Point of View

I've been thinking a lot about what happened that day.  Of all the things that happened that day (a life-sized Peep, a burlesque show, someone getting spanked for charity) it's this one comment that keeps on popping up in my brain.

On June 20, 2009 an artist (who was dating my friend at the time) said that he wanted to draw me.

I had seen the beautiful drawings he had done of my friend and the graceful, careful way he had drawn every curve of her body.

And yet, something in me froze. 

Backstory:
My mother was an amateur photographer.  Growing up there were tons of pictures of family trips and special occasions, but from the moment she got her Pentax K1000, she was always taking pictures of flowers, trees, ducks, and not taking as many pictures of the family.  After too many sessions of holding a flashlight to illuminate a spider web in the middle of the night, I began to resent the camera.

After she died, there was no one taking pictures.  There is a huge gap in the photographic record of my life from 8th grade to 12th grade.  Coincidentally that was also when I weighed my highest (240), so part of me is glad there is no record, but I also don't get to see how far I've come.

So I went off to college and among other things, I learned to love myself by being a bit of a webcam whore.  I learned that in the right light, with the right makeup that even I could feel good about how I looked.  And so I experimented with angles and lights and started to look at myself instead of trying to hide from myself.

It all started with one benign photo my freshman year of college (1999):

And morphed into a semi-regular obsession of taking my own picture:

For as much as I'd like to say that this process was all about self-exploration, it wasn't.   I didn't have the confidence to date, so I'd show guys the best versions of myself with the hopes that they'd fall for me.

I had hoped that they would think of me only as this one particular side I had shown them, not as discarded photos where I was making a stupid face, or showed my fat stomach or fat arms.

We all know how well that works out.  The minute they met me, they would see that I was a carefully constructed mirage.

The only person I every really fooled was myself.

I mean, in life you only have so much control over what people see.  It's just like those magazine photos that look so perfect, and yet you don't see the big clips and pins precariously holding everything in to place. You don't see the airbrush strokes.  We are viewed from every angle, in every light, with all of our flaws exposed.

Just as we want to be those perfect models, I wanted to be this version of myself all the time -- the self where I felt beautiful, sexy, and powerful.

The pictures became a reminder to me that at least at one fragile moment, I was all of those things.

So when my friend asked me to help her test out her new equipment, I thought that I would be able to harness some of the beautiful, sexy, powerful Robby and give her something to work with.

Like I said before, she's a very talented photographer.  But there's no kind way to say this:  I'm a shitty model.

In front of her camera, and without a monitor, I was absolutely lost.  I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  She directed me as best as possible, but there was a huge disconnect between the effort I thought I was putting out and what she captured on film.  (I'm very aware that how I see myself is vastly different than how others see me... my very special body dysmorphic disorder where I think and feel I am Jessica Rabbit.)  My "think sexy" came out more like "mildly constipated" and my "look natural" looks more like mannequin. 

In so many of the pictures my body is there, but I can see the fear in my eyes.  I can see the distraction in my face from trying to remember to suck it all in, to find the right light, to not expose myself too much.

Instead of trusting that my very talented friend wouldn't make me look bad, I tried to control the situation and myself too much.  The result was that I look flat. I look petrified.  And the truth is, I was absolutely 100% petrified.  Of the hundreds of pictures she took, there are only a few I like (this being one of them), and it was completely my fault. 


So....a few months go by and my very talented photographer friend's very talented artist (now-ex) boyfriend wants to draw me.  And the same fears crept in.  How would someone else portray me when I didn't have any control?  Would he be kind to my curves/rolls? Would he edit them out? Would he see me as I see myself?

Instead of letting him answer these questions himself, I answered them for him:  I declined his offer.

I regret it to this day, simply because rather than letting someone else show me what they see (and letting them be honest, truthful, realistic, or kind to me) I shut him down.  I did to him what I do to most men in general: I beat them to the punchline.

My very talented photographer friend, Renee, has agreed to take my "after" picture for when I reach my goal (whatever that may be, as I now refuse to say "goal weight").  I hope I will remember the lessons I've learned during this whole process.  My new definition of beautiful/sexy/powerful is the ability to allow one's imperfections to exist in the same place and time as the things he or she is most proud.

15 comments

VERY powerful post - you are a very talented writer.

