no pictures, please. not when I feel so good.

I always remember having such an amazing time. For example, I remember Costa Rica, two years ago, when we went for those glorious five days. It was the first time I think I’d spent that much time with Bear. Before then, work always broke everything up. There was always more work.

And then, for five perfect days, we were alone, uninterrupted. There were the two six-hour bus rides over bumpy, complicated terrain. Monkeys in the trees. I could read the signs, but I couldn’t communicate. He could remember a few phrases, and I was embarrassed every time we had to try to talk to a native speaker. But it was amazing.

I remember coming out of the pool like a Bond babe, glistening, possibly in slow motion. In my black string bikini from Victoria’s Secret that a college friend had given me after she mail ordered it.

“Here—my boobs are too big for this. It might work for you.”

It showed off how flat I was, the cloth was so thin. And my butt was bouncing free and scandalous. But whatever. I felt perfectly proportioned, because I was having so much fun.

Fun can do that.

We watched the sun slide down the curve of the sky, spreading like yoke when it broke on the distant edge of the ocean.

I was definitely beautiful in Costa Rica.


Beauty like a low, gentle hum in the background. You don’t have to think about it directly, but it’s always a part of the mood. I was beautiful because I was happy and in love and wearing a ridiculous bikini and slathered in sweet-smelling sunblock, and covered in sand, building a fort against the approaching tide. Maybe I should say that I was vital, instead of bringing beauty into it. But they get mixed up in my mind and become part of the same thing.

Of course, we took pictures.

And later, back home in New York City, in our tiny apartment with the tiles that would never ever be clean, I flicked through them on my computer.

And I did not look beautiful.

Even in the moments when I distinctly remembered feeling as though I must look perfect. There I was—disproportionate somehow, lopsided, failing. Was that how I’d actually looked? Had I looked like that the whole time? What about when I was coming out of the pool, glistening and being a total babe? Was my small chest really so unflattering? Were my thighs really my dominant characteristic? I didn’t remember them being my dominant characteristic. Was it possible that everyone except for me had always known? “Thigh girl,” they had been calling me, for years, behind my back. Behind my giant thighs.

It didn’t seem right.

Is it possible that I actually just don’t know what I look like?


In fact, I don’t. I don’t have any real idea what I look like. I look like too many things for that.

When I thought about Costa Rica after looking at the pictures, I thought about the girl in the pictures—coming out of the pool, running along the beach with Bear, climbing on those rocks in the middle of the day until she was so sunburned she could barely move. She seemed like a sad character. Not very vital. Depressing. Weirdly proportioned. With a crooked nose.

I haven’t looked at the pictures in a long time, and I am beginning to recall my original, spectacular memories. It’s slow going, but worthwhile.

And because of this, I am reluctant about cameras and vacations, and cameras and special occasions. Which are always exactly the times that I want to take pictures of everything I see, to try to capture the moment. But I also want to remember myself in that moment, how I feel. How I actually am. The whole picture. Not just the one on the screen.

I’m not sure how to work this out yet. Big sunglasses? Bravery? Nonchalance? No pictures of me?

But I do know that I fully intend to put that bikini on again (why do I never get around to buying a new one, that actually fits?). And I am also pretty sure I’ll feel beautiful, somewhere new and thrilling, with or without monkeys in the trees.

Maybe I’ll just write about it. Sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures. Especially in the age of the camera phone.

Or maybe I’ll ask Bear to take more like this one, to keep everything in perspective:


My face looked great then, by the way. I remember it perfectly.


*   *   *

Do you like your special occasion/ vacation photos? Do you dread them?

Unroast: Today I love the way I feel in the spring.

Here’s my very first post about being unphotogenic! How precious. It’s called “the monster in the camera.” Bear was still my boyfriend back then. Weird.

This is a ranting letter to the camera, in which I attempt to reason with it, and then give up, when it doesn’t listen.

And that’s enough of that.


