As someone who admittedly Instagrams everything, it may come as a surprise that I used to HATE being in photos. I avoided having my picture taken with more intentional effort than I do spiders and people who claim that Adele is overrated. It wasn’t because I was trying to be obnoxious, or because I was fishing for compliments and encouragement from friends: “Oh Jenny, it’s fine, you look great, say cheese!” I’m just very critical of my appearance.
I could count on two hands the number of photos of myself that I actually liked . . . and most of them were from when I was a toddler. My Type A personality viewed a picture as a constant, irrefutable reminder that I’m super pale, my hair is thin and fine, my smile isn’t perfectly straight, my skin will probably never be 100% clear, and I’m not a size 2. It’s silly and superficial, and I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
From middle school all the way through college, I managed to mostly wind up behind the lens and rarely in front of it. I could prevent a bad photo-op if there never was a photo-op. It was much easier to volunteer to take the picture (I’m old guys, front-facing selfie cams on iPhones weren’t a thing yet) than it was to deal with the inevitable blow to my self-confidence.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this strategy. If you’re reading this post, I’m betting that you have also perfected this tactic.
But here’s the thing . . . one day we’re all going to die, and nobody’s going to have any proof that we lived meaningful lives. There will be no mid-laughter snapshots of us with our friends, no sweaty selfies taken from a spontaneous summer adventure, no stereotypical family photos to show off our quirky but lovable clan.
Once upon a time, I would have argued that none of that mattered; that memories would more than suffice, and that photos get lost over the years, left to linger in dusty basement boxes or on abandoned social media profiles, forgotten by everyone in them. Sometimes they do. And yet, whenever I stumble upon one of those boxes, I find myself suddenly wasting an entire afternoon shuffling through photo after photo.
I treasure these snapshots in time, whether they’re family photos from decades before I was born, or Facebook albums from a friend’s wedding a few months back. These stories matter to me, and I am thankful for my many friends and family who aren’t camera-shy, and who help to preserve such cherished memories simply by posing without protest.
One day, when I am old and forgetful, I may need these tangible reminders of a life well-lived. And one day, when I lose someone very dear to me, I may need something as inconsequential as a photograph to help ease the pain of their loss.
When I’m dead, my family and friends won’t be scrutinizing to see if my skin was clear that day. No one will care if I repeated an outfit, or if my hair had a mind of its own. My stupid, selfish, senseless vanity won’t have accomplished anything other than to prevent me from fully embracing the moment, and my loved ones from having that moment documented in 4×6 form.
I’m not suggesting that every tiny little thing needs to become a full-blown photo shoot. It’s so important not to live our lives with our noses in our smart phones, and some of my best memories are from the nights I was too busy having fun to snap a single picture. But the next time someone shouts “group pic!” don’t dive-bomb for a spot in the back, or suddenly dash off to refill your drink.
Strike a pose for posterity. Smile for the family that loves you, flaws and all. Come out from behind the lens for the friend who moves across the world, and hangs that dreaded group pic in an otherwise empty apartment. Do it for the middle schoolers you coach, who watch your every move, and who may start to judge themselves with your same unreasonable standards. Post the shot where everyone looks great but you, because the world so desperately needs more people like that. Embrace your bad hair day, because there should be more untouched, unfiltered, messy, imperfect, incredible LIFE on our frigging feeds, and less of what doesn’t really matter.
Having my photo taken will never be my favorite thing, and that’s OK. I don’t have to love the process. I just have to suck it up long enough to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around my insecurities, and that fear is temporary, but regret is forever.
Get over yourself. Get over your fear of photos. Life is short and precious. Say cheese.
*Main image via Pixabay