My sister-in-law sent me some old photos (remember Polaroids?) yesterday, of me and my mom and then, me and my dad. And a birthday cake. Obviously, Dad had taken one of the pair of us, then Mom switched places and took one of Dad and me.
They didn’t do selfies in 1985.
Looking at these unexpected pics, and me, with my 1980′s hair and slender face and figure (holy crap, I was skinny) made me start thinking of other pics I’ve seen of me. I’m never satisfied with my appearance. My nose is too pointy, my chin is too round and–in recent years, especially–I’m too fat and too OLD. I’m convinced the rest of the world sees me this way, too, and spend far too little time in front of a mirror because really, why bother? I know what I see in those photos, and dammit, Jim, I’m not a magician. (Though I am an old school Star Trek fan.)
There is only one photograph I’ve ever seen of me which didn’t bring this stomach-sinking reaction, however, and I’m hoping it’s really the way people see me. It was in my husband’s sister’s wedding album, and I didn’t expect to see me there in one of those grouped shots. I wasn’t in the wedding party, but my children and husband were–I was happy to have escaped that particular torture. But I think I’d followed the group along to drop off snacks for the kids so they didn’t start whining, and my new sister-in-law grabbed me and made me pose with the bunch.
It was only a moment on a very busy day, so I’d forgotten about it when I peeked over my husband’s shoulder at the photo album a few years later. My first thought was, Who’s that woman in the purple dress? She’s got a pretty smile. She looks like she’d be kind. And I wondered why I’d never met her at an in-law event; she looked like she’d be a friend, an ally in the middle of his family, which is just different enough from my family to make me feel like an outsider. Only then did I realize that I was looking at myself. And while this may have been the result of aging (and needing glasses) or symptoms of potential early-onset elderliness, mostly it was a revelation.
While I wish I could say this has changed how I consider my appearance, I can’t. I’m still too fat, too old–pretty much too-too everything but as attractive as I wish I could be. I’m still not spending much time in front of a mirror but I can say I’m always trying to smile more, be kinder, and be the friend I saw in that photo. Because if I work at it (and keep working at it), that’s what people will see, too. Isn’t that better than being perfectly photogenic?
So. When you look at photos of yourself, what do you see?