I avoid being in pictures like the plague.
No, really. I’ve become rather irate with a person who insisted on taking my photo after I kindly asked them not to. Seeing myself in photos makes me too aware of all the things that aren’t perfect about my appearance.
This “awareness” of my self started some time around fifth grade. A poorly chosen hairstyle paired with a frumpy t-shirt on picture day left me feeling very less than.
Girls around me wore their cutest outfits. Their hair braided or curled just so.
My mostly straight with just enough body to do weird flippy things hair looked like I’d just come from gym class.
My Kmart Bugs Bunny tee, far from fitted, did nothing for my pre-pubescent squishy body.
I looked at the school photo, grateful my large family rarely could afford to purchase them, and concluded I did not belong in front of the camera.
Middle school brought with it the usual awkward comparisons. Girls were beginning to thin and curve.
But not me.
I was still in my squishy little girl body. A squishy little girl body that didn’t have the coolest Z Cavaricci pants.
I felt so awkward I didn’t notice that I was, in reality, losing the “baby fat”. That’s not what I saw in the mirror.
I saw the girl who wasn’t wearing makeup. Who didn’t need a bra yet. Who didn’t accessorize her outfits. (Well, I did occasionally wear two pair of socks to match my brightly colored t-shirt and black shorts. Color blocking was a thing, right?)
High school was no better. At least, it was no better in my head.
My best friend was all about hair and makeup and clothes. She laughed at my cluelessness when it came to curlers and foundation. She was skinnier than I was, which led me to continue to think I was fat. Her mom made jokes about my occasional breakouts, noticeable since I didn’t slather them with cover up.
I figured the only reason I got attention from boys was because I was funny.
Despite having a mother who never made me feel frumpy, who didn’t badmouth her own body, a mom that didn’t tell me I needed makeup or cute outfits, it seemed like everyone around me was saying the opposite, and it took its toll.
As an adult, I look back at those pictures and kick myself.
What was wrong with me? I was a cute enough child. I was a perfectly acceptable looking high schooler.
I wasn’t the grotesque being you’d think I was by the way a camera made me hide.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t suddenly settled into a place of security with my body and my looks. I still flinch at the mention of a group photo. Selfies still give me anxiety.
And I wonder how this generation of girls taking selfies ad nauseam survive. Do they love how they look? Or do they constantly post perfect selfies looking for validation?
Nowadays, you don’t have to present the real you in a photo. There’s photoshop, and even easier, with the popularity of selfies and smartphones come makeover apps that will not only lay gauzy filters over your photo, but actually change how you look.
Lift those cheekbones. Slim that nose. Widen those eyes. Whiten those teeth.
Then let the likes roll in.
But do those likes really help?
Do people liking a plastic version of you change anything?
Maybe in the moment. Maybe on a day when you’re feeling ugly, for a brief second, the warm fuzzies of being told how great you look feels nice.
But then the reality that you won’t be stepping out of the house looking that way anytime soon settles in. And you end up stuck in a cycle of never feeling like you’re enough.
An older, wiser me would like to say that I’m secure with the outer me. That I don’t need filters and Photoshop.
Apparently, I’m not entirely old or wise enough just yet.
But I am far enough along to get that outer beauty isn’t about everyone else.
It’s not about what magazines and TV shows tell me it is. It’s not about what the size 2, perfectly manicured mom in the car next to me looks like.
It’s about accepting that there are all kinds of beauty.
It’s about learning to love every wrinkle, every silver highlight, and yes, even the soft parts.