About ten years ago, all of the families that belong to our temple were asked to make an appointment for a portrait session in conjunction with the creation of a new directory. I thought it was a great idea: at the time, I think we had around 350 member families and a photo directory is a wonderful tool for learning the names of people with whom you aren’t already acquainted. We were also promised a free 8 X 10 portrait for coming in.
The four of us went in one evening and posed for pictures, and that was that…until the pictures came back.
I was horrified. Actually, horrified is a massive understatement. Other emotions I experienced included:
…and many more that I don’t care to list at the moment.
The problem? I looked awful.
Let me back up a bit and say that although I admit to, at that time, engaging in occasional negative self-talk, about 90% of the time I didn’t really have body image issues. That is actually true for every weight I’ve been and every state of fitness (or non-fitness) I’ve maintained. My least favorite features have always been my stomach (by far) and my arms, but I work on that. I also try to dress myself in clothing that flatters, and sometimes I miss the mark.
The shirt I wore to the portrait session completely missed the mark. By about twenty miles.
It was not a super-clingy shirt, but when the photographer posed us (and sat me down on a stool), it didn’t occur to me to pull the shirt away from my body. The result was that the shirt, let’s say, enhanced the very worst parts of the part of my body that drives me crazy.
The sight of that picture in a directory that was distributed to 350 families made me cry. It made me cry a lot. The picture went into the trash immediately, and when we eventually (a couple of years later) received the new directory—which included no photos—I was more than happy to throw away the one with that horrid picture in it. In fact, I wanted to burn it. (But didn’t.)
A lot has happened over the past ten years. I am in much better shape than I was then. I weigh more than I did then but I’m fine with it because I believe I look fine. The growth of social media has resulted in pictures of me that I don’t necessarily love to be circulated publicly (none as bad as the one in question, though!) and I can more easily let it go. Lastly, I’m in my mid-forties now, and I’ve got about five years under my belt of not only caring less about what other people think of me but in that time I’ve also worked on being kinder to myself. I know that the people who I care about (and who care about me) only want me to be happy, and what I look like to them never comes into play anyway.
Even after all of that growth, I became mentally paralyzed a couple of months ago when I found out that our temple was doing another photo directory. I ignored the Facebook announcements and the phone calls about making our appointment. I was ready to skip it entirely. The excuses running through my brain, besides the one about how horrible the last session went, included “it’ll be weird for Jim and me to do a directory portrait without the boys” and “I can’t stand studio portraits since I’ve been spoiled by awesome—and casual—pictures taken of our family in every setting by my sister“. Valid, but silly.
One day I got an email from my friend who is very involved at the temple. It was the same email she sent to everyone who hadn’t yet signed up for a photo appointment, encouraging us to come in. Finally, I relented and made an appointment. I decided to stop being scared of one out of hundreds of pictures that have been taken of me over the past ten years. Letting my psyche be ruled by one awful picture suddenly seemed dumb—a picture, by the way, that likely NOBODY ELSE NOTICED AT THE TIME OR REMEMBERS NOW—and I didn’t want to let it have power over me anymore.
After Jim and I spent ten minutes posing and being posed, we went into the next room to see the pictures. (Gotta love digital!) There were a couple that were decent, and there was one that was absolutely awesome. Naturally we went with that one.
I typically wouldn’t have framed it because of my whole “I can’t stand studio portraits since I’ve been spoiled by my sister the photographer” thing, but today I placed it in a frame and put it on the table. It’s more than just a great picture of me and my love. To me, it’s also a personal triumph and a symbol of growth, and I think I’m going to enjoy having that hanging around my house where I can see it.