I was going through a batch of photographs taken at my daughter’s recent wedding. Which ones did we want enlarged and duplicated? Naturally enough we all are drawn to those in which we “look good”, while rejecting the others (which renders group pictures problematical. Rarely is everyone “looking good”. What follows then are negotiations in which some accept less than perfect pictures of themselves in deference to those who believe they’ve never “looked better”).
But that suggests a larger issue. All of us go through life gazing at pictures of ourselves, easily hundreds, more likely thousands of photos. How do we judge then? By comparing what we see with an “ideal” we’ve constructed regarding our appearance. If the picture does not match or exceed expectations we reject it, claim that it is distorted, or that it captures an awkward moment or angle. (“My eyes were closed”. “My smile was forced”. “I look heavy”. “I don’t like my profile.”) When on the other hand it conforms to our elevated self-image we are delighted, proclaim it to be a “true likeness.”
What we generally fail to acknowledge is that all of the pictures capture us in one way or another. Indeed these momentary snapshots reveal that we do look differently at different times. After all, most of us recognize that we have our “good” and “bad” days, days when we are pleased with our appearance, stride confidently out into the world, and others, when all the elements seem in disarray, when we realize we’re not at our best. We may discard pictures of such times, but we shouldn’t pretend that they’re inaccurate and unrepresentative.
Still, selecting pictures of ourselves allows us an opportunity to edit our lives, put our best face forward. What’s wrong with that? We can’t erase what’s gone wrong in our lives; we all have to live with the consequences of our actions. But by choosing the photos that are flattering and disposing of the rest, we’re able to create an image much more to our liking. We deserve that chance to have it our way.