tripping the life unbalanced

Sunday, August 06, 2006

on not liking what I see

Last week while at the cottage, over many glasses of wine one night, we pulled out the family photos. Are you familiar with this family ritual, or is it just specific to mine? We started looking at the photo albums that chronicle my parents' marriage and their four children, at various stages and in various homes throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s, and present. There are the requisite first steps and Jolly Jumper shots, the teen years of sourness and smirks, and the more recent years of marriages and grandchildren. We reminisced and giggled at bad hairstyles and boyfriends and girlfriends come and gone. Amidst the laughter and the yelling ('cause it ain't a get together with my family without the yelling), something became really clear to me. Something that has been simmering beneath the surface with me, bugging me like a hard-to-reach itch that has bothered me for years: I hate looking at myself in photos. As in truly truly HATE it.

The main problem is that I am apparently unable to look human in most photos. And if I manage to look human, then I almost always look uncomfortable or pissed. The worst ones are the group-posed ones, where I try to smile. It's like I am just not made for photos. My sister and I were joking about how she always looked as if she stepped out of Gap ad in the family photos and I was the one constantly scowling with a dark cloud over my head. And while it certainly made me laugh at the time, it also makes me feel somehow disappointed in myself. I can't quite explain it properly, but goddamn it doesn't feel good.

A few years ago when I first teamed up with my business partner we had some corporate photos done of us while on a trip to Banff. Picture it: the mountains as backdrop and two grinning women posing in their proud black suits. Should have been picture-perfect, except once again I had a hard time mastering a smile. I warned the photographer ahead of time, saying "I don't know how to take good photos, and I always look uncomfortable." And he was all "oh you'll be fine" until he realised 50 shots in that I really REALLY can't do photos. At one point I was perched awkwardly on a ledge at the beautiful Banff Springs hotel, overlooking the glorious mountains, trying to pull off a natural smile but looking as if I was sitting on hot burning coals. "what is WRONG with you" the exasperated photographer kept asking me, "just RELAX", he of so much encouragement only minutes earlier. If only it were that easy for me.

This dislike of seeing myself in pictures has also intensified since I gained some weight after having my daughter. I have been able to get most of it off now, but it's like I gained an unhappy voice in my head along with it and now I can't get rid of it.

It's not like I don't know how to laugh and giggle and generally have fun in social situations (despite this stupid moniker I gave myself on a whim one night - CrabbyKate - I'm not always that crabby). Perhaps it's the permanence of photos, the fact that forever in time is locked a picture of me looking uncomfortable. I prefer to remember the memories as they play out in my mind, instead of having a permanent record of me looking ill at ease.

The absolute worst part of this is that I don't have that many pictures of Alice and I together. I have a few - a few that I cherish and hold close - but not the hundreds and hundreds that other mommies I know have. I realise this is unhealthy - I hate this and I truly wish I did not care. "But you look great" Matt tells me. "And how beautiful is any picture of a mother and daughter." But I can't bear to see myself looking awkward and unhappy, not in a picture with her. She is everything happy about me, everything good and everything beautiful. And I can't stand to have her so close to something that has become agonizing to me.

I hesitated to write this post, as it is almost too revealing for me. I had to get this out, though, no matter how exposed I will feel. Maybe by writing this I will come to see how ridiculous the whole neurosis is. Something has to give, because I most definitely do not want to pass this on to Alice.


  • Ouch.....we have so few photos of me, I shirk them. I really do not know what to say...but I do hear you....Anne

    By Blogger crazymumma, at 11:32 p.m.  

  • I don't like the way I look in photos either. My wedding photos are the only ones I actually like.

    I have no good pictures of Cakes and I.

    By Blogger metro mama, at 7:38 a.m.  

  • I don't think it's ridiculous. I look HORRIBLE in photos, and I hate having them taken. I spend most of my time behind the camera, so there are not that many photos of me.

    I must have, maybe 4 photos of me and my son together, of which I like maybe 2. It's sad, actually.

    I told the photographer at my wedding that he had to get pictures of me from the proper angle so that i didn't look like i had 3 pounds of chin hanging on. He didn't listen. My father in law was the only one who i ever met who could take decent photos of me...unfortunately, he passed away in our first year of marriage.

    By Anonymous Naomi, at 9:59 a.m.  

  • oh crabby, i so feel you on this one. photos are pure agony for me - big nose, no chin, inevitable circles under the eyes.

    still, i can't seem to get the dam camera out of my husband's hands, so there are way too many bad pictures of me kicking around, and i cringe at the sight of practically every one. i have ruined many a beautiful photo of bumblebee (if you ask me).

    p.s. thanks for stopping by my place!

    By Blogger penelopeto, at 10:29 a.m.  

  • When my mother saw you as a baby - she said, "She has the most beautifully shaped head" - for her, the epitome of beauty!

    I'm not sure what we(as a society not as parents, although perhaps that too) have done to strong women like yourself and the others who follow this blog.

    Imaging and imagining one's body seems to be so difficult - and I run into this all the time in my work. While women are much more assertive, and know what they want and how to get there, the whole body image thing continues to be a HUGE deal - and it doesn't go away the older we get.

    I have a good friend, one of the most assertive, funny, bright and beautiful woman you'd ever meet - at 58, very happy and content with her life - and she has only just consented to have her photo taken in my presence.

    Her daughters say, "Mom, you just need to smile, and the photo will be great", but she has trouble with this - and so NEVER smiles in pics.
    I knew we had crossed a rubicon of sorts when she smiled into the camera with me.
    It is crazy-making!!!

    By Anonymous Kate's Mom, at 8:32 a.m.  

  • I don't think there is a single picture of me with my mouth closed. Ever. Evidently, I think that having an open "laughing" mouth will make people not notice my crooked smile or big nose. Oh well. At least I'll always look like I'm having a great time just as the photo was snapped. Or that I am unable to shut my pie-hole for even a fraction of a second.. tee hee.

    By Anonymous Peanut's Mommy, at 4:33 p.m.  

  • I read something the other day that might make you feel a little better. If you put a picture of your mirror image beside an acutal picture of yourself, you will end up liking the mirror image of yourself better. If you then put those pictures in front of one of your friends, they will like your actual image better. Why is that? It's because that is what they are used to seeing. Likewise, you are only used to seeing your mirror image. That would be why we don't like seeing pictures of ourselves.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 p.m.  

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