open letter to the camera

Dear Camera,

I don’t look like that. Stop lying.

My father is a believer in technology. He trusts you. He thinks that you always tell the truth. He tells me, “That’s what you look like, and you look fine.”

But that can’t be right, because I just looked in the mirror, and there was a different story looking back at me. In that story, my nose was strong and charismatic. My chin was gentle and sweet. My face was a defiant combination of creative themes and contrasting ideas and my body made sense. Here, in this picture, I am an unfortunate set of errors. My nose is definitely too big, and has strange bumps, like lumpy dough. My chin is surprisingly weak. My face is a jumble of mistakes, like the painter tripped and the brush hit the canvas in the wrong spot, and instead of stopping, she kept going from there, deciding at the last moment to make it a commentary on something sad and awkward.

Take it back. Do it better. I want a refund. I want a redo. I want you to tell the truth about me.

This can’t be right, because last night I was beautiful in that dress– with the thick, sexy belt, and the red heels, for Christmas. Christmas has the color red. I went with that. Last night, I could feel that I was beautiful. I remember the feeling even now. The angle of my neck felt right, like I knew exactly how to hold my head. I felt bold and like I could probably get away with impertinence. When someone mentioned some gorgeous woman (“Oh, god, she’s SO beautiful it’s ridiculous”), and everyone agreed, I felt without thinking that I had nothing to worry about. I mean, look at me. Look at me!

In these pictures, I am clumsy and lumbering and lopsided. I don’t appear to know how my own limbs work. I am always caught with one eye blinking, like I didn’t learn how to blink correctly as a child. Like I am winking grotesquely– maybe having a small seizure. Maybe just spasming. My, how often that young lady in the large belt spasms!

I am pretty sure I was graceful. So this is all wrong. My husband was definitely impressed by my grace. I have even learned to walk in high heels, and that’s taken a long time. OK, not perfectly. But I don’t expect perfection.

My legs looked so sleek, when I glanced down. My arms– not so terribly bulky. Or at least, their roundness was more right than wrong. It balanced me. So I kept glancing down. Nice.

And then, you had to do this. The way you always do. Just when I am happy. Just when I find a truly fabulous outfit, or my hair is so much better than I’d expected it would be, or I begin to suspect that I might be hot. Legitimately hot. Then up you pop, flashing your cruel grin, laughing in snaps to yourself.

(btw, your nose is pretty big, too. not your best angle? HA. source)

Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but sometimes you give the impression that you want me to feel terrible. Tell me the truth– do you hate me? I mean, I have to wonder. Because all of these other people look fine– THEY LOOK FINE! They don’t have food coming out of their mouths or Bell’s Palsy or surprisingly large, snaggled teeth or a mysterious triple chin. So cut the crap. What did I do? Can we be straight with each other here? I will pay you. I will give you money. How much do you want? I’m serious, you’re really messing with me, here. I need to make it stop. What do you want? Dear god, what do you want from me?

DO YOU WANT TO SEE ME CRY?? Is that what you need? You disgusting sadist! You’re horrifying. That’s what you are. Horrifying. I see through you. You aren’t this magical memory making machine of endless scrapbook joy. You’re a subtle, manipulative torture device. You want me to hate myself. Don’t think I don’t know. But I won’t. I won’t hate myself. I looked GOOD in that dress, damnit. I looked good. I looked–

OK, OK, OK. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We can work something out. We can! We can work together. Just tell me how to stand. Tell me which is my good side. My friends all know which is their good side. Is it possible that I don’t have one? Tell me the truth– am I ugly when I smile? I won’t smile anymore. I’ll just stare straight ahead. Or not straight ahead, but up and to the right a little. Which is probably a better angle. Can you not use flash? I look like I’ve just been revived after having been dead for a long time. Can you take the picture from farther away, so my flaws are more distant? At least take thirty or so, so that maybe one will turn out decent.

I don’t want to beg. But I will beg you. Please. Please, camera. I don’t want to have to live like this– with you ruining all of my favorite moments. All of my best outfits. All of my happiest smiles.

Camera. I believe you too often. My father said you were a great invention. My friends think you make Facebook better. My gorgeous cousin loves you and you love her. You love her SO much.

But maybe you and I are just not going to get along. You don’t like my face. It’s obvious. You don’t like its boldness. You don’t like the parts of me that aren’t skinny. You don’t like how sexy I was in that dress.

And yes, I was sexy.

Admit it.

Or maybe eventually I will just have to laugh right back. And say, “Are you even serious with this? Everyone knows that is not me. Everyone, and especially me, knows that.”

Because the girl in the mirror is telling a different story. And even more importantly, my legs are telling a different story. And my breasts and my dress and my neck and my brain.

