Please Photograph Me From Above

Yesterday I went through the day in a really bad mood for a really dumb reason: some terribly unflattering photos of me were posted on Facebook.

My husband snapped the photos out of love yesterday morning, capturing a tender moment between me and our dogs. But it was a humid morning, I had not slept well and my hair and face were not ready for prime time. Worse still, he shot from below where I was sitting, aiming the camera up into my face, chin and collapsed body frame. The result was a stark reminder that I am losing the battle with Father Time. After I got over the shock, I just sulked.

In the era of global terrorism, opioid crises, health care reform and income inequality, this is a really vain and stupid thing to get upset about. But coming on the heels of hearing that I have osteoporosis and on weeks of soggy weather that have been terrible for my hair, the photos were a shock. So let me relieve the mystery, put vanity aside, summon all the courage I have and share one of them:

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And here’s another one from a few months ago, which is how I prefer to view myself:

18199166_10209075302255799_7697485659817589556_nWhich one is the real me? It’s probably both of them, depending on how good I feel, how much care I’ve put into my face and hair that day, whether I consulted my color wheel and how rested or stressed I am. But as we age the costs of slacking off get higher, and nothing is more unforgiving than a camera and the wrong lighting. Goldie Hawn, who always looks fantastic in photos but famously caught flack for this un-retouched photo of her going to the gym, most likely understands this.

And so do most women middle-aged and older. My friends and I have shared some lighthearted moments about what control freaks we can be as soon as a camera points our way.  One friend likes to joke that she tells her kids not to pull the plug until she wastes away a few dress sizes.

A few weeks ago at our son’s graduation party a male friend wanted to take a group photo of ladies, all of us over 40. We all demanded that he shoot us from above to minimize any sagging, and he obliged – squeezing out a few shots before his face turned mischievous and he dropped to his knees, capturing one more photo from that terribly unflattering angle. The shocked and protesting looks on our faces in that photo – which I’d never share here without my friends’ permission — were priceless.

As I close in on my 63rd year, I’ve squirmed in that uncomfortable spot between vanity and self-acceptance. Somewhere is a happy medium between looking unattractively vain (like you’ve obviously “had work done”) and pulling the ripcord and letting it all go. I haven’t found it yet. I’ve dieted and not dieted, abstained and overindulged in wine, walked daily and spent too much time in a chair, swum laps for exercise and avoided the water because of what it will do to my skin and hair, penciled and not penciled the eyebrows I over-plucked in my 20s. Jobs, family obligations, unread newspapers and unfolded clothes all get me off track from the increasingly Herculean effort needed to look youthful.

So what’s the remedy for those of us who haven’t aged as well as Audrey Hepburn? Is it an attitude adjustment or more time at the gym and the makeup mirror?

Maybe an easy fix is just avoiding cameras altogether, or insisting that we have veto power over photos that don’t paint us in our best light. Even Marilyn Monroe insisted on viewing contact sheets of her before any photos were printed, and would draw a big “X” on the photos she didn’t like. At the very least we can bully the photographer into standing on a ladder for any photos.

Or maybe the answer is just lightening up and realizing that attractive days and non-attractive days are just part of the aging experience, and that inner beauty is what matters, as hackneyed as it sounds. Maybe we should all be less critical of ourselves – I’ve found that turning a photo of yourself upside down helps you view yourself with the same dispassion as others.

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Maybe we should just focus on what we’ve accomplished over the years instead of the muscle tone, dewiness and skin elasticity we’ve lost.

That makes so much sense, but why is it so hard?

What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “Please Photograph Me From Above

  1. I do sympathize with the agony that we feel when presented with the shocking realization of the ravages of time. But how we appear is always “to others;” we should never let that interfere with our own sense of self. When we do give in to the temptation to falsely believe that we have any control whatever over time, we are bound to feel burnt out, depressed, and stressed to the maximum. Let’s always remember that photographs are representations, they are not reality! They can easily be altered; they are always framed, from above, from below, from our good side or our bad side. If we have good sides and bad sides, this is only in relation to an arbitrary determinant that is outside ourselves and without any deep relation to who we really are. After spending years in psychoanalysis I did come away with an appreciation of what lay in my control and what lay out of it. Of course from that knowledge to positive action is not an easy path to cross. It bears repeating that the self is always a work in progress; we actually do construct our selves, and to allow a photographic apparatus and someone else’s eye interfere with that construction is simply unacceptable behavior. Let’s be simple and just work at being the best we can. Appearances be damned!

  2. My dearest Cathy, you are beautiful inside and out! You shine beauty because of your loving, caring personality. I can think of no one more beautiful than you! We are so lucky to have you in our family!

  3. If it helps, I had NO CLUE that you were older than me (and I’m closing in on 55). But I clicked through and looked at the Goldie picture, and love what was written there. She’s “not a great-looking 30-year-old,” but a great-looking woman, period. As are you. Truly.

  4. Great piece, Cathy. Confession: I downloaded your upside down pick and flipped it. I’ll write more later.

    Jean Kirshenbaum

    9200 Midnight Pass Road, #35

    Sarasota, FL 34242

    215-850-8824-cell [primary]

    Home: 941-312-0089

  5. Cathy, you have summed up everything I’ve been feeling lately about my own appearance. Shopping has become humiliating and I spend too much time worrying about age spots and lack of elasticity. My thought is this—people are not as harsh on us and we are on ourselves. I often joke that I prefer to go with what I think I look like rather than the reality. But the reality is that we are growing older! Here’s my solution: look at the picture in a couple years, and you’ll think “not bad.” I think that everytime I get a new picture on my driver’s license.

    You are beautiful inside AND out….the best kind of beauty!

  6. Thank you for expressing these beautiful sentiments in writing and for sharing them with us.

  7. I loved this piece. I too carry in my head a picture of what i think i look like. However, when i mistakenly facetime instead of call someone and see what i really look like in that phone…yikes! Who is that wrinkled saggy faced woman? I’m with the “take flattering shots only” crew and prefer to see myself reflected in the eyes of those who love me, wrinkles, sags and all.

    YOU look fabulous by the way, at any angle 🙂

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