And I’m actually not talking about self-image so much here.
Even though I struggled briefly with an eating disorder, and also hated the way I looked in my underwear when I weighed about twenty pounds more than I do now, I consider my self-image to be kind of normal. I think I’m okay-looking, and I think my weight at present looks right on me. But it’s amazing how seeing yourself in pictures, or on video, can wildly throw off your interior self-image in one direction or another.
I was happy with my weight throughout college, right up until I included myself as an extra in one of the short films I shot during my senior year. I set up the camera and taped myself and my male star walking up the steps to my dorm, me pretending to chatter away, him pretending to seethe with private murderous rage. When I (eventually) got to the editing room, I was shocked to see myself – I WAS SO FAT!
Okay, not fat, exactly, but just thicker in the arms and torso and neck than I was conscious of in a mirror. Perhaps it’s because I was standing still in front of a mirror and visible from pretty much just the one angle, sort of two-dimensionally, rather than moving and being seen from various angles as I ascended the stairs. But I think it’s most likely that this is what they mean when they say the camera adds ten pounds. You just look thick.
My boyfriend’s parents tend to document most any family event with pictures, pictures, pictures. I guess this is what most families do, but mine never did, so I have had a hard time adjusting, because I passionately hate having my picture taken. I just look…wrong. Too serious. Too big-eyed. My smile is always fake and I’m so damn short. How come I look so different in these pictures than I do in my mirror, or in my own mind?
During the time when I weighed about 150 pounds instead of about 130, the pictures of me make it clear that I could not afford clothes which fit this unfortunate new body. The tummy sticks out. There is slight muffin-top. And now those pictures are available for all future generations in my boyfriend’s family to view, forever and ever. Yaaaay. I’ll admit that I wasn’t squeezing a size-16 body into size-6 clothes, it wasn’t nearly that bad, but it’s humiliating to me because I’m accustomed to looking at how weird my face looks in pictures instead of how much I’m overflowing my clothes.
However, a picture taken of me at Easter this year is equally displeasing, for a different reason. It was near the end of the day, and I was exhausted from all the social interaction and the family and the food. So I was slumped over and faking a grin, and the roundedness of my back and the slouchiness of my boobs in the picture makes me cringe. Do I sit like that often? Does my tummy pooch out like that every time I slouch? Maybe I should start reminding myself to sit up straight more often, just in case.
Just last weekend my boyfriend and I took a whole set of photographs of me in yoga poses, and you all probably already know the purpose of this little shoot. These pictures of me are surprising, in part because my form is much better in most poses, and much worse in one pose in particular, than I’d thought. Not only that, I look like I have a completely normal body. I’ve got some VPL at times, and my tummy’s poking out at other times, but for the most part, my body looks like I’ve taken good care of it. I was much more pleased with my appearance in these photos than in my everyday appearance in the bathroom mirror.
The point of this explanation is not for me to get self-absorbed, but rather to think on how our bodies look so totally different to us in varying contexts. I probably weigh more now than I did in college, but I don’t look remotely as fat to myself now as I did when I looked at those video clips. When I look in my larger mirror in my bedroom at home, I can see the imperfect creases and the dimpled flesh, signs indicating that I am not a supermodel. But few are, and if I can take a set of pictures that I’m as proud of as those pictures of me doing yoga, that must mean that how I REALLY look, whether the reality is what you see in pictures of me or not, probably ain’t so bad.