And until you can get on board, I will take a million photos of myself in the mirror until I get one that looks the way I like. It’s not cheating. It’s playing fair.

*  *  *

What is your relationship with the camera? Do you have photos of yourself that you love?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in knee socks and a sweater (with some stuff in between).

P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent me emails even though the comments were off on the last post.

P.P.S. Christmas was great! And during the Christmas meal at Bear’s mom’s house, she invited me to light Chanukah candles and sing the blessing at the table, and everyone seemed into it. Then, at Bear’s dad’s house later that night, we talked about spirituality for a long time and his stepmom gave one of the most compelling and lovely definitions of God/a higher power I’ve ever heard.

P.P.P.S ONE more thing. Sheesh. This is a tiny little piece I wrote for a fashion site. I thought you guys might like it. It’s about my new faux fur coat, and the picture they asked for? It’s like the one millionth one a friend of mine took of me in the coat. Yeah. It takes that many.

36 Comments »

Kate on December 26th 2011 in beauty, body

36 Responses to “open letter to the camera”

  1. Val responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:13 am #

    You know, you might as well get used to it.

    I look at photos of myself when I was young and LAUGH and how I hated them. (the nose, the gap in my teeth, never-ending complaints.)

    I was cute, lovely even.

    Now, the pictures are of this older lady with frizzy hair.

    I don’t feel like that? How come I LOOK like that?

    And people seem to love me most tenaciously anyway.

    Life is weird–including, but not limited to my hair.

    Now I hate my hair more than I ever hated my teeth or my nose back in the day.

    Sigh.

    You are not alone, and yet we both are aware how irrelevant it is. Ei-yi-yi. I don’t judge anyone else this way.

    I’m working on some resolutions for the new year.

    Starting with my failed resolution from LAST year, which was to get to bed earlier.

    FAIL. FAIL. Big, fat F on that.

    Maybe my resolution this year should be how late I can stay up.

    Maximum frizziness of hair.

    Maximum diet Coke consumption. (I hear it’s next to poison, and yet here I am.)

    Sigh. love, Val

  2. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:57 am #

    @Val
    Oh, I can’t seem to stop with the diet coke either. Ever.

  3. poet responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Merry around-winter-solstice-celebrations! Camera lenses do distort reality, you know? There will be lenses that make you look good, and lenses that make you look horrible, and which lens does which job varies from person to person… hope that consoles you though I’ve lost the link to the article that told me.

  4. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 2:36 am #

    @poet
    Just as I’ve always suspected….
    :-)

  5. Wendy Whitley responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 3:43 am #

    My camera lens definitely is distorted.

    Like I really need a camera that has a make-my-a$$-look-wider feature. It’s plenty big all on its own, thanks.

    Maybe if I point it at my checkbook, it will make my bank account bigger?

    W. :)

  6. lynellekw responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Cameras lie, A LOT.

  7. craftosaurus responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 8:46 am #

    I generally try (TRY) to find one thing I like about myself in every picture that I initially find unflattering. It’s tough but it usually helps, at least over time.

  8. Ashley responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Great post. I always love your writing style. Photos of me can either be good or really bad. I really love the photo of myself that was taken for the calendar I did. None of us models got to approve which shot of us from our photoshoots they were going to choose, nor did we get to suggest what kind of editing they were going to do. Not only that, we didn’t even get to see anything until they released the calendars out to the public, so I was sooo incredibly nervous I wasn’t going to like it and there would be nothing I could do since half the city already had a calendar in their hands. Thankfully, we had one of the best (if not THE) best photographer in the area and he knew what he was doing, so I was pleased with my page.

  9. Sooz responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Cameras suck. Period. I never get my picture taken and I never want to see a picture of myself b/c the cameras NEVER get it right. I don’t look like me. And that is so not cool. Grrr.

  10. Grace responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 10:39 am #

    I have a love hate relationship with cameras. Sometimes pictures of me look so awful I can’t even believe it’s me because there is aboslutely no way I look like that. And then I’ll see a picture of me that looks so unbelievablely beautiful that it just can’t be me either. No matter good or bad cameras definitely always lie

  11. Melanie responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Oh boy can I relate to this one. So much so that for years I would duck out of pictures. Now I have no pictures of me from high school to share with friends. So now, even though I know I won’t like them, I get in to every picture being taken and smile. Then, when I see it I curse the camera. My main thing is, “When I look in the mirror I do not have that extra chin, nor such a puffy red face.” It totally is the camera’s fault. :)

  12. Alii responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I have the opinion that cameras capture photons, but it can only capture photons. It doesn’t take into account attitude, body language, the modification of features that takes place in yours and other people’s heads as the brain fills in details so it doesn’t have to truly pay attention. In filling things in, the brain makes people handsome and charming and graceful and beloved.

