There’s a photo of myself that I just love. It’s from a hiking excursion last summer in the White Mountains. I was with my good girlfriends from Arkansas, it was a stunning day, we were high on waterfalls and gorges, and I snapped a selfie with a roaring river in the background.
I didn’t have a lick of makeup on, or if my casual swipe of mascara had been applied that morning, it had long since been sweated/misted off by, you know, being in nature. My skin looked clear, my double chin was nowhere in site. The backpack straps combined with my Arkansas tornado relief necklace looked suitably “outdoorsy”, and best of all, my smile was wide and real, showing off the straight teeth that my parents paid dearly for.
I loved this photo the first time I saw it. I just looked so…well…happy…like myself, and exactly how I felt at that moment – delighted to be outside, surrounded by people I love, content in all things. In a word…good. I thought to myself “This should be my online dating profile picture – I’d want to date me if I saw it.”
Then there’s this other photo. In this one, I’m also posed in front of a roaring river. But in this one, my smile is making my eyes all scrunched up, my face is fat, and I’m embarrassingly without makeup. My hair shows signs of having been in nature for most of the day, pushed lazily back by my sunglasses. My neck looks soggy, my eyebrows need shaping, my nose is too big, my teeth aren’t white enough, and all I can think of when I see the photo is – don’t share it, Jodi, because people will think you’re crazy for thinking you look good in it. Who would date this sweaty, chubby, unmakeup-ed person?
Yes, you guessed it – the two examples above are the same photo. This one.
A while back I wrote about wanting to be more comfortable with the space I take up. It struck a chord with my small little circle of readers, which warms my little blogging heart, while at the same time making me sad because ALL of the women who responded are fabulous, gorgeous people, and it makes me LOONY that they…we…have so much collective and individual insecurity.
One of those readers said this in the comments:
When I stand in front of a mirror, naked, standing straight and feeling strong – I love my body. When I go out in public trying to look cute and trendy, I hate my body.
In two sentences, she summed up what I’m trying to say here in this tale of my photos. This happens to me all the time. I’m the bathroom at the end of the night, getting ready for bed, and I look closely at myself in the mirror. Hair mussed by the day, wrinkles under my eyes, the random shockingly white hair amid my curls. The round shape of my shoulders, my lack of a defined collarbone…I LOVE all of these things. I think they are gorgeous. I really do. I look down at my legs, which just ran two miles or trudged through a snowy city, and they seem powerful and beautiful. My flabby (and slowly shrinking) waistline seems voluptuous in a good way. I feel like what I am – a strong and independent woman.
And then…I leave my safe haven and venture out. I catch sight of myself in a reflected window and see nothing but my round, decidedly un-willowy frame. I marvel at the epidemic of skinny pants, and how I can’t participate because most boots that look so cute with skinny pants don’t fit my calves. My double chin haunts me. I hate the way my belly rounds out when I sit down. I compare myself to pretty much every woman I see and always find a way to come up short.
This sucks. It just sucks. How can two such radically different interpretations of the same body, the same person, exist? As my commenter said: “it’s a stupid, stupid thing.” But I suspect it’s very real for many of us.
Bold statement time – I really do love that photo of myself. It’s the me that makes me the most happy with myself. I want very much to have the strength to share it without fear that I am misguided in liking it. I want very much to be able to say “screw you” to the people who would judge it.
Maybe someday I’ll get there.
But in the meantime, I’d love to know how/if you deal with this kind of Jekyll/Hyde body image issue. Have you found ways to counter it?
2 thoughts on “A tale of two photos”
Two summers ago I went on a quest to really, really appreciate myself as is (Jeremy and I were scheduled to talk about loving oneself, so this was the preparation for that)…I paid close attention to my self talk and stopped it as soon as the negativity began. I could have written what you wrote…I used to censor photos of myself….but after that summer, and a lot of looking in the mirror and talking to myself with loving appreciation for this body AS IT IS, i was able to give the talk and create a Shutterfly book about the experience of coming to terms with accepting and loving me however i looked on the outside. it was powerful and i made a promise to censor my photos no more. and i knew that i had recorded over those old self-critical tapes when, that fall when I was shopping at Dillard’s, i caught the reflection of myself in a mirror and did not flinch (as I had every other time before). And so I wish this awareness you have explained so well (above) to expand where you have only the positive reaction to you…the reaction most of us carry for you, for others and rarely for ourselves.
Peggy – I just realized I never replied to this – how awful of me. It’s such a great story and so powerful. So glad for you and thank you for the encouragement – ever day is a new challenge but worth it!