This piece about unflattering photos
feels especially relevant to me today, as I'm sorting through vacay pix to find some I feel comfortable posting.
As is the case with most of our travel pics
, I'm behind the camera, and 90% of the photos are of landscapes, buildings, etc., with M in a few of them. The majority of our travel photosets don't have me in them at all. It's almost like I wasn't even there, since there's no telling who was wielding the camera. There are plenty of pics of me on Flickr, but most are carefully edited and chosen shots I did myself. No candids. No photos of me actually doing something or being somewhere. And almost none of them are fully public--friends/family only. I avoid being photographed so much it's like I'm attempting to erase myself from my own life.
When I bought photo shoot tickets for Collectormania, I did so because I wasn't sure whether there would be a proper chance for an autograph or any other one-on-one contact with the folks in question, not because I actually wanted a photo of myself with them. They're so beautiful that it seemed like putting me in the pic with them would be somehow blasphemous. I got the photo anyway, largely because I promised someone I'd do a photo shout-out for her. The pic of me is decent, as that goes, but I still don't want to scan it in, because the contrast of how gorgeous they are with ... well ... me ... is just so stark.
As the person in the link above noted, though: I look like that. Flattering or no, and allowances for the odd physics of 2D stills considered, those images of me are more or less what people see when they see me in person. I've not yet become a complete hermit (though I seem to be aiming that way) so other people do see my physical existence regularly. But that's not really by choice. Who I am as a person is so detached from my concept of what I physically look like that they're entirely incongruous to me. Given the choice, I'd rather present myself in a way that reflects who I am, rather than what I look like.
But, some might argue, aren't those the same thing? Isn't what I look like part of who I am? Well, insomuch as it's influenced how I've developed as a person, yes. But that's not necessarily a good thing. My physical self has earned me so much horrific abuse that all I've built from it is a crapload of internal scar tissue. My desire, therefore, to ignore it as much as possible should be understandable. And when I tell people who try to encourage me to live in my own skin, and be more present physically to fuck the hell off, they need to understand why I say that. Only people who are chronically clueless or have been blessed enough by the genetic fairy that they don't get abused by strangers for how they look would think there's merit in that. You may as well tell someone with terrible allergies that they should get out and smell the flowers in spring.
I'm an odd duck: a vaguely post-modern realist. As I've argued about other things before, I recognize cultural and social constructs for what they are--malleable, changeable and in no way biologically essential--but I also acknowledge that just because a thing is built by humans rather than naturally grown doesn't mean it doesn't exist. A building is entirely a human construction, and just as it has been assembled where it is, so can it be dismantled. Yet it's still a very real thing, it still affects its environment, and it still changes, in ways both large and small, the people who encounter it.
The social constructs we have around gender and physical appearance aren't inherent and unchangeable, no matter how much quack evolutionary psychologists may like to argue otherwise. But that doesn't mean they don't exist, or that they don't have the power to do harm. Much as a well-meaning parent might try to teach a child that beauty is only skin-deep, and looks don't matter, and it's what's inside that counts, the reality of life in a gender-stratified environment in which appearance is commodified means that yes, looks DO matter, especially for girls and women. They shouldn't
matter, and children should of course learn not to judge people on things over which they have no control, appearance among them, but they also should learn that other people WILL make those judgments. And that those judgments can, in some cases, do some fairly serious damage. If you want your kid to come out without too much of that damage, you help them learn how to avoid it. It's just like teaching a kid about crime. You teach them not to steal, and that stealing is a bad thing, but you also teach them to lock up their valuables, because other people steal whether they're supposed to or not. No, I don't want my kid living under a cloud of paranoia, and the onus of responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser, but I also have a responsibility to keep my kid safe as much as possible--and that includes teaching them how to avoid becoming a target for the world's awful people.
So, this is why I don't make many pics of myself public. I know my looks don't define who I am, but I also know other people will define me that way, and that most of the people who do will judge me a lesser creature, and someone worthy of torment, because of them. Anyone worth my time, energy and affection won't abuse me that way, of course, but as I can't live life surrounded entirely by only those people, I still have to make adjustments to avoid the jerks who will. I don't personally think that being fat or having an unattractive face makes me a bad person. I think I'm a very good person, in fact. But I'm not stupid. I know other people do think that, and that if they're given enough of an opportunity, they'll do anything they can to make my life miserable. It's a form of closeting, of course, but it's an essential one. Just as I wouldn't be stupid enough to out myself as queer in a rural town full of violence-prone holy rollers, neither am I going to go pasting my picture everywhere that the attack dogs of the intarweebs are going to see it. I've already been the victim of some pretty hardcore bullying, both online and off. Why on earth would I voluntarily open myself up to more of that? If other people want to martyr themselves like that, fair enough. I'm not going to be happy about pressure to do so myself.
So, no. I'm not going to post vacation pics of myself in public spaces, and when someone does post an unflattering pic of me, I'll ask them to untag it or otherwise make it less obvious who the person in the pic is. People who know me already will know my face, and know that's me. Strangers don't need to connect that face with my name, because far too many of them will use that knowledge to hurt me. I've been hurt enough already. Sue me if I'm trying to avoid suffering any more.