    So. In my oh-so-humble opinion, I disagree. The camera doesn’t lie, even with wonky lenses. It just only gets the partial truth, which is oftentimes worse. It cannot capture the ‘alive’ part that makes people truly gorgeous. :)

  13. melissa responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 11:57 am #

    I look TERRIBLE in photos and it truly breaks my heart. I agree that the mirror tells a different story, but the mirror is the one that lies, because we look at ourselves at a downwards kind of angle, and we subconciously know what our “good side” is and avoid all of the bad ones.

    And some mirrors are designed to elongate and/or shrink the body.

    So you can’t trust them at all.

    BUT! Alii makes a good point that cameras don’t capture the life… because what we also do in mirrors is move. And our movements are what people like about us. Freezeframe a conversation and you know what those photos are like – hilarious sneers and messed up facial expressions!

  14. Abby responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the camera. It’s so easy to look at the pictures of me when I was little and think, “Gee, I was so cute. What happened?” Because the camera loves small children and most of them look adorable.

    What I really dislike about cameras is my eyes. When I am really, truly smiling, my eyes crinkle and the picture either looks like my eyes are closed or really, really…squinchy (is that a word? Ah, I don’t care). I used to hate that, but I’ve grown to love it because I learned it’s a family trait and I can see the similarities between me and different family members in photos–especially my grandmother, who I never got to meet.

    So I’m not always a huge fan of cameras, and sometimes I just feel so fake posing for one, especially if I’m not really smiling just so my eyes don’t close on me. But I’ve always wanted to someday get my picture taken by a professional photographer, and get one of those sepia or black-and-white glamour shots, or one of me with my head down, smiling. I always feel like that picture would be the perfect one. It would probably be a complete disappointment when I actually got it, but…I’m still hoping someday, someone will take that perfect picture of me.

  15. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    @Wendy
    LOL!!!

  16. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    @Abby
    I think “squinchy” is officially a word, as of your comment :-)

  17. San D responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    First of all remember that your refection is the visual opposite of what you see in a photo. Back in the day good portrait photographers reversed the negatives before they printed the photo. Secondly Rembrandt did over 90 self portraits looking for the essence of himself that transcended the visual. I have made friends with the camera on my own terms but not when others capture me in photos. Sometimes their images of me are foreign to me.

  18. dee responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Great post and yes the mirror does lie – it is after all a “mirror image” unfortunately as San D told us today’s cameras refuse to lie!! i too have a bad relationship with the camera because it refuses to lie to me and lately – horrors! – the mirror has also stopped lying!!!

  19. Piper Alexander responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Get out of my brain! I have the same issues with the camera. There are pictures of me I like, but there are oh, so many, that I don’t like. I prefer to live in denial that I do not look like that in person. The camera is so powerful, it’s capturing flaws the naked eye cannot see. Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening.

  20. T.K. responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Kate, how photogenic one is has NOTHING to do with how attractive. Just like the camera can work magic and make one look deceitfully flawless, it can make one look deceitfully horrendous. The camera distrorts as much as it captures and in the eyes of a good photographer those distrotions work in your favor. I’ve had pictures of myself taken where I looked five inches taller, ten pounds thinner, and a face that I can’t truly claim as my mine, even though it technically was. Even before the airbrushing technology photographers knew how to work camera lenses and angles to enhance and hide. But that effect has an equally powerful opposite one. There are also pictures taken where every single flaw is emphasized in an almost caricaturish way. Those pictures are more common since most people don’t really know how to photograph well. Somehow those always feel like the truth. But they aren’t. You are also probably just not a very photogenic person and for those people, the camera NEVER tells the truth because they never ever look as good in pictures or on video as they do in real life. I don’t even know why some people are photogenic and some aren’;t and what makes them that but it has nothing to do with how attractive they are. I have seen pictures of you on this blog where you look like you could be in magazines. It makes sense that there would also be some that look more mug shot than magazine :)

  21. *Andrea* responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    i felt the same way after looking at some pictures from a christmas cookie exchange this week… but, i have to remind myself that regardless of these ideas i shouldn’t then harm myself by overeating or restricting and to focus on the present: i am healthy, i feel good in my body, and i have friends/family that enjoy spending time with me.

    ps do you have any recommendations on other blogs? i don’t see a ‘blogroll’ here and haven’t found another blog as great as yours :)

  22. Rebecca responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    It’s usually never the subject’s fault.

    I blame bad photos on a poor photographer, a bad flash (Lord, can that wreck a complexion), or poor lighting.

    It’s not you!

    And?

