Don’t let worries over your looks cheat you out of chronicling your life.
Let me begin by admitting that I’m writing this from a place of privilege, and I know it. I have never had much trouble with body image, other than being too hard on myself when I was a teenager. But I think that’s fairly typical. I was blessed with a mother and other strong female role models who never placed any sort of negative emphasis on looks. In fact, I don’t recall there being much emphasis on looks at all. I was raised with the understanding that things like being well-read, interest in music and art, learning to build things, the sciences…those were the elements that make a person interesting. Not looks.
I have had my times of struggle, to be sure. After my second child was born, I was pushing 170 on the scale. I had a devil of a time dropping the weight. My daughter is six, and I only really reached my goal weight about a year ago. I can’t even take full credit for it. I was pretty seriously ill a couple of times last year, spending several weeks coughing myself into near blackouts and not eating. (Sickness is a terrible diet plan; don’t try it.) Even at my heaviest though, I was still blessed. My husband was completely blind to my cellulite and flabby belly. My kids certainly didn’t care. The only person it bothered was me, and it only really bothered me because I didn’t feel like myself and my feet hurt.
The one thing that has been consistent throughout my life as far as body issues go, is that I am in no way photogenic. Once in awhile, I’ll manage to snap a picture that isn’t absolutely vile, but for the most part, I look terrible in pictures. It’s OK. It’s a fact of life that I have come to accept. But I spent a lot of years avoiding the camera lens, always being the one to quickly volunteer to be photographer, just to avoid being in the photo myself.
A few years ago, I was looking through a box of old photos. I was looking for a particular picture of my father, who passed away when I was 18 and long before the invention of digital photography. While searching for the picture, I grew a bit sad at the few photos I have of my dad. In the same box, I also found some old pictures of me. Pictures from high school and my early 20’s when I first met my husband. At the time, I hated those pictures. I thought I looked terrible, which explains why they are shoved in an old boot box in the back of a forgotten closet. Looking back on those pictures, with 20 years of time, marriage and two kids marking differences, I can say now that I looked pretty damn good back then.
I realized something that day — 20 years ago, I thought those pictures were truly awful. Today, I look at them and think I look great. So isn’t it just possible that the photos I hate today actually look a lot better than I think? Isn’t there a pretty good chance, in 20 more years, that I will look back on pictures from 2016 and think I looked pretty good? I’d say it’s nearly certain.
And what of my children? Should I doom them and my potential grandchildren to only having a handful of pictures to remember me by? Isn’t that the height of selfishness? I certainly don’t care how my dad looks in the photos I have of him; I only care that I have them. Because I have very little besides my memories. So that day, pawing through a dusty old box of Polaroids, I decided something.
I decided to just take the pictures.
It no longer matters to me if my hair looks good or if I have makeup on. I no longer care about getting the perfect angle that will make my nose not look so sharp or my neck have fewer rolls. I made the conscious decision to stop caring. It was tough, especially at first; I won’t lie about that. But it has gotten easier with time.
And I’ve never been happier. Not every picture I take is magazine worthy, of course. In fact, a lot of them are just flat no good. But what I’m capturing is so much more important than the fact that for one day my hair was perfect. I’m chronicling my life. Life is messy. Life is imperfect. Life is ugly sometimes, beautiful sometimes and mediocre sometimes. Just like my photos. When the day comes that my number is called, I will leave a legacy in photos for my children. And do you know what they will say? They will say, “Look how much fun Mom was having. Look how much Mom loved us and Dad. Look how many friends Mom had.” They will never say, “Mom’s hair looks bad.” And they will certainly never say, “I wish I had more pictures of my mom.”
If you are out there avoiding the camera because you worry about how you look, then I encourage you to just take the picture. Take the selfie. Take the family portrait or the group photo with your friends. I promise you will look back on them someday and be glad that you did. I promise you will realize that you look a lot better than you think you do. And most importantly, I promise that your loved ones will thank you. Just take the picture.