Tonight I found myself sitting in Naked Lounge, a coffee shop in Midtown Sacramento, with my teenage sister and her friend. They have a summer routine of drawing in coffee shops, creating little pieces of artwork they leave behind on the bulletin boards, their creative mark left scattered throughout Sacramento for all to see. As they sat working on their artwork, I took pictures.
While this in itself was enough to keep me amused, sitting, observing their routine, I noticed something else, something deeper as I photographed. Like most girls and women I know, they were very picky about the pictures I took, even if they were beautiful to an outside eye. It reminded me of how I felt about pictures when I was younger and how I look back at those same pictures today and think wow, what was I complaining about?
But, that’s the great irony of female existence. The photographs I see of me today leave me convinced I’m past my prime, which is pretty ridiculous given I’m only 28. Still, I see my face changing, lines forming, angles becoming more pronounced. As much as I rolled my eyes at my sister and her friend, I do the exact same thing and always have. Truth be told, if my hair is not blown dry and make-up is not on my face, I do not feel like I’m in any state to have a picture taken.
About six months ago, another friend in LA was hosting weekly public art installations of “ugly faces,” as an open rebellion against a societal obsession with vanity in a town that is built on it. I was so intrigued by this concept that I submitted my own “ugly” shots, some of which are still buried somewhere on that page. The funny thing is that it was genuinely difficult to take those pictures, like I was fighting against decades of social conditioning.
I guess the point of all of this is that it made me hyper-reflective to hear these girls be critical of themselves. Beauty should be something we are proud of, something that emanates from the inside out. I want my self-worth to be strong enough to see past the tiny imperfections of a moment trapped in time. Ani DiFranco describes her beauty as a beauty that moves, that cannot be captured in a photograph. I like this idea because it implies there is more to us than what we see in two dimensions. All women have a three-dimensional beauty that moves, a beauty that should make us so proud that mere pictures never creep under our skin to undermine our self worth. I have met a couple of women like this, whose smiles light up pictures, rooms, lives. I do not know their secret, but I’m determined to figure it out.
Even though I’m a guy, I find myself asking some of these same questions when I write. I don’t want tall and thin, model-like, women scattered throughout my work. I want to represent the real world, the real woman, and not what society perceives as beauty. Women, like men, come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. As writers we should be aware of these things. I have two nieces who are bi-racial and I don’t want them to pick up my book and see a barbie doll in place of a real woman. True beauty transcends time, not to mention a photo. Beauty can be found everywhere if only we take the time to look.
What an excellent and thought provoking post.
I like that. It’s interesting, I try to do the same thing in my writing, but I’m starting to question whether I somehow still fall into a trap of trying to protect my female characters with obvious beauty. You’ve reminded me to take another look, thanks.
Excellent post … and pictures, too.
Need to add more … I think women would be surprised at how many men prefer women who are comfortable with themselves as they are rather than trying to turn themselves into something else. But, that’s exactly the wrong way to think about it. It doesn’t matter, shouldn’t matter, how the outside world views you. Be you, whatever that is and be comfortable and confident with that person. More people will be drawn to that comfortable, confident person than to the person who needs to project an image. And, by the way, there are plenty of men with the same problem.
No, it makes total sense, and I agree– just requires an evolution of self to get there, easier said than done! 🙂
I know I’ve sent you this before, but another Ani song that addresses this perfectly:
lately i’ve been glaring into mirrors
picking myself apart
you’d think at my age i’d of thought
of something better to do
than making insecurity into a full-time job
making insecurity into an art
i fear my life will be over
and i will have never lived it unfettered
always glaring into mirrors
mad i don’t look better
but now here’s this tiny baby
and they say she looks just like me
and she is smiling at me
with that present/infant glee
and i would defend
to the ends of the earth
her perfect right to be
so i’m beginning to see some problems
with the ongoing work of my mind
and i’ve got myself a new mantra
it says: “don’t forget to have a good time”
don’t let the sellers of stuff
to rob you of your grace
love is all over the place
there’s nothing wrong with your face
love is all over the place