My husband puts bad photos of me on the internet.
I don't consider myself an especially vain woman. I rarely wear makeup and in most of my selfies I'm not wearing makeup at all. I dye my hair but I wait so long between hair appointments that my roots can be measured in inches. And yet, when it comes to photos on the internet, I often despair when I don't have editorial control over photos of myself. And my husband? He puts photos of me on the internet that make me cringe.
When I look at this photo I see a huge forehead, tired eyes, and bad hair. He sees an unplanned and enjoyed working lunch date.
At what point does caring about our appearance turn into vanity? I may not be wearing makeup in my profile image, and if you ask me I can point out the barely visible zit on my face, but I love that photo. I love the dress I'm wearing, which you can barely see. I love the necklace I'd never have chosen for myself, but was gifted by a friend. My hair is off my face. I have barely a hint of a smile on my face. I felt good that day and it showed. It's a selfie, as are most of my photos. If not for selfies there'd barely be any photos of me at all.
I don't consider myself especially vain, but I'm often keenly conscious of people's gaze. I tend to overdress rather than underdress. I recall visiting my father one weekend and not knowing we were going to a wedding. I ended up wearing a truly AWFUL outfit cobbled together from clothes in my suitcase and I felt the censor and judgement of adults. I was nine or ten but that feeling has never left me and being underdressed for any occasion makes me feel incredibly anxious. I want to look presentable. I want to look good. But learning to hold my head high when others think I don't, or even when I think I don't... there's value in that, too.
Earlier this year I was going through pictures from the previous year, gathering enough for a poster collage to hang on our wall. I had a low moment, when looking for any photo of myself that was not a selfie, I cried at my husband "Why do you never take good photos of me?" He was stunned. He doesn't see the photos of me the same way I see them. He thinks they are all worthy of a frame.
It was a categorically unfair accusation. I'd wanted to stay at the castle-like Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec City since I was thirteen years old . He surprised me with a trip for my 35th birthday and took what is probably one of the best photos of me. Ever. It was taken as I sat in the window seat of our turret room, looking out at the St. Lawrence River below. I love the picture so much that I had it printed on canvas and it hangs over my dresser in our bedroom.
In the New York Times, Jennifer Weiner wrote an op-ed titled, "The Pressure to Look Good." She talks about how when someone disagrees with a woman's opinions their looks are often attacked and how cameras are now everywhere. We used to know the special occasions when we need to look good, but now? Every day is Class Picture Day.
"Every phone is a camera. Every picture, or video, ends up on the Internet. Everyone, from your eighth-grade classmates to the wife of the guy you worked with 10 years ago, can see. And for every news story about Spanx giving up its grip (only to be replaced by slightly more forgiving yoga pants), or every real-size heroine like Mindy Kaling on the cover of InStyle or Rebel Wilson topping the box-office charts, it seems that here in the real world, the beauty culture has only gotten more demanding."
I can't disagree with anything she says in her op-ed and yet... I wonder. I wonder if it has to be that way. As I flip through photos of myself, even on my own phone, I marvel at how I can look so different from one day to the next, or even one moment to the next. Sometimes I can't comprehend how all these different images, how all these different women, can be me. The photos remind me that the me I see in my head is not always the me that exists in the real world.
I can't control what others say about me, but I can control my reaction to their comments. But most of all, I can can control and silence the mean voices that come from within my own head.
My husband puts photos of me I do not like on the internet because he doesn't think they are bad. When he looks at them, he sees me while I see I double chin. Where I see the the jawline I hate in a profile shot, he sees a curve that he finds attractive.
I hate everything about this photo, but he only sees his wife relaxing on a hammock after a day in the pool — something she absolutely loves.
The photos my husband takes aren't bad, they are memories. They are the small moments he wants to remember and share.
I don't pre-approve the photos my husband puts on Instagram. With every "bad" photos, he's teaching me to see myself in new ways. Sometimes when I look at those photos later, I won't love them but I hope he never stops talking them.
I "let" my husband put photos of me on the internet because when he looks at them he sees beauty. I'm trying to learn see myself through his eyes.