I noticed something painful this vacation, and that is, I don’t enjoy seeing myself in family photographs these days. We’re all getting older, right? And digital photography allows us to see ourselves immediately after a photo is taken. “Ahhhh…better delete that one. That’s terrible of me,” I found myself saying, leaning over Mr. Chattering’s shoulder as I regarded myself in the digital camera’s tiny screen. “Oh gosh, I look awful in that one too. Delete that.”
Can you believe me? As a reporter covering politicians and self-conscious society people many years ago, I learned that WE ARE NOT OUR PHOTOGRAPHS. But when the photograph is of you, this lesson is easy to forget.
For example, I once had the good fortune to be seated next to the wife of a cabinet official at a fashionable luncheon in Washington D.C. This attractive businesswoman was putting some pizazz into the Washington party scene at the time, but as I sat in such intimate proximity–close enough to visually scan her jaw and ear in search of her plastic surgery scars–I could see that she’d rigged her face with the help of her doctors to photograph well, but that she in fact, in real life, looked strangely exaggerated. Big jaw. Cheekbones like the Blue Ridge Mountains. You would not have wanted to look like this woman really, and yet, day after day, the same face photographed beautifully for the society pages. Apparently–can I really dish?–fab Kabbalist Madonna is a tad this way too, or so says an art director I know who once had lunch with her: She doesn’t telegraph stunning beauty in person, yet she “comes up” well on film.
So I’m trying to stay calm as I see myself photographing less well than I think I look. I know a lot of women freak out when they see photographs of themselves, and even seek the surgeon’s knife to quickly fix the face that produced any unflattering photo images, instead of believing that they are not precisely what their photographs reveal.
It’s my hope that continued healthy living will help me look my natural best, no matter my age. More rigorous aerobic exercise wouldn’t hurt me either. We are not our perceptions; we are not our chattering thoughts. So today, as the family vacation photos are printed, my mantra will be: “I am not my photographs.” The Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan used to say: “If you could see yourself through God’s eyes, you wouldn’t believe how beautiful you are!”