Back in March, I linked to Anna’s post in which she discussed what she learned from taking a photo of herself every day for a month. And even before that, a friend sent me this post about feeling too fat to be photographed. Both women’s perspectives have been rattling around in my brain ever since. Ultimately, both came out in favor of photography as a positive force for preserving memories, self-reflection, and even body positivity.
At my last office job, I was the staff photographer. Whenever a new employee came on board, it was my responsibility to connect with her/him for a headshot that would be used for internal communications. Wanna know how many of these new hires enjoyed being photographed? That’s right: ZERO. It didn’t matter how old, young, fat, skinny, or traditionally attractive they were, they all loathed the process. Looking back, I wish I’d thought to poll them because I’m sure they harbored a variety of reasons for fearing the lens.
For five of the six years this blog has been up and running, Husband Mike has taken near-daily photos of me. Full-body, head-to-toe shots that show my face and figure in all its perfectly imperfect glory. He was a professional photographer long before we met, so I knew going in that I’d be featured in lots of photos. Couldn’t have predicted it would be this many or that I’d be posting them to a website. As you can imagine, I’ve grown used to being photographed myself, and don’t much mind it. Most of the time. But I can see definite pros and cons, learning opportunities and self-image pitfalls inherent in being regularly (or even irregularly) photographed. Such as:
Photographs offer a different perspective
PRO: What looks great/awful in the mirror can look awful/great in a still image. When I do style consults, I photograph all the outfits we create so my clients can see what they look like from a perspective that differs from their own. They are a fabulous teaching tool when it comes to understanding figure, proportion, and flattery.
CON: Photographs are fixed, so it can be hard to determine if they are a “truer” representation of how something/someone looks than the real, living thing. Additionally seeing a photograph that doesn’t align with your internal ideas of how something/someone looks can be incredibly jarring and upsetting.
Photographs capture moments in time
PRO: Well, you want some moments captured. It’s that whole memory-preservation thing. And it can be rewarding and eye-opening to see snapshots of your former self and consider how you felt at the time. Most women I know have shared stories about looking at photos from high school or college and realizing that they were lovely, radiant creatures back then yet still hated their bodies. Also many of us were awkward as youngsters, and it can feel good to know you’ve outgrown some gawk.
CON: Some moments get captured against your will. In fact, “captured” is all too apt in these cases as bad photos can feel like emotional jail cells.
Photographs remind us what humans look like
PRO: I’m assuming that, like me, you don’t have professional hair and makeup before and professional Photoshop retouching afterwards. The photos we take of ourselves and each other are great reminders that magazine and online photos we see of the rich and famous have been altered beyond the humanity threshold. It can be good to see photos of regular people – even ourselves – because they remind us that people have pores, fat rolls, flyaway hairs, and all sorts of other horrifying things that celeb and ad photos make us believe are heinous.
CON: Comparing a photo of yourself to a professionally retouched photo can lead to nasty, comparative thoughts. It all depends on your mood.
My biggest hang-up about being photographed? Total lack of control. I trust HM to take the best possible photos of me, but am much less trusting of other photographers. And if HM approaches me with a camera before I’ve showered or on a day when I’m especially cranky or at a time when I’m just not in the mood to be photographed, I get downright hostile. For me, I see this reaction as being linked to my own utterly false belief that I control how others see me. Minus the camera, I feel in control of my image. Once the shutter starts clicking, I realize that lighting, body position, and countless other uncontrolled factors may affect the finished, permanent image.
Interestingly, I’d say I was less anxious about being photographed before the advent of digital. When someone started snapping photos with a film camera, I knew it’d be ages before I could gauge my photographic fate on a glossy print, so I just went with it. Now, I need to see the shot right away. And, of course, knowing that digital photos get Facebooked, Tweeted, and Instagrammed at lightning speed makes the process all the more perilous.
Despite all this, I do agree with Anna and Teresa. I think that if the average person were to undertake a daily self-portrait project, she would round it out feeling happier and more confident than when she began. We are our own harshest critics, and seeing an alternate presentation of self can quiet that critical voice. Also fear of photography breeds avoidance of photography because so much of what we’re dreading is the act itself. Allowing ourselves to become accustomed to regular photographs makes the process feel less scary and fraught with expectation.
And because of my own experiences with my own image and its relationship to my self-esteem, I think that photography can be a helpful tool for seeing myself. When I’m feeling awful about my body, I don’t want to look at it. I hide from mirrors, cameras, anything that will shove my own image at me. But looking at myself is vital because – for me – it breeds acceptance, tenderness, motivation, and care. To look at myself is to confront myself. Photos force that. For those of us who struggle to feel good about our physical selves, this can be downright terrifying. But unless we see ourselves, how can we be ourselves?
How do you feel about being photographed? What do you love about it? Hate about it? Would you ever undertake a daily self-portrait project? Do you agree that lack of control is part of what breeds photo fear? Are you more anxious about photography in the age of digital cameras and social media?
Image courtesy Nikon.