Monday, July 20, 2009

Finally Finding Myself, at 40

I've never really liked having my photo taken, even though I was, for a very, very brief period a "model-in-training" if you will, with a couple of shows to my credit.

I've also never thought I was more than run-of-the-mill attractive. Crooked smile. One eyelid a tad lazier than the other. Chin too pointy. Ears too small. These observations aren't all a result of me spending too much time in front of the mirror--though after 40 years, most people have logged a few hours there, whether or not they care to admit it. I've actually heard all of these comments from various people over the years. One charming ex went so far as to preface anything that even approached compliment-hood with "Don't let this go to your head, but . . . "

But why were some photos fabulous and the others, ah, crap?

For instance, my friend Kat always took really good photos of me. In fact, I never looked like the Me that I saw in other photos, but rather, closer to the Me I thought I saw in the mirror. Other people, it didn't (doesn't) really matter how I felt that day, what I was wearing, if I had dropped a couple of pounds or if I had won the lottery (still waiting!), I always manage to look short and squat and very far from the Me I think I know. Well, the Me I'm trying to get to know, anyway.

It recently occurred to me that it wasn't so much how I looked, but that it was the way in which I was relating to the person behind the camera. Kat felt like a sister from the day we met. We told each other everything. There was no hiding anything, and I suppose it never occurred to me to hide from her camera.

Other cameras are held by those for whom I may have conflicting feelings: I may love them, but may also be afraid that I don't measure up. That I'm going to fall short in some area or another. That I'm not smart enough, or ambitious enough or competitive enough. And on and on and on. This is not the fault of those hands in which the camera rests. The fault is mine, because I think those things about myself and project them on to the people I am most afraid of disappointing. And so I curl in to hide, to protect myself from, well, really, from myself.

I've been in and out of therapy for a few years now working on the root cause of this lack of self-esteem, and even when not speaking with a professional, I've made a huge effort to stop the negative thinking and to stop worrying about what other people think of me. I have good days and bad days, same as everyone else. But I think my better days are more frequent, at least in terms of self confidence, and now I have photographic proof. I think.

Last week I updated my profile on facebook with a photo I had taken myself, using the Photo Booth on my Mac. I was bored with the old photo and thought this would be the perfect little project to assist in my efforts at procrastination elsewhere.

Whadda ya know? I was actually looking right at the photographer--who in this case was me. Clear, direct, unafraid, unapologetic. Maybe it seems like a shallow, navel gazing thing, but I see it as evidence that, after all this time, I'm coming to terms with being me. That I was ok with what I was going to see.

There were two other photos--Hannah likes the sepia-toned one best, but I thought I'd post both of them, mostly because the thought of THREE photos of me being out there makes me squirm. I guess I'll have to be ok with that, too. Even if my chin is too pointy and my eye sort of sleepy looking . . .


Jenn said...

Those are both gorgeous photos of you. Well done and I love the post. I'm coming up on 35 in September and often feel the same way about photographs. I have one good friend, Lori, who always takes brilliant photos of me...but you're right, I think it's because I have never held anything back from her. Hmm...insightful post.

Lorraine Akemann said...

Glad I found you at BlogHer. You looked fabulous, and I'm excited to know we are almost neighbors. Self esteem is ongoing, I think, for all of us. I was such a newbie nerd at that conference I could barely handle it. Looking forward to running into you over the network. Take care!

Melanie K said...

Thanks, both of you! Sorry for the much delayed response, but it was great to meet both of you at BlogHer. Funny, though that I had to go to Chicago to meet you, Lorraine, when you live around the corner :)