I’m not going to embarrass you by naming names, but you know who you are. You’re the friend who rarely appears in pictures because she doesn’t like the way she looks. You’re the friend who will go to great lengths to dodge the camera and greater lengths to delete any photos she’s in. You’re the friend who uploads countless images of her children, family, and pets, who will document restaurant meals, flower bouquets, and construction projects – but will not post a single picture of herself.
You’re reading this right now, ready with a response, rationalizing what you do as being shy or introverted. You have a repertoire of excuses and a litany of pretexts. You tell everybody: I don’t photograph well, my hair looks bad, I’m not dressed right, I look fat, you can see my gray roots, I look tired, I’m not wearing make-up, I look old, I feel stupid, I’m unattractive, get the kids, I’ll take a picture when I look better, I’m not doing anything special.
Is that all of them? Did I miss any?
In your mind, you have assembled links of a chainmail defense, interwoven grievances directed at your appearance, and you wear the act of self-effacement like protective armor. You are quick to condemn. You believe that if you list your physical flaws – imaginary though they may be – you inoculate yourself from others finding any. Claim those imperfections, own them, or invent them if you must, just to be safe.
Well, I have something to say to you, my friend, about your martyred modesty: get over it. Get over it, now.
Before you turn away, insulted and affronted, understand that I sympathize with your reluctance and, honestly, I feel exactly the same. I, too, hate how I look in pictures, how not young, not skinny, not dewy, nor glamorous I look. How my bulges and wrinkles and bad outfits are preserved for all eternity, captured in poses that prove my posture is terrible. I hate how my nose looks, how my neck folds into chins, and how I’m far more knock-kneed than I envisioned. I sink inside realizing that this is how the rest of the world sees me, lopsided smile and all. But then I look past myself, past the familiar frame I’m inexplicably drawn to initially, and I see who’s beside me in the picture. It’s my daughter, sitting next to me on our steps, clutching my sleeve with her tiny fingers. Notice the way she leans into me, her body nearly cleaved with mine. The beauty of this photo lies in that connection.
As parents in this digital age, we are obsessed with stills of time, of instances and events, of milestones. Social media counts the days, records the exact hour and place, and even notes how you were feeling, and we are compelled to keep track and share details. But what we neglect when we focus solely on our children is their place in our lives, and our place in theirs. They are spokes in a wheel.
When your children are grown, maybe with kids of their own, and are reminiscing through childhood pictures, will they wonder where you were? Will they long to see how you looked at age 35 or 45 or 55? They will search for an image of you wearing the bathrobe you always wore on Christmas morning, or you in the garden under your wide-brimmed hat, or standing with your husband on a ladder picking apples, or with your own siblings. They’ll want a picture of the whole family and not just the kids. I promise they will.
You’ll never be this young again. Right this moment, you are younger than you will be tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now, and you are wasting valuable time living in preemptive regret. We already see you, flaws and all. We see you as you exist – talking, moving, laughing, reacting. You are much more than a snapshot to us; you are a world of being and we love the way you inhabit life. I challenge you to be visible, to preserve your image for a future memory, for a time when you will look back at your youth…and it will take your breath away.