Even The Soft Parts

May 21, 2014

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.


Even my little sister knew how to accessorize before me.

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.

High school, rockin' the velour mock turtleneck.

High school, rockin’ the velour mock turtleneck.

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?

Don't like this.

Don’t like this. Photo makeover c/o Perfect 365. Blech.

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.





You Might Also Like


  • Reply renée a. schuls-jacobson May 21, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Amber, my mom didn’t try to make me feel bad about my body, but she was critical. She certainly commented when she saw me pinching a pimple and she definitely did not shower me with praise. Sometimes the LACK of attenti can feels

    • Reply renée a. schuls-jacobson May 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Ooops! Sometimes the lack of positive feedback can feel strangely like rejection or criticism. You are such a beautiful woman & you were an adorable child. Hopefully all of us women can learn to love our perfectly imperfect selves – in spite of the fact that our perfection craving culture does not encourage us to do so. I pray this next generation of women does an even better job of broadening the definition of beauty for our daughters. There would certainly be less anxiety & depression if we believed we are all perfect, just the way we are.

      • Reply Amber West May 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

        I think my parents did a very good job of keeping my focus on building what would make me a beautiful person – all those things on the inside that last.

        But that doesn’t change that some of us can still get stuck feeling down about our outsides – and we shouldn’t! I find myself able to appreciate the beauty of someone else who may not be the societal ideal with no problem, but it’s a struggle with myself. I’m getting there, though.

        And yeah, I do hope that this up and coming generation gets past the constant need for validation and sees beauty in all kinds of faces, bodies, etc, particularly their own.

  • Reply Mom May 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Times have certainly changed. I remember my own 50’s mom being “softer” and more rounded than some of the moms in my neighborhood. I LOVED to rest my head on her soft abdomen while she’s stroked my hair. She was my personal, perfect, resting place. In those moments, I was so thankful that she didn’t try to look like the perfectly toned and made up lady down the street.
    In my household a persons appearance was rarely talked about, whether it be praise or criticism. Maybe I should have complimented more. Still, I’m so glad you didn’t grow to become someone who focuses on the outward appearance. So many more important, and satisfying ways to direct our minds and hearts.
    Also, you have always been beautiful, through every stage of your life, inside and out, but even more so right now. Motherhood especially becomes you!

    • Reply Amber West May 21, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      You did good, mama. I never felt neglected, and I’m glad I didn’t grow up in an environment where I was told how pretty I was so much that I ended up valuing that above anything else. I’m proud of my “strong woman” upbringing.

      And thank you. 🙂

  • Reply yannin May 21, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I completely agree with you on how these younger generations need all of this validation on their looks. If people worked on being kinder, gentler and more caring individuals this world would be a much better place. With that said I see you for who you are and I think you’re gorgeous!

    • Reply Amber West May 21, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      I agree! And I feel the same about you.

  • Reply The Regular Guy NYC May 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Problem with society today, and especially the media, is that they focus too much on looks and style. They make people doubt themselves and cause body issues, self worth problems, and even depression. I have friends and family of all types and looks. Love them all no matter what. Believe in yourself and love yourself I say.

    • Reply Amber West May 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Exactly. Being pregnant I’m not nearly as hard on myself. I appreciate my body for what it’s doing – which makes me wonder why I can’t feel that way about myself all the time.

      I’m getting there. And hopefully expressing that helps someone else who has been in the same boat.

  • Reply karenmcfarland May 21, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Ha, ha, ha, you know how I love my picture Amber! And photoshop. lol. But you my dear look awesome! Even while pregnant girl! You’re rocking it! Gorgeous selfie! 🙂

    • Reply Amber West May 27, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Haha! Karen, you know I don’t hate photoshop. It comes in handy for some things, and when I’ve taken photos of other people, my rule has often been to only alter the image as much as a some good makeup would – and only if the subject seems self-conscious about something in the image.

      Sometimes it’s hard to find that line, though. (And the above image is actually a heavily manipulated selfie using an iPhone app that will add makeup, thin your nose and face, etc :))

  • Reply Jess Witkins May 26, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I agree with your mama and Karen. Your pregnant selfies are GORGEOUS! But I appreciate this post. I’ve been there. I didn’t mature as fast as the other girls in my class. I had cowlicks, and braces before anyone else in my class. I wore mock turtlenecks and my tshirts and shoes were from Shopko. My mom was a little hard to deal with in high school. She would make comments like, “You’re wearing that?” She once told me I ruined Christmas for wearing a dress I loved that I’d purchased at a thrift store. It was hurtful. And she laid it into me that I had a lot of friends who were guys but didn’t date any of them. I knew she loved me and wanted nothing but the best for me. But at that time in my life, we just wanted very different things. And I grew up in a small town with a mother who believed appearances matter and that everyone in town is judging US. I was of the opinion that I should do what makes me happy. We have a better relationship now, and I love my mom dearly. But there’s a reason I didn’t let her see my wedding dress. She can see it on my wedding day. 🙂

    • Reply Amber West May 27, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Aw, thank you, Jess! It’s funny, I think pregnancy has made me slightly more comfortable taking photos. The “flaws” are badges of honor.

      I feel for our parents – I think some of our moms are products of what they grew up with and probably thought they were helping. I remember getting so angry at someone’s mom once – I was about 20 and her daughter was still very young. The mom was complaining that her daughter was pudgy and needed to exercise more, etc… and I was horrified. At that age, I hadn’t hit that point of puberty where the “baby fat” had distributed yet, and here this mom was already being critical of her little girl.

      She wasn’t a bad mother – but I would bet looks were something that were always held as so important to her that she felt that was just part of having a daughter.

      I can’t WAIT to see photos of you in your wedding dress – that dress SHOULD be all about how it makes you feel and you definitely don’t need anyone changing that feeling. (I made that mistake when I shopped for mine — not my mom, but other people)

  • Reply Alana May 28, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    It’s taken me such a long time to accept my body and be happy with it as is. Even though for the most part I am, when I gain even a little weight, I freak out. It certainly helps to have others, like significant others, tell you that you’re beautiful. But even when I didn’t have that, I tried hard to see it in myself, and did my best to find ways to highlight my best qualities.

    By the way, I also had a mother who was very encouraging about my appearance and accepting of her own. But some of the stuff I wore was NUTS. Lots of polka dots, funny socks, mismatched colors. It’s fun to see now, actually, because I could never get away with those crazy kid looks now.

  • I love comments!