Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Who is the girl in the picture?

About a week ago I had to have an official author photo taken for my upcoming book by the lovely and talented Victoria Taylor, a photojournalism student here at WKU.

Like most women, I'm not a big fan of having my picture taken, but over the years, I've tried to have a better attitude about it. After spending my entire life watching the women in my life groan every time they see a photo of themselves—and immediately pointing out their worst flaw—I grew tired of the pessimism and negativity.

For that reason, I have tried as much as I can to have a good attitude when my picture is taken. It's never easy, but I do my best, and for a few years now, I've been pretty good about noticing what looks good rather than what looks bad when I see a snapshot of myself.

I do the same thing in my daily life—when I look go shopping or even just when I look in the mirror each morning—so I had naively started to believe I had kicked the low self-esteem habit.

But while sitting in front of a high definition camera with a professional photographer, all of my insecurities came flooding back to me. When I looked at the images on her three-inch screen, all I could see were the flaws—why was my nose so big? my hair so flat and dark? my lips so thin? After years of teaching myself to focus on the positive, I was suddenly and completely only able to see the negative.

Not only was my inability to see my assets gone, but so was my ability to see myself at all. When Victoria showed me the images she'd captured, I could not even recognize myself. I looked that strange and unfamiliar. It was as if I was suffering from a severe case of amnesia except that the only thing I couldn't remember was what I looked like.

I would glance at the images on her screen and frown. Who was the person staring back at me? Where was the person I saw in the mirror every morning? The person with a few stray blonde highlights from her youth? The person with a normal-sized nose?

Poor Victoria had to put up with my inability to see the pictures clearly for two hours before she was finished. Every time she showed me a new shot, my face would drop, and she and Dave would have to reassure me that the pictures were good.

Now, over a week later and after posting the new photo on Facebook (and getting a dozen positive responses to it), not only do I know that the photos are good, I also know they really really do look like me.

So why couldn't I see this while they were being taken? What happened to make me so unable to see my own image?

I'm really not sure, but I think it has to do with how slowly we change.

Whenever I look at anyone in my family—my husband, my parents, or my sister—I don't see them as they are now, in 2011. Instead, I see a compilation of who they've been over the years. I see my husband's longer hair and too-big concert t-shirts, my parents' young faces and rich brown hair, my sister's glasses and pigtails. I don't see them as flat images. I see them as fully developed people with complex pasts and interesting histories.

And I think that's also what I see when I look in the mirror—the little girl with the boyish haircut, the teenager with the perfect bod, the young woman with blonde highlights. So when I looked at the photos Victoria was taking I was confused—where was the girl I used to be, the young woman I was only a few years ago?

In the end, I'm thrilled with the photos Victoria took, but I have to admit, it's also a little bit scary to realize that I've let those parts of me go. But it's letting them go that allows me to see that beauty can change and evolve just as we do as people.


  1. That photo looks great!

    I realized today while I was updating my LinkedIn profile that I don't really have a professional photo of myself. The only one that kind of works is like four years old!

    I know what you mean about changing slowly. I was putting my hair up this morning and I couldn't get my clip to secure everything in a bun. Then I realized it was because I have way more hair than I think I do. It's longer than it's been in years right now. I'm not sure when that happened.