Kate on March 30th 2012 in beauty, body

29 Responses to “no pictures, please. not when I feel so good.”

  1. rowdygirl responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    I know exactly what you “brain” picture never matches the actual Kodak, or iPhone version. I can look in the mirror and think “not too bad, I’ll take a picture while my hair looks great”.. and then when I see the picture 2 seconds later, my brain says “YIKES !! wrinkles, fat, old looking, ugly fat face, etc. etc”…

    By the way.. I looked at your other post “my very first post about being unphotogenic!”… you are beautiful. I noticed your falling tendrils, graceful neck and straight, white teeth. :)

  2. Kate responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    What a flattering description! I promise you that I look totally different than that– my teeth get more crooked with every year that passes since I stopped wearing my retainer at 14 :-)

    Isn’t it a little astonishing what happens when the camera translates your awesome hair moment into a picture? Something always gets dramatically lost in translation.

  3. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    there should be a kate photo where she’s wearing that bikini AND eating cake…or maybe jumping out a cake! loved this :)

  4. Kate responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    @Kimmy Sue
    YES!!!!!!! And how about the same shot of you? We could start the bikini cake collection! That’s a site that would get a lot of hits.

  5. Melanie responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I was, and still am a bit, mortified by pictures. When I did the shoot with my boyfriend for the fluffy coat, I fell to the floor crying. I did not think I looked like the girl in those pictures. I was sure I didn’t have that belly. It destoyed me.

    The Melanie I feel like, and the Melanie in photographs, rarely matches.

    I made a pact with Rich. Every time he came over, he had to take 10 pictures of me. We did nude ones. We did ones from unflattering angles. Some of them I hated. But as we went on, I noticed the proportion of, “Destroy that it’s hideous” to “That one is nice” began to swing in the nice direction. I’m still working through it, and probably will be the rest of my life. But I refuse to give a camera that much power over my life. I am awesome, and I will see it in photos, if it kills me.

  6. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    that “sight” would definitely get hits…DO IT!

  7. stav s. responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    And here I was thinking I was the only one this happens to. Maybe this is why I spend all my time taking pictures of landscapes or artsy details of flowers and coffee cups when I’m on vacation.
    I was just thinking recently how this summer, when I head to Greece to visit the family, I will actually go ahead and take some bathing suit pictures, and not just in my beach cover-up, hiding behind my huge sunglasses.

    Oh, and off-topic, but I only recently discovered your blog, and must say how I love it! Thank you!

  8. Dianne responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    You know, looking back at a couple of pics about 9 years back when my hubby and I first dated, I felt quite the opposite of what you all just described. I looked so young, so happy and so beautiful. Why didn’t anybody tell me? Why don’t we tell each other when we are beautiful when we beautiful (that’s not a typo, read slowly!)cause that’s when its counts, to get you through the years when you not so beautiful to the years when it doesn’t count anymore, because you have grown into yourself (read over 40!) And you’re ok with it!

  9. Kate responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    My second, and probably better plan, is to take tons of photos of myself and just not look at them for ten years or so.
    Because photos work like that– you look back and suddenly you see the beauty.

  10. Melanie responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I forget her name, but there is a fat rant lady on YouTube who says something like, “I want to appreciate how I look NOW, not say, ‘I was so pretty when I was 20.’” I feel that exact same way. I don’t want to go, “Heck I was cute when I was 37″ in my 50s, the way I look back and say, “Heck I was cute when I was 20.” And you know what? When I was 20 I HATED myself. I like myself way more now, but if we could just in the moment realize how awesome we are, it would be pretty alright.

  11. Mandy responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Most of the time, the camera doesn’t love me. Which is probably why I pose for photos with more resignation than enthusiasm.
    But sometimes, I look back at pictures of myself when I was in my twenties. I didn’t realize how cute I was then. Now, I sigh and wonder why I didn’t run around in daisy dukes and a bustier!
    I take that lesson, and try to appreciate how I look now. I look in the mirror, and try to see the things I like about myself first: my gorgeous eyes, pretty shoulders, how the girls are still pretty and perky…that twinkle in my eye that the camera never catches…
    It’s difficult to be objective about myself, but I think it gets easier as I get older.

