So, it’s been exactly a month since I (re)started my self-portraits project. I thought I’d share a few high-level observations from the experience.
Observation 1: Mirrors Are Lying Liars That Tell Lies
Prior to this project, my standard morning ritual involved at least a cursory glance in the mirror before heading out the door, but no extended dawdling. During this project, however, I’ve been spending a great deal more time consulting the mirror, who has told me things like:
“Ehh, not bad.”
“Indeed, those colors work well together.”
“You are so totally pulling this off. What an off-puller, you!”
Well, guess what: those were all horrible, horrible lies. But, it took being confronted with the photographic evidence for me to realize it. More accurate statements would have been: Actually, yes, bad. In fact, those colors work badly together and you should feel badly. The only thing you’re really pulling is my eyes… from my head… because omg the pain. I can’t necessarily blame the mirror, though. Lying is in his very nature. The fault is mine. This is a lesson I should have learned long ago from Clueless…
I will grant that cameras can be just as fallible and variable as mirrors, but, given the age we live in – with all its selfies, belfies (NSFW), and “Pics or it didn’t happen,” – photos are the rule and not the exception. I should have known the mirror was irrelevant. This whole project is about getting comfortable with being in pictures, not just looking in the mirror and calling it a day. It’s just that I had expected the mirror to give at least a hint of how a finished pic might look. Turns out the only real way to find out how something will look in a photograph is by putting it in a photograph. Who’d a thunk?
Observation 2: Covering Up My body Isn’t Helping
Since our expulsion from the garden of eden, humankind has known instinctively to hide its shame. But what do you do when you’re ashamed of your whole body?
Just like my fat-ass spectral friend here, I have taken to covering up fairly extensively – long sleeves, long skirts, tall boots, high necklines. Now, none of these things is bad per se and, in fact, they can be pretty and even quite stylish. But, what I’ve found is that the combination of all of them, used consistently over many repeated outfits, only seems to call attention to the fact that I’m trying to hide – to make more noticeable my discomfort with my own body. This is exactly what I’m hoping to avoid.
You’ve probably heard some fashion-y quote like, “Outfits are the armor you wear to face the day.” There’s something to that, for sure. Clothes really can impact your attitude, comportment, confidence, and the perceptions of others. But, for me, my outfits have crossed that fine line between confidence booster and giant, swaddling, full-body security blanket. This is not to say that from here on out it’s all pasties and hot pants. I’ll probably simply try pairing my more conservative staples with less conservative ones – maybe show a little knee or elbow now and again, perhaps even a glimpse of collarbone (I think I still have those). Baby steps.
But, wait. Was your knee-jerk response to this observation “You have nothing to be ashamed of! Just don’t feel ashamed”? Well, that brings me to observation number 3…
Observation 3: It doesn’t matter what other people think (If what they think is Positive)
I don’t mean this as some sort of Pinterest-y, quotation-over-landscape, soft-focus palliative. I believe the “I’m-just-gonna-keep-doing-me-and-if-other-people-have-a-problem-with-it-that’s-on-them” attitude can be incredibly problematic and, when taken to it’s furthest extent, just plain stupid…
You know what? Maybe some folks should question themselves and what they’re up to more often. Isn’t it more infuriating when some asshole never doubts for a moment how forthright and just is his cause? Self-doubt and nagging internal recriminations have plagued some of the best and smartest folks I know. It’s part of what makes them so great, and allows them to become even better.
What I mean by saying that it doesn’t matter what others think is that, ultimately, the opinions of others can do very little to bolster my feelings of self-worth or my own opinions of my abilities, appearance, etc. If all it took for me to feel happy with my appearance were the compliments of others, my boyfriend alone would have me thinking I’m the most beautiful woman in the world. While I respect his opinions (eh, more or less…), and such sweet/kind words fill me with warm/fuzzy feelings, and I’m grateful that he thinks so highly of me, none of it changes the way I feel about myself.
Consider the familiar examples of models with body-image issues, or pretty much every successful person who’s experienced imposter syndrome. The world is telling these folks in no uncertain terms that whatever they’re doing, they’re do it right, but the praise/accolades are just background noise (albeit, fairly pleasant background noise) to the much stronger signal of self-criticism.
The same is not true for the negative opinions of others, though. Those seem only to reinforce whatever ill opinions one may already possess. To continue with the sound analogy above, external criticism only amplifies the internal signal, just like constructive interference, but, hey, let’s give it the more charitable name of “Constructive Criticism.”
See? This illustration has waves, mathematical symbols, and graph paper… That’s science! You have to believe science! But, really, think about your own experiences (provided you’re not an asshole). When someone says something positive to you, do you not just pass it off as kindness or flattery? But, if that same person says something negative, doesn’t it simply confirm your worst fears? I’m not sure why we have such double standards for the opinions of others, but we do and it sucks.
All this said, my hope is that by recognizing and calling out the above issues, I position myself to address and maybe even overcome them. Or, not. Who knows? Either way, the project continues and I will, no doubt, have more to share soon. Thanks for reading.