Hating the way I look in photographs has been a longterm part time job for me. Getting dressed and looking in the mirror is doable, having my picture taken less than 3 seconds later produces an image I can't swallow.
There have been countless plausible reasons I have arrived at for this intolerable experience. Maybe 2-D just is not conducive to capturing the real me? Maybe all of the angles that the photographer shoots from are awful? Maybe I just have horribly frizzy hair only when the camera comes out? Truthfully, what it always comes down do is I just don't feel beautiful in photographs.
Then today I had the most unbelievably enlightening moment. Looking at several hundred pictures from my moms wedding I immediately started down the very well trodden path, thick legs, frizzy hair, belly bulge. Flipping through furiously, I looked for a picture that did me justice by conveying that I actually looked halfway decent in person that day. I flipped to a picture of me holding my niece when I had no idea the camera was near by me. We were dancing together. She was smiling from ear to ear, I nuzzled her beautiful, gushy, 2-year-old cheek and smiled brightly. I looked perfect.
In that moment, it dawned on me. Worrying about whether I am beautiful by society's standards is useless. Beautiful is happy, peaceful, truthful, and just. Kindness and gentleness is beautiful. Beauty isn't about parts or pieces or symmetry or angles. The thought was so precocious and swift that as soon as it popped in, it popped right back out again. Replacing that lightness was the countless barrage of thoughts given to me by society, family, media....I am worth only as much as how I look. Searching furiously for the previous thought and for the feeling of relief that washed over me as it landed in my gut, I yearned for freedom from this battle of questioning. Am I beautiful, or reaching for even more honesty, am I ugly?
After many hours of tumbling these fizzy and poppy thoughts around in my mind, I had so many questions. What if I have wasted a ginormous amount of time worrying about something that doesn't hit the target? What if beauty truly is as beauty does? What if I am only beautiful when I am not wondering if I am? What if the most beautiful people are those that are concerned with their ability to be kind and compassionate to others. What if the way my nose fits with my cheekbones has absolutely nothing to do with beauty?
As I drove back north, I watched the mountains covered in several inches of new snow glisten in the winter sunlight and remembered what true beauty is. Nothing compares to natural. Nothing compares to honest. Nothing compares to humble. For the rest of the day when thoughts settled into my mind like, "what should I wear tomorrow," or "do I look ok to go to the store," I purposefully replaced the thought with, "what type of person do I want to be tomorrow," or "what kindness can I show to someone at the store tonight?"
It will require a purposeful shift from my previous perspective on beauty to the one that my heart believes is real. I am willing and hoping that in the future as I look over pictures of myself I will think the image is beautiful because I will take into consideration a rubric of integrity, honesty, kindness, and altruism.