I was a very shy child. I wasn’t like other kids in my school. I wasn’t blonde. I wasn’t skinny. I developed hips earlier than most of the other girls (or at least it felt that way) and along with that, came a new awareness of just how different I was. There were days that I wanted to curl up in a ball or put on an invisibility cloke.
At the age of nine, I started attending theatre classes and my world opened up. My confidence grew and I learned that I had a voice. I would stand on stage and all of my insecurities washed away as I poured myself into a role I was playing or a song I was singing.
Even in those early years when I was painfully shy, something happened when a camera was pulled out. I loved the spotlight. It felt similar to being on stage. I was able to show another side of me – perhaps the side I liked the best. I would turn on the charm and pose for the camera and once again, my insecurities would melt away.
Yet something happened as I got older. I still mug for the camera (whenever I’m not the one behind it), but when I look at the photos afterwards, I cringe a little. My eyes go right to my “flaws” instead of what I like about myself. I am starting to see the lines around my eyes, the few extra pounds here or there, and don’t get me started on adult acne! (Sidenote: Why didn’t they warn us about that? Wrinkles AND acne? Oh, the humanity!)
So I totally get it when someone says to me that they hate having their picture taken or that they are unphotogenic. I get it. But I’m starting to realize that this whole fear of photography epidemic runs much deeper than just not liking to have someone snap a photo.
Since I am a photographer and I am always encouraging people to embrace their lives the way they are, I had to investigate. Not only does my livelihood depend on it, but this has become a mission. I want to know where this deep-rooted feeling comes from and I want people to see just how spectacular they are.
“If you do NOT like having your photo taken, I want to know why! I’m doing a little research & would love your input.”
The response was so overwhelming. People had strong opinions on the matter and often hadn’t thought about why. They had visceral reactions like, “I HATE having my photo taken”, but didn’t have anything to back it up. So together, we dug a little deeper and started to uncover where this feeling came from.
Here are some of the responses*:
“I hate having my picture taken, because I feel sometimes the picture does not capture who I am.”
“Hate it. Makes me feel awful. A LOT of pressure when I was little to be “perfect, beautiful, etc.” Everything scrutinized.“
“I’m not very photogenic.”
“I used to love having my pic taken but ageing has changed that. For about 7 yrs now all I see are the flaws and the ‘old’!“
“because the camera fails to reflect my true beauty.”
“I am uncomfortable ‘posing’”
“I don’t like to look at myself. I’ve never seen a photograph of myself after early childhood that I haven’t thought was really ugly.”
“I hate having my photo taken…I hate catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and so on. Any time I look at a picture all I do is pick myself apart — I’m too ugly, my face is too fat, my hair is a mess…I never think it looks like me, etc. I don’t know, I guess what I see in pics and the mirror isn’t congruent with my own mental picture or something.”
“I get nervous about how to stand, especially what to do with my arms.”
“i have always disliked being photographed. there is something very vulnerable in being “captured” in time forever.”
“I think for the most part I have a pretty good self image, and pictures highlight all the “flaws” I can look past day to day. When they are captured on film, they are forever.”
“I don’t like having my photograph taken as I have absolutely no self confidence so I look at every flaw and absolutely HATE what I see! I can’t look at a photo as a reminder of a moment, I see it as a picture of all my flaws!”
Every time I received a new response, my heartstrings were tugged a little more. Clearly, many of us have internalized something about the way we look to the point that having our photos taken can be uncomfortable, even painful.
It seems to me the explanation for this can be narrowed down to these reasons**:
- There are stories we are telling ourselves about the way we think we look or the way we wish we looked.
- We are grasping on to the way we used to look and trying desperately to avoid aging, growing, and changing (things that are going to happen whether we like it or not.)
- We are afraid that by having our photo taken, our “flaws” are going to be captured permanently and we assume that’s all anyone is going to see when they look at our photos.
- We don’t know what to do with our arms or legs and feel uncomfortable posing or smiling.
All of these reasons can be linked to one reason: that we have a definition of what beauty is (often an unrealistic one) and we don’t think we fit that definition.
This got me thinking. Maybe we’ve got this all wrong. Maybe our idea of what beauty is is upside down and backwards. If we all think that beauty is something other than us, then we’ll never be enough. We will always be disappointed when we look in the mirror or at a photo of ourselves. What if, when we look at photos of ourselves, we are looking for the wrong things? It seems that so many people are looking for surface beauty when in fact, we should be looking for the things that make us unique. We are focusing on our imperfections instead of focusing on the big picture. And the big picture happens to be beautiful.
This has got to change.
We all think we’re different and that our imperfections are worse than everyone else’s, but what if we accepted the fact that we’re all human? We all have imperfections (heck, I just admitted that I have the wrinkle/acne double whammy). The amazing thing is that our bodies are working. They’re doing their jobs. They are amazing and we are amazing – just the way we are.
I have so much to say about this subject that I will surely share with you in the coming weeks and months. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of this conversation and that it will take time to wade through the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. But I think the conversation needs to start, don’t you?
Today, I’m teaming up with Roots of She to tackle this sensitive subject. We’re peeling back the layers of what it means to be beautiful, embracing our own imperfections, and learning to be kind to ourselves. Let’s put a photo of ourselves in the dictionary next the the word “beauty.” Of course, that’ll mean having your photo taken, but don’t you worry. I’ll be here to hold your hand through it and tell you how fantastically wondrous you are – just the way you are. Because you are, you know.
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*These are just a few of the responses. I copied and pasted each response into a Word document and filled four pages with people’s responses – all negative self-talk. I then went on to ask my friends in the weboverse if they could tell me the qualities they liked most about themselves and wished would be reflected and photos. The response? Deafening quiet. If this doesn’t say something about our collective self esteem, I don’t know what does.
**I am of the opinion that a good photographer will help you step out of your story and into your magnificence and that it is not your responsibility to know where to put your arms or how to find your light. Just sayin’.