(Before I begin, let me just say that I’d hope it’s obvious that I’m not speaking to folks who have religious, spiritual, or mental-health related reasons for not wanting to be in photographs. I respect that people know themselves best in that regard. This isn’t for you.)
My husband Christopher’s best friend Michael died when they were teenagers. It was probably the biggest loss of his life and I know that there is a hole in his heart from that tragedy that will never be fully healed.
Since Chris and I met as adults, I never got to meet Michael.
I can’t exactly explain why – perhaps because I know how important he is to Christopher or because I knew I would’ve totally loved him or a myriad of others reasons – but I felt compelled to find a photo of him. Since Chris doesn’t have a lot of childhood photos in our house, I searched online first and felt like I hit the jackpot pretty quickly. I found a high school dedication website with one single photo on it. It was a lovely, classic, “picture day” style school portrait. I sent the link to Chris and asked if that was indeed the right Michael.
And his response was really interesting to me:
“Yeah, that’s him. But that photo doesn’t look like him. Not like he actually looked.”
It surprised me but I instantly understood it.
The photo literally looked like Michael because it was a photo of Michael, but it didn’t look like the images in Christopher’s memory. It didn’t look like the boy he spent doubtless countless hours playing games, hanging out, and laughing with.
It just didn’t look like Michael.
We did eventually get to see other photos – photos where he’s laughing at someone just off camera or goofing around with his sister or even just hanging out and doing nothing at all – and it was wild how “him” they looked. Even to someone who was never blessed with a meeting.
They just looked like Michael.
And the whole thing made me think long and hard about how people are about getting their photo taken.
How many times have you been with someone who didn’t want to commemorate a beautiful moment because they didn’t think they looked good enough? Because they didn’t like their smile or their hair or their outfit?
I’d wager that we’ve all experienced this at least once in life.
Maybe that “someone” is usually you.
Well maybe it’s better to think about it as if photos of you aren’t actually for you.
Has anyone ever, in the history of time, looked back at an old candid photograph of a beloved family member who’s no longer with them and thought “Well, dang, they look so happy in this pic but they sure would’ve looked better with straight teeth/makeup/nice clothes?”
That’s literally never happened.
People want photos of you because they love you.
They don’t see chin rolls, they see the light in your eyes when someone captured you genuinely laughing.
They don’t see thrift store clothes, they remember the comfort of sitting next to you and snuggling into your favorite sweater.
They don’t see crooked teeth, they see the smile that made them feel more loved than they ever thought possible.
They don’t want a perfect, “ideal,” photoshopped version of you because they love you and that isn’t you.
In an ideal world we would all be able to chip away at our insecurities and jump into any and all photo opportunities because we feel confident in ourselves and we KNOW we look awesome. Of course that would be preferable. And I’m not at all trying to negate the importance of that goal.
But even if you don’t feel that way? Even if you do still feel weird and self-conscious about the way you look?
Just get over yourself and get in the photo.
Seeing pictures of Michael where he looked like himself brought so much joy and comfort to Christopher and so much happiness and connection to me. The blessing that the gift of these pictures was to our family is difficult to measure.
So please, for all that is good in the world, don’t allow the way you view yourself to rob your loved ones of the chance to see even a glimpse of you – the actual you – when you’re gone.
Your glamour shots and facetuned images won’t be what people see when they think of you anyway, so leave them with something that feels as close to you as possible.
I can promise you now that it won’t be enough, but I don’t think there’s a better gift you can give.
Give that gift.
Just get in the photo.