  12. Emmi responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I also have a disconnect between how I think I look and how I appear in pictures. But it seems to only apply to fairly recent photos – I have been experiencing the same phenomenon as Dianne, where photos of me ten years or so ago I think I look much better than I thought at the time. While that is fun, and has made me feel like I looked less horrible in college, it’s still pretty bizarre.

    I think I’m awesome and gorgeous, and even when I see myself in photos and the camera is trying to insist otherwise, I try to look past it and remember the captured memory. That’s the most important part of the photo to me, anyway.

  13. Katharine Lilley responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    You look so much like Juliette Lewis in the picture with the sheer scarf on your head and covering part of your face. Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers. Hawt!

  14. Brook responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    I have almost reached a sort of neutral place with photos lately. I used to hate! them. But I started doing a Self Portrait Saturday thing on my blog to try to over come that. So far it has been working. I guess its like immersion therapy. One thing I wanted to do was make sure that there are pictures of my son and I together. Should something happen to me, I know he’ll want pictures of us together. There a bazillions of him. Not so many of us. and even fewer of the three of us. Still working on that part.

  15. D responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    I usually look forward to my unflattering vacation pictures. I know that when I am truly smiling, and laughing, and loving life, I totally contort my face. My smile gets HUGE and I squint my eyes in this dumb way, and its just not a great picture. But while the picture isn’t great and I’m in full on ugly smile mode, I have this image preserved that shows me how wonderful I was feeling, and how blessed my life really is.

    ..I just also make sure to have Husby take a few pictures of me with a more toned down smile, so I can at least have a COUPLE of flattering photos.

  16. Amanda responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Sometimes the camera is my friend, and other days not so much. I’ve learned about what angles are my best, and I’ve begged my mother not to take pictures with the camera held down around her chest height because that highlights the effect gravity is finally having on my chin and neck. Oops. Unfortunately, I’m never going to win that one because that’s where she can see the screen best with her bifocals.

    So some pictures are good, some not so much… but having foregone the camera back when I had put on a great deal of weight, I regret the loss of the visual trigger for some of those memories. Sure, I didn’t look like I see myself, but when do I ever? Ultimately, it’s about what’s left for those who are left behind. And I don’t think they’ll care one bit if that picture of Grandma shows her a bit on the pudgy side…

  17. Cris responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I love my vacation pictures. I am usually behind the camera. This way, the pictures really are what I saw. (I so rarely see myself.) My husband and I do try to remember to get a few pictured of the two of us–almost as proof that we were actually there.

  18. Kate responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Yeah, that’s mostly how it works for us, too. I love all of the pictures of the scenery. I know they’re supposed to be boring, but I always enjoy them.

  19. paulana responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    i totally get you, girl

  20. Marnie responded on 30 Mar 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    @Katharine Lilley – I LOVE the picture with the scarf, too!

  21. Spelling responded on 31 Mar 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I know that gorgeous feeling. And then you see the photos. :/

    This post made me think of another topic that I’ve been wanting to hear about: do you think that women of larger body sizes should wear whatever they want (bikinis, short shorts, etc), and just rock them, or should they cover up and “spare” everyone else?

  22. Amanda responded on 31 Mar 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I HATE photographs of myself. Which is tough, because as an acting student, I’m frequently told that having a good headshot is the first step to booking a gig. Eek. I always try to look my best when I get my headshots taken, but it never works out the way I want it to. I always think, “But that’s not me! Can’t I send in a video clip instead?”

  23. Kiera responded on 31 Mar 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    @Spelling – I think screw everyone who thinks they should be “spared” someone else loving their own body. Maybe it goes both ways and i don’t really want to see those perfect girls making me feel worse about my body! Not really because I bet they don’t actually feel so perfect either. But why should anyone be told they are less than beautiful because they don’t fit the popular mold of perfection for the moment? Too bad people don’t all photograph like vampires, then we could spend more time loving the way we feel we look and less time regretting that we didn’t enjoy what we had when wee had it! :)

  24. Kate responded on 31 Mar 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    I think people should be able to wear whatever they want. And the idea of having to cover everything up when it’s hot out sounds terrible.

