Why is it that any time I take a photo, or see a photo in which I’ve been tagged, my first move is to blow up my face for personal scrutiny. In the old days I would have to be satisfied with holding the physical photo closer to my face, but with the dawn of digital cameras, I had the ability to isolate my image and zoom in. With social media and cell phone cameras, it’s even easier. Even easier to capture what may have been a lovely moment in time and turn it into a moment of intense self-criticism.
Sigh. I’m the person beating the drum on positive face and body image, and I can’t even follow my own dearly held values. Isn’t that just like people? The ones who espouse the views the loudest are the ones sure to be doing the opposite elsewhere? I want to be better.
Take this collage, for instance. The photo on the top far left was taken during a mini-vacation I took to Seattle to spend Mother’s Day weekend with my mom before she moved to Athens, GA. I captioned the shot “DesRosier in her native habitat” on facebook, because it captures me outside of Neumos, my favorite rock club (where I’ve seen some of the best shows of my life), in my old neighborhood where I lived for many years, sipping exceptional black coffee from Caffe Vita. In the moment the photo was taken, I was having an outstanding day. It was sunny and warm, I was wearing one of my favorite sweatshirts, I’d just eaten gourmet cheese and olives for dinner, I was on my way to kick back in one of Seattle’s famed public parks, and was due to sing karaoke in a private room later. I felt fucking fantastic, in other words, and I think my little grin and relaxed body posture evidences that fact. A still of perfect, carefree happiness.
So why, then, was it important to me to zoom in until my facial features became pixelated, in order to judge whether it was fit for social media? I took a glorious moment, and with a reverse pinch of my index and middle fingers to a screen, zoomed in, searching for flaws. The top left photo in the collage crops out the neighborhood. The bottom far left nixes the venue, eradicating the environment completely. And the bottom left strips away the sweatshirt and the coffee. I’m left with a grainy image of facial features completely out of context, and how can any meaning be found there, other than negative self-perceptions? My face is blocking out the moment, and there’s nothing positive to be derived from valuing the criticism of the self above the recorded experience.
And yet that’s the state of our culture. We have in the palms of our hands the ability to capture the self in every place, at all times, narcissism without end. I’m not fully convinced, however, that we’re so enamored of our own images, exactly, than wildly self-concerned. Did I look OK? Did I have the right expression on my face? Did my clothes and hair work? Was my makeup OK? Was it OK that I wasn’t wearing makeup? Do I need to change my entire face and body until I can take an acceptable photo? What is an acceptable photo?
I don’t want to be doing this. I want to follow my own rules, to fuck measuring myself against some undefined and unattainable ideal. When I worked at the MAC Cosmetics counter and in the dress department at Nordstrom I encouraged women to always stand at least four feet from any mirror before judging their look(s). I believe very strongly we are unable to gauge our true physical selves from such a short reflective distance, because up close everything becomes distorted (see: bottom left photo above). And besides, if how we look is really a question about how we look to others, and their perceptions of our forms, well, no one else in public life would ever draw so close, and those that do are really excited to be there. Real or perceived flaws are the last things on their minds as we allow them to enter our personal space.
The farther out you zoom, the more you see. I’m not a collection of facial flaws and misbehaving hair. I’m a woman back in the old neighborhood, enjoying a beautiful evening strolling the old stomping grounds, requisite cup of small-batch rocket fuel to my lips. You can see I’m enjoying myself by the twinkle in my eye and my blossoming smile. It’s a picture of a last-minute trip back home to celebrate all that’s good in a city my mom and I have deemed too difficult to live in, before she begins the next chapter of her life. It’s a picture of a woman happily returning to a place where once she felt downtrodden and depressed. It’s a picture of an integrated soul–that magical state where the old, haunted feelings have receded, revealing a friendly nostalgia.
You can’t see any of that, no context or environmental clues available when searching for what’s off with the subject. No information about feelings or relationships. No regard for history or progress, just, is the way I’m drawing in my brows too much? And maybe this lesson extends past cell phone photo manipulations and can be applied elsewhere. Where else am I zooming in too close, cropping out helpful information that might allow me to see the whole picture?