cheese and crackers

So, Chicago. Chicago
was a picture-happy city. Well, it’s the city where my friends were extremely
picture-happy, which is a quality I like in my friends, since I am not so much
a picture-taking person. I used to think I was a picture-taking genius. Except
that my photos come in three basic categories: Boring Scenery; Someone Making
a Stupid Face; and Weird Blur. A photo of a brown turtle hidden up to its neck
in the brown water, and a photo of a brown tree hidden by other brown trees
against the setting sun, and a big red smear that might be the Golden Gate Bridge,
but also could have be a dog, a homeless man or my butt, though probably not,
because I do not like to have my picture taken, because I always look fat,
stupid, ridiculous, bloated, ugly and weird in photographs.

Chicago–the place of a thousand cameras, this weekend in
which I just relaxed to the fact that there were a thousand cameras and I
couldn’t stay under the table or behind a bush for the whole vacation, the 72
hours I spent appearing in photos more times than I have, possibly, in my
entire life–was filled with photo-taking geniuses. There is no other
explanation for the fact that not a single one of the photos that started to
appear all over Flickr made me wince, or cry, or wince, cry and slowly die
inside and then throw myself off a bridge into a tanker full of pudding.

That is not to say all of them pictures of me make me happy; you show me a picture of me–probably even one in which you
have Photoshopped me into an uncanny likeness of Jessica Alba and Halle Berry’s
love child–and I will point out the lumps, the bumps, the ridiculous expression
on my face, the way I am wall-eyed, lopsided, and exhibiting symptoms of mild
congenital damage, and did I mention lumpy, bumpy, and fat?

I want to say that I don’t hate these pictures because I
have attained peace and beautiful understanding of the fact that I am not
perfect. I am not even perfectly round. But as much as I would love that to be
true–doesn’t that make me sound so well-adjusted? So sane? So smart and
well-attuned to myself and all the inner beauty that I possess inside? I know
that that is not even close to being anywhere near the truth.

Here’s the thing. Despite the advent of the miracle of
digital photography, which allows you to view your picture immediately upon
taking it, thrilling the impatient and the vain all across the world, I long
ago made it a policy to not look. Group photo, everyone, smile, smile! And
then, everyone gathers back together around the warm and soothing light of the
digital video screen to look at the picture and exclaim that they look super
hot and let’s take 40 more of me just like that! Or oh my God, I look so fat
and stupid, I demand that you erase it immediately and take 40 more! I love
digital photography, and I think it is OMG so cool, too. But I have had too
many nights ruined by snatching away the camera and being faced with a photo of
me in which I think I look monstrous and malformed. It is like being faced with
all your worst fears.

They always feel like wake-up calls. A picture
that startles you into recognition of how other people might see you from the
outside. How wide you look, and that can’t be you. That’s not the person
you are, and not the person you think you are and not, so very not the person
you want to be. But there she is, in the picture, and it ruins your whole

It used to ruin my whole night. I would rather not
know, right then, right in the middle of a party or a dinner, or some occasion
where I am happy, and having a good time, and feeling beautiful in the midst of
friends who love me–and why else would they love me, if they didn’t think I
was beautiful? That warm and lovely kind of feeling should not be wrecked on
the cruelly jagged rocks of lame self-pity and ridiculous shame. So I mug and
make silly faces and avoid looking at the results until I am home, alone, with
plenty of time to feel sorry for myself.

But mo pie, at one point during dinner on Saturday night,
took a photograph of me in my new fancy pink dress. She looked at it, and
handed it across the table to me. "You look so skinny!" she said. And
I couldn’t help myself. I had to look at the photo. Even when I don’t want them
to be, you look skinny is always
going to be a siren song. Me? Skinny? That is so not the truth, and why do you
lie to someone who you claim to love? Let me see.

I looked at the picture, despite my misgivings, despite the
fact that we were at dinner and someone would notice if I bolted from the table
and locked myself in the bathroom and sobbed all my mascara off. I looked,
expecting to see that no matter how much weight I lose, I will always have so
much more to lose, and will always, always never match, inside and out, and
that I might as well stop trying. I took a deep breath–I really did. I breathed
in, and out, and looked at the camera, and there I was, on the screen,
looking–not skinny. But I didn’t care that I was not the love child of Angelina
Jolie and Sophia Loren. In that picture, my head is tilted to the side, and
I’m smiling there, in my pink dress, and I look happy, and I look like me. Like
myself. So much like, so close to the picture I carry inside my head, the face I present to
the world. 

2 Replies to “cheese and crackers”

  1. that is the most wonderful thing I’ve read today. I am envious that your outer is starting to reflect how you *see* yourself.

  2. Well, Anne, there you have it, the whole reason I had surgery in the first place, I no longer looked like me. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror plus I had become clumsy, off balance in my body, to match my head!

    You are so cool and awesome; how you express yourself; it’s just what I would say if I were cool and awesome…

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