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.