I’ve clicked the camera icon on my phone before, inspired by something I hear the girls doing around the corner, an unexpected blossom on a gray day, or by my hair doing exactly what I ask of it. I do it to preserve a moment, sometimes for myself, other times to share with people. What happens after I open the camera is another thing.
Sometimes the moment has passed, the girls have disbanded, their harmonious play nothing but a what was as the camera zooms in on a patch of bare carpet, or the shot has closed eyes or a flash of underwear I don’t want to broadcast. Editing is nothing new, just as staging isn’t new. What does seem to me to be very new and, unfortunately here to stay, are the sweeping attacks of people for what and how they choose to preserve things. I read a piece that basically eviscerated young women for taking selfies, earlier in the day I’d read an article defending the selfie. Why do we care? Does someone else finding contentment in a photo of herself really impact us? Is it tangled up envy and resentment from worrying that finding ourselves beautiful or that seeking exceptional beauty is wrong?
What about the ugly? Does not sharing a photo of something mean that I am denying that it exists or that I am ashamed? Or is it that in this time of sharing we are afraid to share things that deviate from some unspoken normal? Are we really constructing artificial personas, or are we conducting ourselves as we do in person?
There have been times I’ve gone to take a picture of myself and then recoiled from what I saw. Holy gaunt face, mama! An essay that my friend Allison wrote has stayed with me. She realized that she didn’t have the luxury of editing herself out of photos without also eliminating herself from what will become precious memory prompts. Which leaves me wondering, where are we if we’re judged for having things look too perfect and we’re lost if we don’t want to be in the pictures if we’re less than perfect?
I read a post by an author talking about coming to grips with not necessarily being able to alter the incorrect assumptions about her life and choosing vulnerability as her coping mechanism. An alternately resigned and empowered, “Here I am.”
Lately I find myself very drawn to the idea of unfurling my 40 year old self without apology. Here I am, my contradictions and my blemishes, my radiance and my passion. I want to own the strength that comes from knowing what I am capable of as well as the terror that comes from accepting how little is truly within my control.
Last night I wrapped my entire body around my 7 year old as she slept, her breath whistled and wheezed as it made her chest rise and fall. The skin on her face bore harsh splotches, remnants from her violent retching, while tendrils of hair curled along her brow. My other girls were at my feet and My Girl was playing on the tv. Vada was at the point in the movie when her best friend has died, her dad has asked his girlfriend to marry him, and the teacher Vada worships has found love. My heart broke for love lost and found, for little boys dying, and for the inevitable terror of having your first period. The tears rushed out of me and I felt the presence of this emotion that seems to have arrived with 40, sorrow and gratitude laced together with hope and defeat.
I know that any picture I might have taken would not have represented all that was in this moment, but I also know that this pain is something we don’t talk about enough. We hide it from Instagram and we don’t talk about it with friends. I don’t think it’s the selfies that are threatening us, I think it’s ourselves. We are scared and we are bold, beautiful and haggard, each in our own way. We get to choose what we share and what is put out there, and I really want my daughters and myself to know five, ten, fifteen years from now that it, I, we were beautifully messy and broken and wondrous. Because in the end, life is its own kind of picture perfect and you should feel ok documenting any angle of it.