I have this love/hate relationship with the image of myself. I have always had a strong link between what I see and how I feel. And vice versus. I know many people, women in particular, do. We pick, pick, pick ourselves apart. We tear every single inch of ourselves apart looking for what’s acceptable/pretty/beautiful/sexy for the fickle image machine that is our society. We mostly obsess over the parts that don’t meet the particular tastes of the day. We break ourselves up into pieces and parts and forget to see the whole. And we can never win. Never. Looking outwards, we will never match up to whatever other people’s opinions are of being attractive. That’s all fine and good. But for many of us we have internalised all the damaging messages that tells us all the ways we are ‘wrong’. We can’t even see our own beauty anymore. Or that physical beauty is just a very small part of who we are. We don’t always trust our own ability to see our own self worth.
So it was TD’s birthday last week. Cue photos taken from every which way and me having very little control over angle and lighting and setting etc. This is panic causing for me. In today’s selfie obsessed culture, control over your own photos is life. I had no control during these celebrations so normally this means mad flipping through, deleting, cropping, redoing, self-shaming and crying. Yep. Crying. Full blown meltdowns about how hideous I am. Disgusting.
So yeah, of course not every photo taken of me was me at my badass-goddess best. Not many in fact. Actually none really. There was one in particular that really triggered an initial cringe making reaction. It was of me, TD and husband holding wee bub’s cake. It was an awful one of me . But the weirdest thing happened. I burst out laughing. I showed my husband and he burst out laughing. It was just a bad photo. I could see that it was just a bad photo. Then I looked closer and noticed how my son is looking up at me with such love and sparkle that a wee lump formed in my throat. My son doesn’t see a ‘bad photo’. He sees his mama and he loves what he sees. Well…damn it. That photo isn’t about me at all.
This is no trivial topic. Folk everywhere and everyday are tormenting themselves for the image they see in mirrors and photos. Many refuse to even look at themselves. There is genuine fear in seeing their own reflection. The reaction they may have can be primal. The full on gut-wrenching yucks. I’ve seen so many conversations around this exact thing in some of the online groups I belong to. Lovely people who admit they hate what they see. No one else can see this terrible thing they are seeing but to them but it is very real. It defines their whole self-worth. And it’s not because we are terribly self obsessed people. We have just internalised the messages that what we look like defines our worth.
I tell ya…this shit is real and it is consuming so much of our time and energy…and enjoyment of life. I recently started taking more photos of myself and sharing them. And it’s for this very reason. I want to feel comfortable with documenting my life and not allowing a photo of myself to determine my mood. Because it was drastic. And dramatic. And required a lot of input from Husband to talk me back down to sanity. I felt worthless…over a photo. And the next steps would be grandiose diet and exercise regimes so that photos like that never happened again. Sigh.
But all of the work with habits and changing my mind-set around my own value has been working because last week the trigger just wasn’t there. I could see the bigger picture (ha…punny). If I value documenting my life and my experiences I need to be okay letting go of the control for photos to look a certain way. I need to not give them so much of my value. I need to ensure I know and value my worth as a person, wife, friend, mama, sister, daughter, teacher, human and not allow an image to change any of that. By all means, take control where I want to. Make that selfie angle and lighting just so…if I want to. But…let it go where it’s not about me and more about my experiences. My life. With my loves. And I’m not talking about having to love every single image or reflection of ourselves. We don’t have to go that far. But we can be more neutral at least. This is what I look like today. This is my face today. Oh…there’s my body today. Oh that photo wasn’t the best but it’s a great moment. Getting to the full on love affair with ourselves is the dream. But not even necessary. We just need to stop giving the reflection of an image so much power.
So let’s just take the damn photos already and enjoy our lives. Let our friends and kids and families take photos of us when they want to capture their own memories. They like what they see. They want us in their lives. An image doesn’t determine our worth. We do.