When I took an oil painting class, the instructor said that beginners painting self-portraits concentrate so hard that they end up looking angry in the finished pictures. (As you can see from my self-portrait from that class, I decided it was better to look bored. Also, I managed to make my hand freakishly large.)
It’s unnerving to study your own face so closely—you can see every blemish. Did your nose always have that bump on it? And how long has it been since you plucked your eyebrows? It’s hard to see your flaws and still smile.
I’ve been thinking about self-portraits recently because I started a blog about hats that necessitates posting a lot of pictures of myself on the web and social media. I keep studying the wrinkles between my eyebrows and the pouches under my eyes and mumbling that I wish I’d done the blog when I was younger and cuter.
I never thought I was very pretty. In high school I had acne, didn’t wear trendy clothes, and didn’t want to be fussing with makeup all the time. I felt better about my appearance in my 20s, but partly because I worked hard to not look like myself. I permed my fine, flat hair. I wore my contact lenses instead of glasses. I shrunk myself to a size four.
Eventually, I made my peace with how I looked. My hair was straight, my eyes were bad. I could lose a few pounds. So what?
But I find it harder to say “so what” when I keep looking through pictures, deciding which one to post. In the close up of a hat, I notice the gray hair creeping in. In another photo I study the lines bracketing my mouth.
People Instagramming their hat pictures often have faces brushed clean of defects—unnaturally so. At first I wondered why--they aren't fooling anyone. Now I'm starting to see the temptation.
But the same way I didn’t want to fuss with my makeup in high school, I now don’t want to spend my time wiping away all my wrinkles in Photoshop.
One of the lessons I’ve told my nonfiction writing students is that no one wants to see the ideal you. Perfect people are boring. In my own nonfiction, I’ve tried to be honest, even when it means owning up to being a pretentious idiot at 20 or loving Lawrence Welk.
My interest in clothes and hats has never been about making myself look attractive: it’s about enjoying wearing fun stuff. So I’ll try to resist the temptation to wipe the evidence of my age from my photos. After all, one of the pleasures of getting older is caring a LOT less about what others think of you. And no one is interested in perfection anyway.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
© Ann Hillesland 2015-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ann Hillesland with specific direction to the original content.