A few months ago I got the chance at my 9 to 5 job to have my portrait taken. The last time I had a portrait done was for my college graduation. It would be nice to have a professional profile picture, and since I was planning to launch my blog, the timing was perfect.
Right away I began planning what I’d wear. A classic blue blouse would be professional. Not wearing a jacket would make it more casual. And the color would bring out my eyes. That was easy.
Next was jewelry. The pieces needed to be subtle. I picked a simple solitaire necklace and pearl earrings. For a bit of hidden character, you’ll have to look again at the earrings to see the pearls are being held by talons.
Picture day came, and I waited my turn with a few colleagues. Finally I was next. The photographer and his assistant went through the usual routine of trying lighting variances, adjusting the tilt of my head, the lean of my body, smile/don’t smile, look here/look away, and so forth.
At the end, when the photographer typically compliments you to give you confidence about how the shoot went, I was really, really hoping he’d say I had looked beautiful, but instead he said, “You did great. Your pictures will look very… sincere.”
Sincere? What’s up with that? Did he just give me the photographer’s equivalent of someone setting you up on a blind date — “she’s got a great personality?”
OK, I’ll be honest. Remember the old joke about the guy who breaks both of his hands and asks the doctor if he’ll be able to play the piano after the operation? The doctor says, “Of course!” and the guy says, “That’s great because I wasn’t able to play the piano before!”
That’s pretty much me hoping the photographer would say I was beautiful. I may have had a pretty good, long run of being cute, but I know I’ve never been beautiful. If the photographer had said that, he’d be seriously exaggerating. But sincere? Really?
Settling for meh
I’ll admit I was anxious waiting for the proofs to be ready. When the email arrived with a link to the collection, I scrolled past a few of my colleagues – all of whom looked absolutely amazing – and stopped dead when I got to me. “That’s me?” I thought, “That’s what I look like?”
The person who I was seeing in the proofs is not the person who I see in the mirror at home. Somehow I’m confident when I look at myself in the comfort of my own home, but now looking at me in these photos, I felt like I don’t know who I am any longer. Inside my head I feel like I’m still 26 years old and a size six. Where the heck did the last 25 years go… and where did those last 25 pounds come from?
No exaggeration — there were 75 shots of me, and I meticulously examined each one. Teeth look like a chipmunk. Head tilt looks like a terrier. Not smiling enough. Smiling too much. Right eye too droopy, too watery. Finding a shot that I didn’t shake my head at was difficult.
After a really long time, I narrowed it down from 75 photos to six — then to just two. I spent a whole lot of time deliberating over this decision. I was acting as if the lives of my unborn grandchildren rest on it. Finally I gave notice of which photo I picked along with four touch-ups to be made.
When I received the final portrait, the changes had been made with such skill that you’d never know the difference, but I was still not happy with it. My attitude was, “It is what it is…,” as pitiful as that is to say. Slowly I began to accept the “old lady” in this photo and started uploading her to all of my online profiles.
Seeing myself for who I really am
Then a few nights ago, I was binge watching Little Fires Everywhere. Kerry Washington’s character is a photographic artist. Reese Witherspoon’s character suggested to her that she could earn steady income by being a portrait photographer. Here’s how Kerry’s character responded in the book version: “…the thing about portraits is, you need to show people the way they want to be seen. And I prefer to show people as I see them.”
Thankfully, that brief statement brought me back to where I ought to be. I may have been a lot cuter when I was 26, but I was also a whole lot less wise. Back then, I gave more consideration to my looks than my character, and that perspective was leaving a bigger impression on people than I could have ever imagined.
Once again I heard the photographer’s last words to me: “You look sincere.”
I remembered that being sincere is way more important to me these days than being seen as beautiful or cute. External beauty fades, but internal beauty is a thing of character. When my mom died nine years ago, so many people told me how much my mom had inspired them. Not one person mentioned what they thought of my mom’s looks.
That’s when I had decided to honor my mom by working a whole lot harder on being beautiful on the inside. I’m still nowhere near the end of that journey, but I’m loving every step of it. And now I have renewed confidence to keep moving in that direction – in the direction of true sincerity.
So to undo all the pressure I put on myself believing my portrait had to be perfect, here’s what the untouched photo looks like, and below are the things that were changed:
- Removed the hood ornament from the car that I was leaning on. It was pointing up out of my left shoulder like a misplaced rhino horn.
- Removed the clasp from my necklace. It had slipped around the right side of my neck.
- Removed the two bumps near my left brow. Sun damage.
- Whitened my teeth a bit. Too many Cokes and other sodas consumed.
If it is your intention to continuously learn and grow, then you need to be reminded once in a while who you once were and how far you’ve come. That backward glance could be to see how much your appearance has changed over the years, or it could be about something actually important, like how much you’ve focused on and contributed to others, to make others happy and to help them have a better life. You shouldn’t continuously focus on the past, but taking a look back once in a while is a great way to see how much further you want to go, and to strengthen your confidence to get you there.
Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…