Monday, November 30, 2015

The Silly Selfie Battle

"Mommy, let's take a picture!" my youngest child yells.
"That's fine, baby, but make sure I'm not in it."
"Come on," he whines, drawing out the last word in a huff of exhalation.
"Okay, fine," as I acquiesce, knowing full well that once we've taken the picture of ourselves, I'll go into the camera app and delete it.
[whrrp] is the sound the app makes as it deletes the photo. And, like that, the picture is gone. With it, a memory.

In this picture I'm the slightly
more girly version of SNL's Pat.
I don't know when I started to hate pictures but it's been decades. I posed for my fair amount of photographs as a kid for my father who counted "photographer" as one of many of his careers in life. In every picture after age 12 months or so, what I see is a kid with dimpled knees, dimpled thighs, dimpled cheeks, and a round belly and bad hair painstakingly curled and ratted by my mother with a hot iron, hair spray, and ribboned plastic barrettes.

When I think of myself as a child, this is who I see.

Not the puffy sleeves!
I don't have a lot of pictures to correct my mental image, either. There are a few sorority group photos, a couple over-exposed pictures taken with disposable cameras, showing me pasty with red eyes and wearing plaid. I have a couple extremely unflattering Halloween photographs taken at an underground gay bar in Missoula, MT and pictures of me in bridesmaid dresses at my brothers' weddings when I was 13. (Why, why, why were puffy sleeves ever a thing?) Aside from their value as artifacts of fashion mishaps of the 1990s, these did little to change how I feel about how I look.

On the scale of "how much do I hate pictures of myself?" where on the low end is "waking up on a Monday" and the high end is "George Bush/Hilary Clinton", I'm at eleventy. That's's that high.

Not having pictures never bothered me really. I figured not liking pictures would be one of those charming idiosyncrasies that others would find mildly irritating but affectionately accept. Sure, I'd give in semi-graciously at weddings (since those are, I'm told, supposed to be about the happy couple, not me) but that'd be it. Some day, when I'm dead and scattered ashes, my younger relatives would say, "Grandma? Aunt Timberly? Oh, she kind of looked like her sisters but we don't really have any pictures of her." I'm okay with that. Memory would treat my looks more kindly than photographic proof.

This is my dad's happy face
for photos. It's mine, too.
When my dad died, several of us went to his house afterward for the ritual picking over the bones of the dead by going through his papers, files, letters, and more. My brother and I have an image of our dad's computer hard drive. Last night I opened it to look in the folder called "pictures." It showed me what I could've guessed -- there were a few pictures downloaded from e-mails but none of him, none of us with him, none of him with his wife of 45 years.
Whatever my photophobia, I come by it honestly. But is this the outcome they would've wanted? Is it what I would want?

My oldest was born almost 12 years ago and I have fewer than 15 pictures of me with my children. This includes:
- One picture with my oldest son as a newborn
- One muddy picture taken at 9 months pregnant with #2
- One from my oldest child's baptism and First Communion
- One from my oldest child's first visit to Santa
- Two church directory photographs that are filed away

When it comes to pictures of me with my friends, the albums are similarly bare. This summer I stepped out of a picture with two friends after a half-marathon because I didn't want a picture taken of me salty and sweaty. To my four-month-younger self, I guess I can only say this:

I let some stranger take this picture but
I've hidden it almost 2 years.
"What. The. Fuck.

You just ran 13.1 miles after an injury that kept you down for 8 months, you ran it with two friends on a beautiful course where you were served cake, and it doesn't matter how much your running pants made your legs look like sausage, be fucking grateful that you could run 13.1 miles with two friends who still acknowledge knowing you almost 20 years after college. Get back in that god-damned picture."

When I look at the one photograph of my mother and me as a baby, what I see is a much younger version of my mom who looks just like any mom: sleepy, unbrushed hair, wearing a nightgown, looking at her chubby baby. I see affection, nothing else. When I look at the few pictures that exist of me with friends, I see friendship and affection and youth. (Even now when we think we're old some days, we're all still young.)

But without the pictures, there is nothing.

I don't know how much realizing this will change how I feel about my looks. With every picture, I
I think I was trying to catch the skylight so I looked
angelic in this picture. (Looks lie.)
see an uneven hairline, a too-strong brow, a too-wide nose, too full cheeks, a thin mouth (and that's just my face, I haven't even started on what's below).  But it's harder than not liking how I look. It's been so long (as in "forever") since I've allowed photos to be taken that it's actually embarrassing for me to include myself, much less allow them to be posted on social media.  For all the selfie queens out there who take sexy pictures of yourself ("unintentionally" I'm sure, because no doubt you always look open-lipped with wide eyes), I will never be a member of your club.

But in these pictures with my friends and, more importantly, my kids, I don't know that how I look matters to anyone except for me. And it matters more to me that I have memories than I look good. So I guess that means I'll be in more pictures. And maybe I'll even post them.

(Although if anyone can help pose me for photos so I look good for those memories, that'd be awesome.)

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