Whenever someone pulls out a camera to get a snapshot of me, a deep dread boils in my stomach. I try to laugh it off and snap into a fun and flattering pose but all I can think about is how for years and years I would see photos of me and despair about how “fat” or “ugly” or “shifty-eyed” I was. Even if I thought I looked good in real life, I’d see a photo and think I looked hideous.
I have three older sisters, so you would think one of them could have taught me how to deal with this issue years ago. Unfortunately, only one of them ever came up with a solution and that wasn’t a very good one. In her teen years, my sister Colleen was known to always have throw pillows on hand when her hair and make-up wasn’t perfect so that if someone tried to snap a photo, she could block her face and body with the pillows. The joke was on her, though. My parents thought these photos were hilarious and actually put them into our family albums next to all the other family portraits. So now when we look at the pictures, we laugh at her more for her vanity than we ever would have laughed at her for an unflattering photo. Everyone has awkward years; not everyone has a face that looks like a grey cushion.
It took years of trial and error but I finally figured out – on my own – how to not see the Elephant Man in every photo ever taken of me.
The first rule of always taking good photos is don’t hide from the camera. Some people say that the camera adds ten pounds. I think the camera can see your fear. Confidence really comes through in photos and a lack of it can make the prettiest girl look like a wreck.
The second rule of taking good photos is to be aware of silly technical stuff like lighting and angles. You hear Tyra Banks and Nigel Barker talk about these things on America’s Next Top Model and the truth is that they’re kind of right. If the light’s too bright, you’re likely to squint and squish your face. If it’s too dark, the angles of your face won’t come through as well on film. Contorting your body like a couture model can make your figure look slightly better and it’s insanely fun. Now when I see a camera, I just pretend I’m in a Vogue photoshoot. At best, I’ll look pretty. At worst, I’ll look like I’m having a good time. It’s a win-win.
Here’s the thing – you’re not the photographer. You can’t control everything about the way a photo is taken. Even if you are wearing your best outfit, have rocking hair and are out-smizing Tyra Banks herself, you can still wind up in a sub-par snapshot. The final – and biggest – key to liking photos of yourself isn’t about what you do to prep for the photo before it’s taken but how you react to it AFTER it’s been taken. Essentially, I taught myself how to like photos of myself by forcing myself to like photos of myself. Maybe that sounds obvious or maybe it sounds impossible, but I found a very cool trick to get there.
About a year and a half ago, I made a promise to myself. I was tired of looking at Facebook photos of myself from parties and zeroing in on all the things I hated about how I looked. So I had the crazy notion one day that I would stop doing that. I challenged myself to play a game called “Find one thing about how you look in this photo that you DO like.” It started small. In one photo I liked how the green in my eyes popped. In another, my skin looked good. In a dozen more, my favorite thing was how much fun I was having in the photo. After a while, I started noticing numerous things I liked. I started finding photos where I looked sassy and my hair looked cute and I was smirking in a fun way. Then, a curious thing happened. I started to see only the good parts of me in photos. Sure, I still noticed when I looked bloated or if my nose looked hooked and crooked like the Wicked Witch of the West’s. But, I could finally see past those flaws and see a girl that was pretty, happy and confident in her own skin. Looking at photos of myself finally started to be kind of fun.
I think one of the reasons I used to hate seeing photos of myself wasn’t because I looked bad in the photos but I had been taught to believe I looked bad. So, I purposely started to look for flaws. We’re human which means we’re inherently flawed, so it’s not hard to see things we don’t like in ourselves. The flip side of that is I think that as much as everyone is flawed, everyone has their own natural beauty. We can decide for ourselves whether the features that make us unique are the features that make us beautiful or ugly. It’s up to me to decide whether or not a photo of me is good or not. It’s up to me whether or not I want to be happy in my own skin or overly critical. I can choose to live my life loving both the good and the bad qualities in me, or I can walk around for the rest of my life with a throw pillow in front of my face.
I choose to sit on cushions and to stand tall and proud in life – and in photographs.