As a woman with a decent amount of lumps and bumps around her mid-30s mid-section, I recently found myself a member of a Facebook group based around fashion and support for plus-sized women.
Over the New Year, there were many posts from ladies dressed to the nines in their party gear, asking for advice on which shoes to wear, makeup – pretty standard stuff for social media.
This morning, a girl who had previously posted a selection of selfies, where she wore different dresses and asked for opinions, posted again.
“I just wanted to show some pics from NYE,” she began.
“I chose the black and red dress after all of your lovely comments but after looking at these pictures of me and my fiance, I realised how much some pictures are deceiving I feel so huge after seeing these pictures.
“I didn’t realise how ugly I am, did anyone else feel this way?”
I felt angry and frustrated at her despair. She had taken a handful of unflattering photographs as the only accurate depiction of herself. Countless compliments be damned, she had realised she was ‘ugly’.
Often in these times of the selfie - with digital cameras allowing us to instantly critique - when we have a picture we like of ourselves, it is one that was taken amongst ten or twenty others.
We strive to capture that one perfect second where we look like the idea we have in our heads of how we should look.
I started thinking about the dangers of basing our self image on tiny moments in our lives where angles and lighting and filters and posture and shapewear and double chins matter.
Take 20 photos of yourself - any pictures at all, either selfies or taken by others. In those 20 photos, let's say:
- In five pictures you're very happy with how you look (these would be your Facebook profile pictures, if you are so inclined)
- In five pictures you're horrified with how you look and you hope they never see the light of day, and;
- In 10 pictures you wish you looked a bit different but you're happy for them to be made public and for others to see you as you are.
Why do we – and I think we all do it, regardless of age or gender - instantly assume that the five 'horrifying' photographs are the truth? Why do we find it so hard to accept that we really do look like the five ‘nice’ pictures? Or the other ten ‘okay’ pictures?
Why does one bad photograph mean so much more than a gorgeous one?
Why do we believe our ugly but refuse to accept our beautiful?
Why do we thank luck and Photoshop, good lighting and photographic magic for our beauty, when we have no trouble saying "Yep, that's me, I'm the troll who's been hiding behind all this makeup and black clothing for years”?
Our families and loved ones know our faces and our bodies better than we know our own. They’ve seen us make faces we have no idea we have ever made, and they love us for it.
They’ve seen the chins that appear when we’re slumped on the couch, five episodes deep into a Netflix binge, and they don’t care. They’ve seen the way our eyes light up when we are telling a funny story, and they’ve been wowed when we dress up for an occasion in a new outfit.
They don’t take our less-than-appealing moments as a snapshot of our worth, so why do we do it to ourselves?
Next time you see a photograph (or five) that makes you feel like your 'real side' has been revealed, remember that perhaps your 'real side' is the one in the nice pictures, and those not-so-great photos are just as much about luck and angles and lighting as any flattering one.
Awful photos happen to everyone (even supermodels) and a few average photographs or a handful of bizarre facial expressions, tummy rolls and bingo wings do not make those beautiful photos a lie.
- Nicky Lefebvre