    I’m trying to think if I have a more complex, carefully thought out response, but nothing is coming to me.

    People should make their own decisions about how to dress, at whatever size. It’s tragic that we have somehow even gotten the idea that we should “spare” other people by sacrificing our own comfort. They’re bodies. They come in different shapes and sizes. So do shorts.

  25. Gemma responded on 01 Apr 2012 at 4:53 am #

    I completely agree that people should wear whatever they want – as long as they’re comfortable and not have their choices dictated by other people. Its only the last year or so that I’ve felt comfortable wearing sleeveless tops or skirts when its hot. All those years of roasting and not enjoying myself just because I was worrying about other people… such a waste!

    I’ve nominated you for a versatile blogger award, but please do not feel obligated to collect/pass on.

  26. Sheryl responded on 01 Apr 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I have a love/hate relationship with special occasion photos. I’m not the most photogenic person ever, so I tend to be unhappy with them …. but luckily if the pictures suck (as many of them tend to) I have an easy enough time tossing them out of mind and just remembering how I felt.

    Plus, I adore the picture that I sometimes get, wherein I look a hundred times better than I remembered. (But those are very few and far between).

  27. LadyGrey responded on 02 Apr 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Unphotogenic pictures affecting my mood :l.. That happens to me all the time!…I like how reassuring this post is. I need to remember the moments moreso than how awful a camera can pixelate my DNA… Thx Kate!(:

  28. Girls Are Made From Pepsi » Sunday Hustle 8/4/12 responded on 07 Apr 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    [...] At last, someone else who LOATHES happy snaps. (Eat the Damn Cake) [...]

  29. Allie responded on 29 Jan 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Hi Kate,
    I have been reading your entries with interest after discovering your site through Daily Life (hi from Australia!) You are refreshingly honest and every post you have written accords with me in some way. I find it interesting that the same culture that feeds us images of how we ‘should’ look, of what is beautiful also prevents us from openly talking about it. Even amongst my friends, I would find it hard to have a frank discussion about the depths of worry and persistent fears and frustrations that I hold in relation to my body. It would be considered vain or self absorbed, white girl problems, middle class problems. How ironic given that from such a young age we are force fed ideals of body image and then told to feel ‘empowered’ by the same magazines and publications that disseminate them…

    I was an overweight child and teased relentlessly. I started dieting at age 10 and have always been food phobic, swinging from binging to food restriction. I have a myriad of issues about my body ranging from my breasts, which sag, to my legs, which are short. Even when people tell me I am beautiful, their compliments won’t penetrate to the deeper level in which the nagging insecurities are held.

    Anyway, I could go on for ages. I will say thank you above all. I will also say that I experience exactly the same thing in relation to seeing photos of myself – and am often reluctant to have photos taken for this reason. In a holiday to Mexico a few years ago I shied away from the lens, more comfortable to inhabit the experience of being in my body than the experience of seeing it later and judging it from the outside. At times I think, ‘who knows how I look- different to everyone in some way’ and leave it to others to perceive me. Beauty and appeal are based on a many things not captured by a photo- the way someone holds themselves, the tonality of their voice, their gesticulations, what they have to say, the warmth in their eyes, their humour… A photo reduces all of this to a flat image and fails to capture any if it… Photos limit and distort the experience. Be in your body and let others perceive you in that moment, space, time…

    One last thing. As a culture that mainly experiences icons of beauty through photos and moving image we are controlled and manipulated by false distortions. Empty and manipulative often untrue. Nowhere is this more evident than if you see a celebrity or model in actual life. ‘Oh they aren’t otherworldly creatures’ you might exclaim to yourself. They are just women (albeit skinny ones) with their own idiosyncratic features and flaws. It is their images, not them as people, that parade before us and make us feel bad about our own flaws, our own humanness.

    So my final word to myself and others: base your feeling of beauty on your experience of being in your body, fully inhabiting it, and being inspired by engaging, dynamic and strong women around you. And review the one dimensional images of the actresses and models with a strong pinch of salt.