i almost believe they are real

I’m on Facebook totally against my will. That’s right, someone tied me up and duct-taped me to a chair and took me by the hair and bashed my face into the keyboard such that the combination of keystrokes actually connected me to a browser which navigated over to facebook.com and then signed up up and added all my personal information, including my current location and former high school. It was a very terrible experience, and I don’t want to talk about it any more.

However I got there, the end result is that I am on Facebook (along with my mother, which is just bizarre. Hi, mom!) and I generally try to ignore it. I have only recently discovered the capability that allows you to ignore all requests that involve tossing goats and beating people with noodles and checking to see how compatible you are, movie- and favorite-kind-of-duck-wise, and that was a relief because it was very exhausting, going to my page and discovering that 149 people wanted to punch me in the face with a Triscuit or something, and not really knowing how to respond–I tried, but it got confusing. Windows! Opening up! Do I want them to access my personal information? Can we add a widget? Can we change the fabric of space-time? Do you know who your real father is? How many people do you want to notify that you’ve been adopted? Exhausting.

What Facebook has done for me, however, is bring back the past in glorious, surround-sound technicolor. You and your friends can upload pictures to albums, and then if you are in any of those pictures, you can get tagged. Suddenly there is a proliferation of photos of me, all tagged with my name and a link back to my page, and an email in my inbox–this person has tagged you in a photograph! I always go to see the photograph. Since I have not been photographed recently (I am reclusive like J.D. Salinger, only with less critical acclaim), these are all old photographs of me–very old. The oldest so far is from 1999, directly out of college or thereabouts.

It’s a picture of me at my very first job’s Christmas party–we are all of us grouped up in one big cozy hug, all snuggly and wildly, outrageously drunk. It’s a crowded picture, so it took me a moment to find myself, but there I am, in the right-hand corner. I’m the big girl with the long dark hair, leaning over the tiny little redhead. The difference in size between us is kind of comical–Lori was very short, very slender. In this picture, it is hard to recognize myself, but there I am and that is my face, and I am smiling and happy and pretty, and that was a very good night, I remember. That was my face, in 1999. That was the face I used to have, the face that I thought I have in my head. That’s me, and how I present myself to the world, right there, right?

Look–people I meet, who eventually find out that I used to be a lot heavier and have many more pounds on me, tell me no, no way. That can’t be true, that is not possible. I cannot picture you with more pounds than you have got. And that’s just because when you meet someone, the way they are and look and act, that is the reality of that person that you carry with you. There is no past to compare it with–this version here is the base, the starting point from which all future yous will be compared.

But I have a very long history of having been fat, and, I thought, a very clear idea in my head of what I had looked like then, with the building blocks of a clear idea what I look like now, happening. Except that I look at these photographs and do not recognize myself at all–and it’s not my size, my shape, my weight. It’s as if the contours of my face have changed entirely, as if my head has been remolded like Jell-O with stuff in, as if I was a Real Doll with a detachable, swappable skull. My face–an integral part of my identity–is entirely different. Can the weight really have made that much of a difference? My nose is so much more prominent, now. Sharp and…let’s say dramatic. And less wide–did I have fat in my nose? My chin is knobby, and I have what might pass for cheekbones. There’s my jawline, defined and angled instead of soft and sweet. My eyes seem larger. My head seems longer, and less round. My face has changed and it’s freaking me out. That picture doesn’t look like the me, at all. That’s not me, at all.

Of course, it’s not surprising. I’ve lost a lot of weight, and some of that weight will have come from my head. My body has changed–why not everything above my neck? I have one of these old photographs printed out on my desk, and I keep looking at it, because I cannot get over this, and want so desperately to reconcile my old self with my newer. I want a straight through-line, a clear and logical procession, a link to the past. I want to see myself in this picture, and I am struggling.

  5 comments for “i almost believe they are real

  1. December 18, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    It is so very weird that you wrote about this today, because just this morning I was saying to a friend that I always find it surprising when people tag old photos of me on Facebook. I’ve lost 75 pounds and recently someone tagged photos of me from 2005 before the weight loss and I kind of wanted to un-tag myself. I couldn’t decide if that was bad or not.
    That same friend went into her office where her boss (who has lost 100 pounds) started talking about that very thing…and her boss does un-tag herself.
    Then I click over here and read about your own Facebook photo tagging reaction! Crazy. It makes me glad to see that I’m not alone. Thanks for writing about this crazy Facebook photo conundrum and showing me that I’m not the only one!

  2. Anonymous
    December 18, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    You are also 10 years older, and that makes a difference, … even for those of us who haven’t lost weight in the meantime. I know my nose, chin and cheekbones are more defined/sharper than they were 10 years ago.

  3. December 18, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    An old friend recently found me on facebook and uploaded a picture from a party years ago, and seeing the much fatter version of myself was frightening. I don’t even know who that girl was anymore.

  4. anon
    December 19, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I agree with the second comment. I look different than I did ten years ago, and very much so in my face. I have lost quite a bit of weight, and of course that impacts the change dramatically. But it’s not just that. Some people look at sixty the way they did at forty and twenty–maybe a little grayer, or with less hair, but essentially the same face. Other people, like us apparently, really change as they grow and mature. Like, actual bone structure or something. I’m pretty sure that even if I had never been heavy, my face from ten years ago and my face now would look quite different. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, and the weight makes it even more so. But I am also glad for it, because I never liked the way I looked, in some ways because of the fat but also in other ways. I actually think I’m prettier now, that I’ve grown into my looks, if that makes sense. Or maybe now I’m just wiser and have more confidence in who I am, inside and outside. That’s always a good look, you know?

  5. December 19, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    The weirdest thing I experienced with a past/future was a couple of years ago. My mom’s best friend, who moved out of town shortly after I graduated from high school, came to town over Christmas. At the time, I was at the bottom of a weight loss curve – still fat, mind you, but less fat – and actually, probably weighed about what I did my junior or senior year of high school. My stepfather asked if she had noticed the weight loss, and she said “oh my god, you’re a grownup!’ She went on to say that she hadn’t seen me since high school….
    I didn’t think I looked all that different – maybe a few wrinkles, but christ, I’m 34, not 50. I guess I do look more different than I thought.
    To me, the biggest disconnect is seeing pictures of me as a kid, or pictures of me in glasses. I don’t wear glasses that often and I generally do not get photographed in them, so seeing a picture of myself in them is just like ” who the hell is that?”

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