I look at the picture, disappointed. Wait … it is just the angle, or am I starting to get a double chin? When did the circles under my eyes get so pronounced? Shit. Are my arms really that big? Well, at least my hair looks good, I think, until… I notice that the single strands of grey have multiplied and my decision of what to do with my roots is becoming something I have to address.
Sooner rather than later.
“Can you take another one?” I ask. “And can you make my face look less, um, round this time?” Asking for small miracles is something I am good at. I know though that photographers can only do so much with the raw materials they are working with.
As the years go by, I have become exceedingly critical of the way I look in photographs. As someone who always used to feel comfortable in front of a camera and even went so far as to dabble in some light commercial modeling in my youth, it’s strange feeling completely uncomfortable in front of the lens. I no longer know how to present that carefree smile. My mouth almost trembles as it tries to mimic what used to be my natural expression. The pictures that result seem forced somehow. Unnatural.
And in my mind, altogether unflattering.
So I shy away from the camera. I shy away from the flash. If it’s not captured on a digital medium, maybe everyone can ignore those extra pounds that have seemed to creep up on me. They can act as if the lines around my mouth are not there.
Perhaps if I don’t take any pictures, I can remain the glossy image from my past, where Photoshop wasn’t a word that needed to be part of my vocabulary.
I think about the many times I make myself absent when there is a camera around. Pictures of my children and my husband abound, but in my mind, there was always a reason to justify my absence.
I can’t take a picture with my hair looking like this!
I didn’t have time to do my makeup.
Talk to me after I lose some weight. Then snap away.
I toy with the idea that the image I can’t confront of myself is that of me aging. I think there is some truth to this. But at the crux of it is also something deeper. It’s the fact that I never give myself any lenience to be less than perfect. Commemorating my imperfection by capturing it on camera is something I can’t easily do.
My kids will look back at the way I have documented our lives and they will know that special attention was taken to capture them at every age. They will see pictures of themselves where their hair was rumpled, their outfits were mismatched, they were covered in chocolate. And what they will see reflected in these pictures is the love we held for them as we stood on the other side of the lens, capturing these moments.
My kids will not see the mother they are most familiar with in the regular pictures of our lives. They will see the pictures that at some point I deemed acceptable enough to share on Facebook. The shiny, polished images where I look remotely like the former me I don’t want to let go of from my past.
The image they won’t see years from now is the mom I am most days. It’s not the mommy in the yoga pants with her hair swept up in a messy ponytail with the traces of exhaustion in her eyes. It’s not the mommy who is vulnerable, less than perfect, less than anything that has been deemed acceptable to share on social media.
And I think to myself, how can I let their memories of me and what I capture be so different, so separate? How can I let myself not allow the reality of who I truly am to them merge with the recordings of me that they will have, long after I am gone, to confirm the memories they hold of me?
And I also think to myself, “Crap!” The mommy I am memorializing for them isn’t human. She’s spent time on her makeup, her hair shines and she’s coiffed to perfection. She’s not real. She’s NOT the me that they are used to seeing.
Perfect Mommy versus Real Mommy. Perfect Mommy may be a lot prettier, but ultimately she seems a whole lot more flat than the mother they have become accustomed to. While she may shine in her glossiness, well, she also kind of sucks. Because here are some of the things that the imaginary Perfect Mommy I allow to be revealed on anyone’s news feed would NEVER do.
Perfect Mommy will never:
Show any signs of the stress of being a full time working mom while attempting to be an engaged parent and spouse.
Embrace the extra pounds and padding that come from living a life more fully, with my priorities on my children and not on the hours logged at the gym.
Be caught DEAD without mascara.
Wear yoga pants. All day and every day.
Have boogers on the shoulder of her shirt, the kind which were wiped there while she was holding her kids tightly to let them have a good cry.
And most importantly.
She’ll never exist. Not really.
I try to stress so much to my children that they are perfect, unique and wonderful so they can grow up to be balanced, self- actualized individuals. But the messages I send them are conflicted and hypocritical. Sure, they love me just as I am. Yet, I seem to want to wash away the existence of the mom they carry in their heart. Replace her with a two dimensional facade.
In my harshness in the way I look at myself, the biggest disservice I am doing is to my children. The life I am documenting for them is one where I shine for them in a way that simply does not align to reality. It won’t tell them years from now that mommy wasn’t always 100% pulled together, that mommy put more time and attention into things other than her appearance and that mommy sometimes struggled with depression so heavy that she didn’t have the energy to pull on more than, well, yoga pants. That mommy exists too and while she may not be as pretty, she should not be edited out of their lives.
I have come to the realization, however delayed, that our best memories are not the ones that always capture us in our best light, they are the ones that are grounded in the true lives we lead. They have not been Photoshopped to make them more appealing, their very authenticity is what makes them so special to us.
This mother is making a promise that I will make myself more present in the memories I have the power to craft for my children. Their reality and the mementos I leave them need to be rooted in the truth, not in a fantasy. Perhaps they will learn then that true beauty is rooted in accepting and embracing our realities.