    A good photographer *never* publicizes a bad photo. :)

  23. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    @Andrea
    There is a blogroll on here! It’s along the right side, if you scroll down. But the truth of truths: I don’t really read a lot of blogs.

  24. Faith responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I want to know what Bear’s stepmom said! Is that weird? Can you tell us anyway?

  25. Ali responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Cameras steal your soul. And by “steal your soul” I mean make you question every good thing you’ve ever felt about yourself. Ever.

  26. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    @Faith
    OK, I have a bad memory, but this is what I got out of it:
    “The universe has an intentionality that has to do with our urge, as humans, to move forward. To do good things. To improve. There is something about us, collectively, that can’t be expressed by us individually, and the narrative goes beyond whatever is happening right now. There’s more to it, and it’s in that more that the intentionality lies.”
    I’m probably butchering that. And there was more. But I tried!

  27. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    @Ali
    Yes. Thank you. They really do!

  28. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    @Faith
    OK, so I felt bad about my terrible summary of what Bear’s stepmom said, so I asked her if she might tell me again how she felt about spirituality/God. And this was her response. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

    “No one can know anything for sure, of course, about whether or not there is a God, and what happens after you die. Perhaps someday I will achieve a comfortable accord with Not Knowing, with the great uncertainty that we all face. Part of what living well is about is to be able to flow with chaos, change and uncertainty, and to know that we can’t control our world.

    But here’s what I’d like to think it’s all about: That everything that exists has meaning. That some intelligence, some entity perhaps, (OK, call it God) engineered the Big Bang, and set in motion whatever came after. That throughout the universe, God suffuses everything, but directs nothing. It simply is, and we are the result of one of its experiments, the Big Bang. I believe that all life shares in God, shares its meaning. God is in every molecule. (As my brother Steve would say, the world is composed of aware-ons.) That we are meant to lead the best lives we can, and that is our purpose. I believe that to grow and learn is to share more fully in that meaning, to approach God.”

  29. Amy responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Okay, Kate and anyone else who’d like to radically shift her (or his!) relationship to the camera–not to mention to radically alter your body image for the better–I *cannot* urge you strongly enough to take one of Vivienne McMaster’s self portrait classes: http://www.viviennemcmaster.com/course-information/
    (Ignore the dates listed on this page–I know for a fact that a new session of Wading In is about to start, and You Are Your Own Muse will be coming up soon as well.)

    These classes are magical and profound on many, many levels. I could go on for pages about just how magical and profound they are (and I have done on my own blog, actually, if anyone cares to read more about my experience or to see some of the self portraits I’ve taken this year). But I’ll spare you here! However: MAGICAL. And the effects, in my experience, and in the experience of everyone I know from Vivienne’s classes, are not fleeting. If you really participate fully (and maybe even if you don’t, I can’t speak to that), these classes will change you. (I sound like an ad, I know. I’m really not! I just love Viv and her classes have created such a huge shift in me creatively and in how I see myself.) And finally, Viv has a real gift for creating a truly safe space and building an incredibly supportive and joyful community in which to do this work.

  30. Amy responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Oh, and also? Your mother-in-law sounds like an incredibly marvelous woman.

  31. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    @Amy
    She is!

  32. Kate responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    And thanks for the info!

  33. Anna responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 12:35 am #

    That happens a lot to me. Like, I’ll be having a moment where I feel pretty so I take a picture to document it, so that when I’m feeling ugly I will be able to see if I look the same as when I feel pretty. Except in the pictures I look weird and lifeless.

  34. Aurora responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 9:49 am #

    The camera lies so hard to me. I keep thinking I have a nice-looking face, maybe a little too round for my taste, but just in the lower cheeks. I have some cheekbones (which never really showed up until after college), and a decent chin, and a nice nose.

    And then the camera comes along and tells me my skin is flushing bright red and I have a double chin and my mouth is too small for my face. Wha?

  35. how to look good in pictures responded on 03 Jan 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    Looking natural in pictures is a great feat that one would definitely be proud of, so long as they comfortable with themselves and what they have. Yet how to look good in pictures will be an issue once a camera is focused on you. The awareness of the situation that you have will make you feel conscious about every single part of your body exposed to the lens.

  36. Eat the Damn Cake » tired face syndrome responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    [...] And when I am tired, I look tired. I look worn. I sometimes look like I just crossed through a warzone, where I saw things that no one should live to see, and I am taking those things to the grave. Which is where I’m headed at the moment. My hair looks limp, my eyes are hollow, and there are shadowed dips in my face, trenches alongside my mouth, up to either side of my nose, where patches of dark have fallen asleep and won’t budge. There is no flattering angle I can turn towards the camera. There can be no cameras. [...]