in one hand while groping a friend with the other.
Yes, I am one of those friends.
It quickly became apparent that I needed a brand new picture for work, and that I was going to have to enlist the beau to take it. So “taking pictures” became a weekend kind of project. I’d get up on a Saturday and realize we were going somewhere mildly scenic — as in, maybe there was going to be a nice shrubbery nearby — so I’d carefully choose a garment with a modest neckline and apply tinted lip gloss and brush my hair extra hard. And at some point later in the day, I’d remember the camera in my bag and eagerly herd the beau to a quiet corner outside.
This was, if you can imagine, where things started sliding sideways. Because every photo session involving me and the beau always went down like this:
I confidently take my place in front of a suitable piece of scenery, turn, smooth my hair down, tilt my head, and give a winsome smile. Snap, snap, snap, snap. Turn the other way; project the depths of my soul at the lens. Snap, snap, snap, snap. Turn again, tug my dress down, playfully hoist my hand on my hip. Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap. These have got to be good, I think. “How are they coming out?” I ask hopefully.
He reluctantly shows me the camera. “You look fine,” he insists, preemptively.
“THERE IS A PIPE COMING OUT OF MY HEAD,” I shoot back. “Also, my hair is doing something illegal and my teeth are showing and I have mushy chins and visible zits and my eyes are half-closed like I’m drunk.”
“Well, we are wine-tasting,” he says.
“I DON’T CARE,” I hiss. “Take another one. And move to the left, so you don’t get the pipe. And raise the camera up, so you don’t get my chins.”
So he takes another one, and would you fancy that? I hate that one too. And the next. And the next. “Oh my god,” I moan, peering over his shoulder at the viewing screen. “DELETE ALL OF THESE RIGHT NOW.”
“No,” he said. “You. Look. Fine.“
A wrestle match breaks out. I claw furiously at his arm as he holds the camera above his head. “No,” he half-shouts, “Even if you don’t want these, I’ll keep them! I don’t have any pictures of you because you never let me take any!”
“Because I look HORRID in all of them!” I wail pitifully. A pause. “Well, maybe if you knew how to take a good picture,” I volley at him cruelly. I can hear his eyes rolling out of his skull as I stalk back to my glass.
Later, I lean into the mirror of the bathroom, wondering where it all went wrong. Why can’t my face just be a normal, photogenic face? Why can’t my hair be shiny and well-behaved? Whoever said that adults could have acne and can we find that person and kick him in the shins?
It’s all too easy to assume that a photograph is truth. That if the camera lens sees it, it must be something everyone else sees, too. I think we tend to believe that a photograph is visual evidence of how others view us — how we look to the people around us. But a camera isn’t a truth so much as it is a story — a one-sided story, at that.
I collect every instance of bad lighting, every unflattering angle, every awkward pose. I tamp them into an ever-evolving mold of my body that I keep in my mind. That mold becomes my sense of self.
I wish I could tell you that I learned to accept one of the beau’s photographs. I didn’t. What I did, in the end, was pick one of the ones that was least offensive to me and Photoshop the everloving shit out of it. With a little digital brush I smoothed my skin, I tamed my straw-like hair’s flyaways, I even relieved myself of the slowly-deepening furrow between my brows. And when I was done I sat back, and I thought, that’s better.
And then a thought occurred to me.
This must be what the beau sees when he looks at me.
It’s the plainest, simplest, most obvious idea: the people around me don’t share the vision of myself I hold in my head. They see what they choose to see about me. The people around me see things that I don’t even have any awareness of, because I’m too busy minding the flaws in my mold. They see things based on their own knowledge, their own experiences, and their own insecurities.
Neither the camera nor the other people are necessarily right. Which is why neither of them necessarily hold any weight.
I’m probably never going to come to like pictures of myself. Maybe that can be helped by some future sessions with professional photographers who know how to coax the best out of their cameras and their subjects. But you know what? Maybe I don’t even need the help after all.
I’m starting to think I need to strip the power I gave to these outside sources. I need to stop assuming they know things about me that I’d rather not.
I’m too cynical to advocate self-love. There’s an element of perky wholesomeness in it that I just can’t get behind. But I feel like: the older I get, the more I’m aware of how short the time we have here is. And I want to spend that time being okay with myself.
I want to believe I look fine.