Smile for the Camera

I’ve never been a huge fan of photos of myself.

I hate all my prom pictures. I didn’t take any on my 18th. I’m wearing a brilliant jumpsuit in the photos from my 21st, but I look (and was) way too tipsy. 

I remember a couple of years ago, as my graduation ceremony approached, I was, of course, thick in the throes of yet another diet. I was feeling particularly unhappy with my weight, inflated slightly by a final year uni diet that was effectively 65% Coco Shreddies and 35% pure, existential terror. As graduate life loomed, clinging onto anything that would give me some semblance of control, I thought the 5:2 would be the answer to my woes. We’re all familiar with the 5:2 by now, I’m sure, but if not, it’s that one where you effectively eat three Ryvitas and a satsuma for two days a week and are expected, somehow, to behave like a normal human.

Obviously the reasoning behind literally starving myself wasn’t for health or happiness, but for the purely superficial reason to look nice (read: thin), gleeful and academically accomplished in the graduation photos that would inevitably suffer the judgement of the one Peking dog and Henry VII Toby Jug on my Nan’s mantelpiece. Of course, much like 95% of diets (hashtag science), I didn’t lose any weight for graduation, I remember feeling uncomfortable, frizzy and badly fake-tanned on the day and I didn’t get the LinkedIn profile pic that so many others did.

And even more than just not liking photos of myself, I've let bad pictures have a real adverse effect on me. In December, I was sent into such a total spin by one photo that I actually, seriously feared coming home for Christmas. I felt I looked like I'd put on so much weight that everyone who saw me would be totally horrified. I looked too round, too chubby, and, as I thought at the time, that was synonymous with totally awful. I messaged my friends and family to warn them and how I looked. I really didn't want to go home. I was crippled by fear and have been retraining myself not to care about photos as much ever since.

And recently, skimming through some photos for the blog, I came across this one.

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I have no make-up on.

You can see how greasy my hair is.

You can see how hungover I am.

You can see how crooked my teeth are.

My top is from Tesco.

My eyes are squinty and half shut.

My cheeks look chubby.

That little bit of armpit fat that no amount of chest fly reps would shift is in clear view, as is my big, wrinkly nose and my sparse lil eyebrows, but it is my favourite photo of myself.

The laugh is courtesy of my brother having muttered some niche line from a Victoria Wood sketch. The bags under my eyes are the bi-product of spending the night before dancing to jazz music and drinking Red Stripe with my favourite people. And I am palpably, obviously, so, fucking happy. I remember feeling that way. I remember not giving a shit about what I looked like and was just having an excellent day, hopping around London, hand in hand with BZ, dropping off along the way to have coffee with my gorgeous little brother before an evening of wall-to-wall laughs and Mexican food with some old pals.

After looking at this photo, I went back to look at that fateful picture from December and tried to evaluate it in the same way. I am happy in the photo. I'm with a big group of great people. I'd had a lovely day cooking and chatting and singing Chrimbo songs. That was what the photo was meant to document, not how thin or fat I looked. I think there is such beauty in an ugly laugh, in a double chin, in cheeks squished towards squinted eyes by a wide grin, in your face and body being unable to physically contain the joy you feel, in being so present that you forget how you look, and just continue have a ball.

So just a little reminder, to me as much as you, that photos are not about what you look like, they're about who you're with and how you feel, much like life I 'spose.