I made a terrible mistake this week. I looked at a photograph that I was in. It was a group photograph and those don’t usually hurt so much but for some reason the photographer put me in the front.
I’ve always hated being photographed. When I was a kid I hated it because it invariably involved some adult shouting at me to look happy and not squint while I stared directly at the sun and waited for my brothers, or cousins or peers to stop making stupid faces. In the 70s and 80s every adult seemed to believe that photographs could only be taken in bright sunlight with the sun shining directly in the faces of the subjects.
As I got older I began to hate being photographed because I knew that I would ruin the finished picture just by being in it. I hated how I looked in real life and I hated the photographs even more because they were proof.
I tried to be behind the camera whenever possible. If I was behind the camera then the sun was at my back and not on my face. If I was behind the camera I wouldn’t later be faced with the full horror of whatever I was wearing, or whatever terrible haircut I had, or the fact that in spite of all my dieting and prayer I was still fat.
Besides the pictures were usually better if I took them. I am a competant ammature photographer. I’m not talented and I’m certainly not professional but I spent a lot of time trying to be an artist and I did learn a few things. I know enough about composition, proportions and framing to take a picture that looks like it was taken on purpose.
When I first realised that I hated how I looked I thought that it was just me. I thought that I must be uniquely hideous and everyone else was fine. But then I noticed other people complaining about how they looked or trying to avoid cameras. I decided that most people must hate their appearance, even the beautiful people, I thought that maybe it was a kind of self-consciousness and that most humans had it.
Then the selfie became a thing and I realised that when most people complain it’s either because they’re scared of looking vain or they’re objecting to a particularly bad photograph. Most people seem not to think that they look hideous in every single image, and also in the mirror, and in every reflective surface they pass.
And the worst thing is that I can’t stop looking. Every time someone takes a picture of me there’s this terrible stab of hope. Maybe this will be a photograph where I don’t look like a cone wearing borrowed clothes sitting on top of a pair of misshapen tree trunks. Maybe they’ll have found the precise angle where my face doesn’t look like a Wicked Witch of the West themed Mr Potato Head.
Actually that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that I care. Why do I care? I don’t care what anyone else looks like. If one of my friends got beat with the ugly stick and then inflated with a tyre pump I wouldn’t think any less of them. I’m a writer not a beauty queen. Looking good is not part of my job description. It doesn’t matter.
I really need to either stop caring or stop looking. Unfortunately right now what I want is to stop going out. There’s a part of me that thinks that I’d be happier if people couldn’t see me.
Maybe I don’t care how I look? Maybe I only care that other people care?