I’ve clicked the camera icon on my phone before, inspired by something I hear the girls doing around the corner, an unexpected blossom on a gray day, or by my hair doing exactly what I ask of it. I do it to preserve a moment, sometimes for myself, other times to share with people. What happens after I open the camera is another thing.
Sometimes the moment has passed, the girls have disbanded, their harmonious play nothing but a what was as the camera zooms in on a patch of bare carpet, or the shot has closed eyes or a flash of underwear I don’t want to broadcast. Editing is nothing new, just as staging isn’t new. What does seem to me to be very new and, unfortunately here to stay, are the sweeping attacks of people for what and how they choose to preserve things. I read a piece that basically eviscerated young women for taking selfies, earlier in the day I’d read an article defending the selfie. Why do we care? Does someone else finding contentment in a photo of herself really impact us? Is it tangled up envy and resentment from worrying that finding ourselves beautiful or that seeking exceptional beauty is wrong?
What about the ugly? Does not sharing a photo of something mean that I am denying that it exists or that I am ashamed? Or is it that in this time of sharing we are afraid to share things that deviate from some unspoken normal? Are we really constructing artificial personas, or are we conducting ourselves as we do in person?
There have been times I’ve gone to take a picture of myself and then recoiled from what I saw. Holy gaunt face, mama! An essay that my friend Allison wrote has stayed with me. She realized that she didn’t have the luxury of editing herself out of photos without also eliminating herself from what will become precious memory prompts. Which leaves me wondering, where are we if we’re judged for having things look too perfect and we’re lost if we don’t want to be in the pictures if we’re less than perfect?
I read a post by an author talking about coming to grips with not necessarily being able to alter the incorrect assumptions about her life and choosing vulnerability as her coping mechanism. An alternately resigned and empowered, “Here I am.”
Lately I find myself very drawn to the idea of unfurling my 40 year old self without apology. Here I am, my contradictions and my blemishes, my radiance and my passion. I want to own the strength that comes from knowing what I am capable of as well as the terror that comes from accepting how little is truly within my control.
Last night I wrapped my entire body around my 7 year old as she slept, her breath whistled and wheezed as it made her chest rise and fall. The skin on her face bore harsh splotches, remnants from her violent retching, while tendrils of hair curled along her brow. My other girls were at my feet and My Girl was playing on the tv. Vada was at the point in the movie when her best friend has died, her dad has asked his girlfriend to marry him, and the teacher Vada worships has found love. My heart broke for love lost and found, for little boys dying, and for the inevitable terror of having your first period. The tears rushed out of me and I felt the presence of this emotion that seems to have arrived with 40, sorrow and gratitude laced together with hope and defeat.
I know that any picture I might have taken would not have represented all that was in this moment, but I also know that this pain is something we don’t talk about enough. We hide it from Instagram and we don’t talk about it with friends. I don’t think it’s the selfies that are threatening us, I think it’s ourselves. We are scared and we are bold, beautiful and haggard, each in our own way. We get to choose what we share and what is put out there, and I really want my daughters and myself to know five, ten, fifteen years from now that it, I, we were beautifully messy and broken and wondrous. Because in the end, life is its own kind of picture perfect and you should feel ok documenting any angle of it.
I think selfies are that classic example of us wanting to be seen at our best and also wanting us to see ourselves at our best. And, yeah, there’s nothing wrong with them – it’s just that they say a lot about our psychology, and we’re fascinating creatures, us humans. When I was in art school, we did a lot of self-portraits because that was the easiest way to have a live model on demand, and the whole process of painting a self-portrait is fascinating because it constantly forces you to deal with how you perceive yourself and how you want to depict how you look and see yourself, etc. Fighting the urge to make yourself look more attractive, for example, was a constant struggle – not because it’s a bad thing, per se, to try to make yourself more attractive, but because you’re not really being honest as a painter; you’re essentially making a caricature out of yourself when the goal is to depict reality as much as possible. Anyway, I think selfies and, similarly, dating profiles work the same way, whereby that temptation to paint ourselves in the most flattering light is always there, at the expense of the most honest and realistic. Therefore, my favorite selfies (we’ll go ahead and lump self-portraits into that category) are the ones that seem to capture someone’s spirit and the little unique things that make them them, even though, yes, all that can go hand-in-hand with looking gorgeous too.
I love you, Ab. You are right on here. I also think that there should be some forgiveness when we do enhance or adjust. There is a space between literal translation and caricature, isn’t there?
To answer your first question: Yes, I see you. And it is your willingness to show the “beautifully messy and broken and wondrous” that makes me fell connected to you and your words. Thanks for being vulnerable, Amanda, for it gives others permission to be so, too.
Oh, Shannon, thank you!
Oh, Amanda. Yes. I love this. Sorrow and gratitude, together, a tidal wave – I know it. xoxoxo
Oh, Amanda. I love this. I turn 40 in less than a year, and I’ve been struggling with accepting the changes in my appearance. I’ve never been one for makeup, hair styling, facial treatments, but now I wonder sometimes if I should think about it. There are times now when I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself – my skin, the gray appearing in my hair, the circles under my eyes. I feel the same — still “me” — whatever that means, but I don’t often like what I see in the mirror or in a photograph. That’s exactly it: I’m sad, I’m grateful, and I’m relieved to be the age that I am.
It’s a process that i don’t think we talk about, or really, I guess the thing is that we don’t anticipate it. Out of the blue, it just is, and it’s so hard to not falter. Love hearing a chorus.
You look pretty damn good tonight.
40 year old blush on now.
I admit, I only post selfies when I KNOW it is a decent picture of me, that it represents the best side of me in every way.
