“Make me skinny.”
“This is my good side.”
“You can photoshop off ten pounds, right?”
I hear these things a lot.
It makes me sad when I hear, “Oh, we’re not ready for a session yet. I need to lose 20 pounds first.” I get it. I do. We want to look our very best for pictures. It’s an investment of time and money, and we want our family and friends to see us and remember us as beautiful. We want to FEEL our best.
But what if you ARE already beautiful? What if your child or your spouse or friend already thinks you are AMAZING exactly the way you are? So many of us put way too much pressure on ourselves to try to achieve some kind of perfection we’ve grown up seeing regularly in heavily-photoshopped magazines.
My saddest moments as a photographer happen when a mama (I know this happens to many others also, but in my experience, it’s almost always a mama) sees a picture of herself with her family and can only see what she looks like. She immediately finds the imperfection: the way her arm looks big or her hair is a little off. And she completely misses the way her child is looking at her adoringly, as if she’s the absolute most beautiful being on the planet. The way they are laughing the most natural, joyful laughs. The way her arm was wrapped around her child because they love to be close. The way her hair is tousled because they’ve been playing tag, her kid’s favorite.
And when her child sees that same picture? A huge smile and a “Look, mommy! We’re happy in this one!”
I so often wish I could grab these mamas and show them those same pictures through their child’s eyes. They would see things so differently.
I used to think that this was my major flaw as a photographer: I don’t really see what people look like somehow – I see how they feel. I see their joy and their sorrow, their love and intensity. I used to be blind-sighted when clients would tell me all about their “flaws” in their pictures. How could I, as a visual artist, not notice the visual? But now I see this as a gift. I tell stories with my images. They are not perfect. They are flawed. There are plenty of photographers out there who would grab my pictures and photoshop the heck out of them. I don’t care. I have no interest whatsoever in perfection.
Show me your story. Show me your messy kitchen and your dirty feet and that way your chin folds a little when you laugh really hard. I want that stuff. I want what’s real.
Last year around this time, I completely shattered my ankle in a trampoline aerobics class, in a relatively life-changing way. I had three plates and ten screws put in there to put it all back together. We had family pictures scheduled while I was recovering. I couldn’t get off the couch except when completely necessary, I was in real pain and on some massive doses of percoset and other drugs, and I was a little depressed if I’m being honest.
When picture day came, I told the kids to wear whatever they wanted. We changed our plans from going on a hike to me wheeling myself to the backyard for ten minutes. Abby, of Love Roots Photography, was incredibly kind and gracious and gentle with our situation. But I was embarrassed about my knee scooter and asked to have it out of the pictures as much as possible. She got some beautiful shots where you can barely see my scooter at all.
But then she got this one:
It’s got a bunch of my pill bottles in the foreground. Our picture frames are crooked. My baby looks tired, and we both look a little sad. And you know what? That was part of our story at that time.
And then this next one, it’s one of my favorites.I mean, come on. Sheets on the couch (because that’s where I lived), crutches in the picture, my foot elevated in the background, and Harry taking care of the kids while I’m a little separated from everyone and their action. It’s so far from “perfect” it’s amazing. And I love it. I LOVE this. This was our lives for a few months. I’m really glad to have these pictures to show it.
So what I’m trying to say is this: Perfection is effed up. Really and truly. It’s exhausting and dividing and just not really accurate.
Leave it behind! Be in your friends’ pictures. Be in pictures with your kids. Just be in pictures. With your messy hair and your messy house and your broken ankle (ok, maybe that one’s just me). Don’t try to make it perfect, and don’t be sad when it’s not perfect. Leave that idea of the perfect picture in the dust. Just let your pictures tell your story of who you are right here and now. Try to see them through your loved ones’ eyes.
The people who love you will thank you for it. You will one day thank yourself for it.
And just to show you all that I can be in one hell of a bad picture, I present you with these embarrassing shots. I take my karaoke seriously. And if I ever become a rock star, I will certainly need a face coach. Someday my kids will look at these and they will laugh their heads off. But they’ll also know their mama rocks one heck of an “I Will Survive.”