Photos are dangerous. Even when they don’t involve you meeting secretly with an enemy head-of -state to sell government secrets.That can be bad too, though.
I feel like I’m talking about danger a lot these days, and I promise next time it’ll be something totally different, but first I’ve got to just address this incredibly critical issue. And when I say “critical” I’m talking, like, THE END OF THE WORLD.
Tragic story about photos:
My boyfriend (who is now my fiancé) and I had just returned from a trip to visit his family in California. I’d met them for the first time. That should’ve been the stressful part. Nope. They were great.
My boyfriend was at his computer, saying, “I loaded the photos we took. Check these out.” What an innocent sounding request…
A second later he said, “Whoa…” And then, “Aww, sweetie. This isn’t the best of you.” I winced, trying to turn back. It was too late.
It was much, much worse than seemed realistic or fair. There was my boyfriend, smiling and looking mostly like himself, his arm around his adorably diminutive grandmother. And there, on his other side, was— something hideous and terrifying and possibly undead.
Its human characteristics were tragically mutilated—the features crooked and lumpy and obviously ravaged by disease or the aftereffects of nuclear contamination. Scraggles of longish hair and the lopsided bumps on its chest hinted at gender, without fully divulging the secret.
It appeared to be baring its teeth defensively in fear, but that might have been its desperate attempt to mimic a smile. It was hunched forward, its massive shoulders and arms balancing its awkward bulk so that it could remain upright. My boyfriend clicked onto the next picture.
“Ooh. Not so great either.” He glanced at me apologetically, as though it was his fault.
Now the creature had thrown its head back in what looked like a wild howl. Perhaps it had scented prey. I thought I saw some drool spilling from the corner of its twisted lips. The neck was stunted and thick. The chin receded into it. Based on these images, his grandmother, in the full bloom of her ninety-two years, would have probably attracted more suitors on a dating website than me.
I shuddered, suddenly imagining my boyfriend’s mother innocently showing the photo to a group of her friends. “Yes, that’s her, the young woman my son is so in love with!”
His mother’s friends would say, “Oh! Um…Well, she certainly looks…” They’d pause and frantically search for a word with a vaguely positive connotation, and finally conclude with, “Interesting.” They’d quickly add, “They seem so happy together! How wonderful!”
He kept going. They didn’t get any better. Not even one. Not even when I was in the background.
I should’ve just laughed it off. I wanted so much to just laugh it off. But suddenly I felt like it was the worst thing in the world. The feeling ambushed me. The thought of all of the friends and family members who would see these photos and check me off as unattractive in their minds (probably without even noticing that they’d done it) was acutely painful. My appearance was a personal failure. I had failed to be a good girlfriend.
It sounds stupid. Being a good girlfriend is NOT about being pretty. Right? Like hell. That’s totally a part of it. Not everything, of course. But a nice, big, self-satisfied chunk. If you’re pretty you get to go on and be other things that are more important. Like smart and talented and successful and witty and interesting and fun. But if you aren’t pretty…Well, I don’t even want to think about it. Because when I think about it, apparently, I just shut down.
It’s this horrifying to me because I can’t control it. I mean, I can put on makeup and dress nice. But really, all that doesn’t make a huge difference. I look the way I look. I look like me dressing up or me being shlumpy. So a few things:
1. I can’t control it
2. I thought I’d be really pretty by now, or at least feel really pretty
3. I hoped it wouldn’t matter
I started to cry. My boyfriend was completely baffled. I never cry. Nothing helped. He kept telling me, “But you’re so beautiful.” I figured he was obligated to both think and say that. I shook him off and went to the mirror with my camera. I stood in front of the mirror and took picture after picture after picture, as though somehow, if I could capture myself being pretty, everything would be ok.
Everyone: I know I’m not alone here. I may be the singularly least photogenic person in the entire world, but who else feels pressure to be cute because you’re in a relationship? I feel like we’re not supposed to talk about that for some reason. We’re supposed to always feel BETTER about ourselves when we have a partner. But even when the partner is amazing, it’s sometimes not quite that simple.