I cringed at the photograph… me of course. Like the vast majority of us, I suspect, I hate being on that end of a camera… the pointy end that highlights all the bits you don’t want to see. I have always avoided it wherever possible and there are relatively few photographs of me in existence, especially as an adult, and considering how many I take of everything and everyone else. I probably took more over the past two weeks than have ever been captured of the adult me.
My profile pic is undoubtedly the favourite … an impromptu snap, unposed, unconscious and caught in a moment of pure mischief on a frozen December day in 2012. Another was the fateful day of the exploding coffee pot… it was a wonderful trip to the Cotswolds with friends from the States and they snapped me grinning, finding a feather at the Rollright stone circle. The best pictures catch you unawares and therefore natural… or they reflect a moment where emotion overrides self-consciousness… like the one of me with my sons, laughing, all of us. Or the heavily pregnant beached whale. Not exactly flattering pictures… but ones I love for reasons deeper than vanity.
The ones where you are aware of the camera are seldom as good… in our own eyes at least. Vanity plays a big part, and we are all subject to that, like it or not. Fragility too. Not everyone is as confident as their true self should make them. But we do not see ourselves as others do, though we may see ourselves negatively because of the way others have appeared to see us in the past, and often deeper issues manifest as negative self-image. Vanity and fragility are pretty intimately linked, and not always what they seem on the surface.
Take me, for example… Vanity? Most of the time these days, I wear comfortable clothes, no make-up and merely drag a brush through the ’30 bullock bush’ that is my hair. I go to work that way, shop that way (when I really have to brave the shops!) and I am not at all self-conscious about it. With the hair this bright, and a penchant for wearing vivid orange, it isn’t as if I’m invisible either! On the other hand, I will still give ten minutes to make-up for official stuff or if I am seeing people I care about. Partly out of habit, partly respect, partly out of a wish to be seen as attractive… but always for confidence. Vanity or fragility? Both, perhaps.
No, I’m not fishing for compliments either. Once upon a time and not so very long ago, I would never have come downstairs without full hair and make-up being done, attractively dressed and well groomed. Even if I was alone. I had to look in the mirror, you see, and all I could see was the scarred face, big nose and the insecurities. What scars, you may well ask? A drunk driver rearranged my face when I was about 20, and the scars are still there, though no-one except me notices them of course. The big nose? No, I know it isn’t that bad. Now. It certainly isn’t a work of sculptural beauty, has been broken a couple of times, but it is mine and it fits my face. Growing up, however, it was the butt of family jokes, and that created a deeper scar than the car accident. My self-image was very poor, all through my teens… in fact, most of my life. Yet, if I, with clearer sight, look back at the girl in the old pictures, I would say she was a pretty child. The child didn’t feel so. Nor did the young woman.. yet I look back at the pictures and wonder why. And most of my own biggest mistakes can be laid at the door of that flawed, fragile self-image.
The trouble with that, of course, is that it colours not only the way you see yourself, but the way you interact with others, sapping confidence in a society that values the media-hyped ideals of beauty. My friend Alienora posted a poem yesterday by Maya Angelou who died today. You can read it here. It challenges the stereotypes of beauty. And of course, that is all they are, and those stereotypes refer only to the static, frozen picture of face and form. They do not take into account the fact that a beautiful face may hide a cold, uncaring heart, or that the real beauty itself may come from the animation of character, the warmth of a smile or the gleam of mischief in a pair of eyes meeting yours. They do not feel the charm, kindness, or laughter that can radiate from a person, lighting the room when they walk in, or the serene beauty of wrinkled old age and wisdom.
Nor do stereotypes look at you through the eyes of friendship or love, and that, of course, changes everything… because those eyes are looking beyond a mere image of a face to what is real, seeing all the flaws, knowing the fragilities as well as the gifts….and loving you whole, because of who you are. The eyes of love see beauty, because they see to the heart and soul of you. The eyes of love see true and what you see there is perhaps the truest mirror of all.