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Thank you, Annie -- I'm so glad to put my English/Creative writing degree to use :)

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This is amazing and insightful! My favorite bit of it is your honesty. Photographs have always been a big deal for me...I always hope the photographer will catch just the right light and angle and that will look differently than I percieve.
I hope you realize though that the "beautiful" picture ie:the one of you above is still you, just because you have some pictures that you may see as "unattractive" that should not negate the beautiful pictures. They are ALL you! So those beautiful eyes are still in the pictures you don't like, you are just distracted by all the things you want to change. I wanted to share something with you, as my grandmother and myself are amateur photobugs like your mom but forgot to cut the link...it's called OLD PHOTOS on my blog. I Love your blog!

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As a person who is terrified of photographs... this really struck home with me.

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I have exactly the same problem, and that's why there are no pictures of me at all (except vaguely at parties and such) from age 10 to... Well, up till now, actually. I hate having taken my picture, and Bart's lousy at it too. A while ago, Wolf needed a photo of me and the only one I could come up with, was over two years old.

And yes, in my mind I'm Jessica Rabbit too, so every single picture is a disappointment. Every single time.

I still don't have a webcam, only on the MacBook, which I hardly use.

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Great post. People always tell me that I am very photogenic. I joke that I look better in pictures than IRL. I am a pro at self-deprecation. Thank you for your honesty.

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I had something similar - an artist friend starts with nude photographs of women and paints over them (mostly) for his final work. He asked me to pose for him and I did. I felt great - flattered and quite sexy. until I saw the shots. *sigh* I'm so completely self critical. He loved them - I'm actually hanging in a gallery - but ALL I see is fat and flab. And stiff poses and forced faces. I'm glad I posed - I"m sorry I saw the pictures.
I will eventually use them as a before shot - but I'm not sure I can bring myself to do any afters. I really do NOT enjoy seeing the obvious gap between what I see in my mind and what I see on film.
And while would love to tell you that I think you're beautiful (because you are), I know it would be as loud and meaningful as those inner voices. I hate when people tell me I look good in a photo - I feel like they're lying to me.

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Another great post and I do understand, for years I would not let anyone take any photo's of myself and being 100% honest I burned all the old photo's of myself when I was fit and skinny, for years I would see only the bad in myself the things I hated about me I just kept the image of the fit me and that is all I saw when i went near the mirror It took a few friends to point out that I still had so much going for me they did not see the fat me they saw the Simon they became friends with many years ago....the one they insist never seems to age lol.
My point is in my rambling way (as I do) is not to keep another image about yourself see the good points about yourself...there is an old training saying "Play your strengths but exercise your weakness" You are not the person in the photo's they probably could not hold a candle to your awesomeness, maybe have a little faith in your friends as we are our own harsh critic at the end of the day.

Sorry if this does not make much sense but you know my blog and my insane ramblings.

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Gosh FG, damn insightful and thought provoking as always. Why are we always our own worst critics?

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First of all -- thanks everyone for these wonderful comments. I think we all know what it's like to have one unflattering photo define us. Or to have a bad photo undermine our self confidence.

It's almost like when you record yourself talking and you listen to it, everyone's first reaction is "I sound like that?"

We see a bad photo and invariably ask "Do I really look like that?"

It requires a great deal of self-preservation to realize that a photo isn't you, it's a simulation of you that pales in comparison to the real McCoy.

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It is a shame we do this to ourselves -- shut down the opportunities for the beautiful truth to shine forth -- all in the name of controlling what others see about us. Perception is just that. It isn't reality. This is a lesson I think we all need to learn, even if it takes a very long time, indeed.

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I have never felt that I photograph well. Thus, I have never gone out of my way to get in front of a camera when someone is playing the role of shutter bug. Simply I was never proud of being the large man I allowed myself to become.

I do like your new definition of beautiful/sexy/powerful. Certainly we should accept ourselves for what we have been given to work with. And certainly we should love ourselves to take what we've been given and become someone we respect & are proud of; mentally & physically.

Happy Halloween!

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AMEN. I think many people freeze of fear when thinking of photos/images of themselves. It can feel like a judgment. I think we all go through our own journeys and beliefs. Eventually, we wake up tp what is real and what matters and get tired of everything else we've been fighting at the same time. We say F-it. We let go.

There's a reason when my husband photographs whether it is weddings or news. He will take 5000 pics to get 100 good ones and 10 amazing ones. You do the math.

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Rebecca -- i think you nailed it on the head. I think many people fight/defend their vulnerability instead of embracing it. They thing "oh if people see me, what will they think?" versus "it's okay if people see the real me." The eff it moment is in realizing that no matter what, you know who you are.

I'm always amazed by professional photographers. Not only are they skilled and knowledgeable, but they are some of the most patient people i've ever met.

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Great post! I'm sending a link to my girls. BTW, you may think I'm a senile old fart but you are a very cute lady.

Peace~Barney

IronBearFitness

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