And I see nothing wrong with that. I like to think that I am true to myself on social media, even if a more tempered version. In that, you won’t see my true temper, maybe flashes. You won’t see the depths of my despair when I feel like an utter failure of a mother, but you’ll see me trying to joke my way out of it. And so with selfies that represent the best me, I like to think I’m showing you a glimpse of my best self, acne, wrinkles and all. Though, do ignore the mess in the background. 🙂
Also? I see you. I do.
No judgement in what you do and don’t share, ever. I do believe that often times in blogging, while we don’t write every gory detail, the weight of moments come through.
“…sorrow and gratitude laced together with hope and defeat.” YES.
As I sit here with goosebumps, I know that I’ve read a beautiful truth in your words. You’ve captured a fledgling thought that has ruminated in my mind for the last year and beautifully, gloriously, realistically placed it here. Love you, friend. xo
Love you right back, Denise.
Self acceptance is a hard hard thing. I turned 50 this year and I’m just now getting around to it.
I love your selfie. You are gorgeous!
Aw, thanks. I am looking forward to peeling this onion.
I don’t mind all the selfies. I think they’re fascinating. What floors me is how different one person can look from day to day. I feel like I know my online friends better when I see all their personas – messy, neat, happy, serious, drawn, laughing…
This was a part of my point, I think sometimes we think that we are the only ones that looked like we spent the evening fighting dragons and dragging our faces through sand beds.
I really love that idea at the end that life itself with all its messiness IS a kind of “perfection” because it’s real. And if it’s real, it’s part of the beautiful story.
Thank you. I feel like I am scratching on an epiphany, not quite there, but trying.
Bold, beautiful, haggard. That’s like a mantra. Incredible post, you are amazing.
(From Sarah, With Joy)
Thank you so much!
I found you through Lindsey’s latest post about the things she loves and do I ever love what you have to say, too! I read articles knocking selfies and didn’t quite have words to describe how I feel, but luckily you did it for me. While running a race yesterday and listening to my aching body and beginning to walk instead of run, I almost snapped a photo to post, demonstrating that sometimes the best thing we can do is to let go of expectations and find another way through. But I didn’t because I thought the selfie police might attack. Your words make me realize those moments are the most important to share! I definitely see you and am grateful for your words.
Take the photos, share the captions, live every minute of your life. None of this is to say that we can’t dislike things, but I think sometimes we just need to quiet the voices. Thank you for visiting. I hope you’ll be back and send me a link to a selfie 🙂
“We’re lost if we don’t want to be in the pictures if we’re less than perfect?”
I turned 40 today and happened to hop over here through Lindsey’s blog. I’ve reached a stage where I hide from the camera, often insisting on taking the photos myself. I have very few photos of myself with my four-year old because I can’t bear the sight of me looking like this anymore. Lisa Romeo wrote a similar post recently and I think it is serendipity that I’m coming across more thoughts like this. Thank you for sharing. It means a lot.
A little trick I’ve learned to forgive myself for how I look is to find ways to see myself looking at people I love. There is a softness there, or perhaps it’s a more keen ability to see beyond the image and through to the emotion. I am so glad Lindsey pointed in my direction and that you came.
And Happy Birthday!
I just heard an interview on NPR and Selfie was the word of the year. I find it all fascinating, especially since Selfies of myself make me deeply uncomfortable as do all photos of myself. Thank you so much for illuminating this tricky subject for me. As always, your writing is so skilled and lovely.
I wonder when it all happens, this discomfort with images of ourselves. Don’t most of us start with a fascination in our reflection? A desire to see ourselves in the tools of memory? It just destroys me that there is judgement of those who continue to include themselves, or that we shrink away from being included.
Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts, Pamela.
A dear friend led me to your post and I’m humbled to say she thought of me when she read it. You are so very courageous, honest and truthful in both your words and your photo. I truly believe we DO miss out on reality and it’s harsh truths if we only document the perfect. Life is far from it. New reader, here. Thank you.
Oh, Peach, so glad you came over. Yes, documenting only one side, or really even the idea of editing away what we think has less value detracts from the abundance of our lives. Glad to have you.
It’s funny, when I read this a memory that I had suppressed for years came floating to the surface. I took a drawing class in college and one day we had to break into groups and everyone took a turn having their portrait drawn by the rest of the group. When the instructor (a total a-hole to begin with) walked by our group at the same time that I was “modeling”, he stopped, scooted everyone around so they were directly in front of me, and said, “This one’s better face on.” (I won’t even get into the implication of “this one”.) Long story short, I wasn’t born perfect. I don’t look perfect. Thanks to my imperfect bone structure, when viewed from certain angles, my face can appear to be off-kilter, sloping, slanted, etc. I am okay with this now (for the most part). Back then, I was not. And though others might not have picked up on his bullying, it stung me instantly. Tears sprung to my eyes, threatening to spill, and I swallowed the lump in my throat, as I stared at him and said, “It’s art. It’s not supposed to be perfect.” And if you knew the quiet, non-confrontational person I am, you would know what a huge deal that was for me. I’m not sure exactly what this story has to do with selfies or photos taken by others in which we appear, except that after a lifetime of trying to come to terms with the way I look, I’m determined to show my children that moments captured in time, including pictures of ourselves, are like pieces of art. Sometimes the beauty is in the messy and broken and wondrous. 🙂
I love your comment, Lara. I am sorry to raise a jagged memory, but then again, in reading it it seems as if maybe what this has done is truly illuminate just how unfortunate, out of line, and untrue what that person said.
I think anyone can see what courage it took for you to say those words. Here’s my hope, because I think we all have variations on this story, I hope, wish, fervently, desperately wish, in fact, that in our lives we have people or scenarios that come along that allow our older selves to look back and embrace our younger selves. That one day we each get to resolve and heal those terrible hurts.
Thank you so much for coming here and leaving these incredible words.