I remember the day class pictures were handed back in third grade. Our teacher made a point of telling us that she wouldn’t show them to anyone, and that it was up to us if we wanted to let anyone see our pictures. She handed them back face-down. I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly, but I do remember I didn’t know why anyone would want to hide their picture from the class.
I always liked having my picture taken and seeing pictures of myself. I think it made me feel like I was famous or something.
Now that I’m older, I don’t always like the way I look in photos. I still like having my picture taken (I’m one of probably 8 photographers who likes being on the other side of the camera), but sometimes my head is at a weird angle and my nose looks too pointy, or my bangs aren’t laying right, or my smile looks forced. So I totally understand what it’s like to look at a photo of yourself and see only the flaws. I know what it's like to be bothered by these imperfections even if you know you’re the only one who notices them.
But it makes me sad that we (especially us ladies) are conditioned to think this way. Not only do we notice every little flaw—frizzy or unkempt hair, a double chin, an imperfect body—we sometimes feel like any picture that captures these flaws should be hidden from the world, deleted, or never even taken in the first place. We learn this not just from the mainstream media and advertising, but from our family and friends.
As kids we’re taught humility. We’re told not to brag on ourselves, and to build other people up. And these are such great things to learn. But humility doesn’t mean only pointing out your flaws. It isn’t vain or arrogant to say, “I love this picture of me!” Building others up doesn’t mean tearing yourself down to make a comparison like, “You look so cute here, so much better than I do.”
I’m sure I haven’t said anything you haven’t heard already. I know that enjoying having your picture taken is much easier said than done, especially if you have a naturally shy or reserved personality. But I also believe that photos are important because the people and moments they capture can be shared with others now and in the future. Photos help you tell and share stories that are important to you.
So I have a few practical tips that might help you re-frame the way you think about photos and approach the situation when you're being photographed.
Change the Question
When you see a picture of yourself, instead of asking, “How do I look in this picture?” think about, “What was captured in this picture?” When you answer the second question you’ll focus on how much fun you have when you’re with your friends, or the time your family went to the beach on a cold day, or even just that someone wanted to have you in the picture with them.
Another good exercise is to ask yourself, "What do I like about myself in this picture?" Even if it's something as simple as, "I like the shirt I'm wearing," you can start to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
Here I am with my college roommate and our brand new diplomas on what must have been the windiest day in 2014. We tried to hide from the wind so our hair wasn't everywhere, but eventually decided it was a lost cause. We look a little unkempt, but I love our smiles and I know we were having fun here.
Pose your body at an angle (about 45-degrees is good) and turn your head to face the camera. This is much more flattering than having your shoulders square to the camera, which makes your entire torso seem broader.
It also helps if you're standing up straight and not leaning at an awkward angle for no reason like I am in the first picture below.
And, ladies, it also helps if you bend your front leg at the knee just a little bit. These basic posing techniques make the best use of the way your body naturally looks. I also have a post all about tips for posing yourself that has even more suggestions!
My sister is naturally good at posing herself. Here she has her weight on her back foot and her front leg bent slightly at the knee.
It's Okay to Take the Selfie
I know people my age and younger often get criticized for taking selfies and posting selfies. But we are also constantly told how to look, and that our flaws should be covered up, and we’re led to believe that we should look a certain way before we are worthy of being photographed. We’re shown that the proper response to a photo of ourselves is to hate it and hide it, and we’re told that it’s vain and self-centered to take notice when we’re excited about the way we look.
If you love the way your hair looks today or you stumbled across some scenery that would make a great backdrop for a picture and you want to take a selfie, do it.
It’s not always about the way you look. It’s about the way you talk to yourself about how you look. It's about taking the picture anyway because of the experience and memories it will capture. Confidence and happiness look good on you, much better than the false humility of qualifying your imperfections with, “Sorry I look like a mess!” It’s fantastic to dress up and do your hair and feel good about how you look in preparation for a photo session, or even just an event where you know you’ll be photographed.
But it’s just as important to know that having your picture taken isn’t about being perfect.