Why I Gave Up On Caring How I Look In Photos

July is eminently photographable. The reds, whites, and blues of patriotic clothing pop against lush green lawns. Bright fireworks light up dark night skies. Watery scenes are highlighted by neon bathing suits and flamingo pool floats. Even without filters, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are studies in light and color.

At the center of most of these photos are the people. A whole family of rainbow swimmers dripping with water. Clusters of kids sticky with purple popsicle sweat. A couple in matching sunglasses in front of a rolling gold landscape. And there’s me: in a colorful dress; but still postpartum, a bit too heavy, and struggling to defrizz my hair in the humidity.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision. I was posing for a random group photo with a half dozen others. As for any other iPhone shoot, we posed and smiled. And then, I noticed what happened.

Half the subjects flocked the photographer to see the pictures and weigh in on which was the best. I – and most of my friends – are approaching middle age, so this can take work: not only should eyes be open and smiles be appropriate, but double chins should be hidden, underarm flab smoothed, and bodies at an angle to minimize hip width. There was a quick but important chatter about which of the many versions were acceptable to all parties and permissioning for posting on social media.

Interestingly, the other half of the subjects (and, to be honest, mostly the men), simply walked away from the scene. It was as if nothing happened.

My instinct was to join in the evaluation. For years, I had been a participant in assessing the photos based on my vision of how I thought I looked best. This was an automatic response rather than a conscious one, conditioned by my society – and likely reinforced by pressures put upon my gender. I was supposed to care not only about what I looked like, but also about how that was represented. But in this thing, as in all things, I had a choice. Did I – not as a woman, but as Meredith – actually care about those things?

Not much.

And so, I decided. From that moment forward, I would not evaluate photos of myself. I would simply let them be. I refused to expend intellectual or emotional energy editing the pictures and selecting the most favorable version of the truth. Whether each photo fit my own expectation of what “good” looked like for me really didn’t matter: the picture was represented what I did look like at that moment, whether I liked it or not.

It seems small and trivial. After all, it’s only my behavior in the moment after the flash. But, in this as in everything else, it’s freeing to realize that I get to decide how to be.

Since making that decision, I’ve felt free. I categorically don’t care. I consistently don’t need to engage. Now, when people take pictures of me, they often still ask: “Do you want to see it?” It feels like it’s really me answering when I say “no.” I’m sure it’s fine. Or not fine. It is how it is. And whether I like it or not, it is the truth of how I look in this moment. Then, I go back to my conversation.

This is your chance to choose as well. There is no right answer. You can care or not care. You can look or not look. You can edit or not edit. As long as you make a conscious choice aligned with your own values, it’s perfect.

How do you act when photos are taken?
What does that say about what you value? What does that say about what you fear?
And if you were to consciously choose, how do you want to be in those situations?

Meredith
Like what you’re reading? Find more in my newest book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, available here from Amazon.

EXHIBIT A:  Most recent mediocre picture of me, from Drag Queen Story Time yesterday (Note to self:  Beyond this article, I will simply never look good enough standing next to a Drag Queen)
mediocre photo 1

 

The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

but its two

…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith

 

Love It And Let It Go

book stackSince holding the first printed copies of my book, Indispensable, in my hand, the idea that it is published has become increasingly real. Surprisingly, it also became temporarily disconcerting.

My first reaction to receiving my book was amusement. It existed in so many electronic versions over time, and the publication process was so long. Suddenly, I thought, all that effort came down to this little book? That’s all? I mean, I liked the cover, but wasn’t it a little thin?

Nonetheless, it was fun to hold and even more enjoyable to see others turn it over in their hands, feel the cover, and casually flip through the pages (like one does with a real book). We chatted about the design, the paper stock, and all the other little superficialities of it.

But then, I saw for the first time in my life, someone actually sit down to read it. She sat across my office just out of shouting distance. This first witnessed reader started by flipping through casually, but then paused as something caught her eye. Oh dear God, I thought, someone is actually reading my book! Instead of feeling excited, I was suddenly horrified. Though I knew it all along, it was as if I didn’t realize until that point: People are actually going to read this thing.

I wanted to sit by her side. I wanted to answer her questions and clear up where things were ambiguous. I wanted to understand her feedback and make changes where things were insufficient. In short, I wanted to have a conversation about the ideas and their evolution.

But that’s not what books are meant to do.

Books put your thoughts out into the world through monologue, not dialogue. There is no back-and-forth. You can’t defend your thinking. You can’t learn from others’ experiences and evolve what you originally wrote.

For so long, the book was a singular manuscript in my hands. I had complete control over it. I could change words, phrases, or sentences. I could rearrange or rewrite entire concepts. The book was mine.

Indispensable_FrontBut now, there are hundreds of published copies owned by others instead of that one manuscript controlled by me. Beyond what I originally put on the page, I have no ability to inform the reader’s experience. Though in retrospect, the release of control happened incrementally through the course of copy edits, proofreads, and publication, it felt to me like it happened all at once.

And so, this is my chance to let go of the book. It’s not mine anymore; it’s yours. My writer friend, Jess, reminded me that this is common in the process of writing — and even explicit in the process of some writers’ groups: you are not allowed to speak about your own piece.

Like so many things in life, I love it and let it go. Thank you all for receiving it.

Meredith


Indispensable: How to Succeed at Your First Job and Beyond 
is available for purchases here on Amazon.