Do I feel pretty? The business of photography and why we hate ourselves.

“Oh my God, I have fat cheeks.”
Really?  You have fat cheeks?  You’re a professional cheerleader for the NFL, there isn’t an ounce of fat on you, and you think any part of you is ugly?  If you don’t think you are beautiful, what hope is there for the rest of us?
My mom had the best response.  Very quietly, she said to the cheerleader:
“These little girls look to you as a role model.  Remember, they will internalize what you say and do. So remind them: we are amazing.”
How does it start?  When and where do we decide: we are fat.  We are  skinny.  We are  old.  We are young?
Working an event, recently, for a group that caters to serving an older population:  
“I look old.”
“Do you mind me asking?  How old are you?  You look fantastic.”
Its not just women.  And I’m not immune.  Within ounces is my “perfect weight”.  135:  perfect.  136:  fleshy. 134:  skinny.
Really?!  And I consider myself comfortable in my own skin?!
Recently, I’ve decided to focus our US Event Facebook page on things I come across that send chills up my spine, not just shamelessly promoting our company.  I might spotlight work from another photographer.  It might be highlighting a retail site that supports local artists.  It might be cool new or old music, or a video of vintage Mexico City artwork.  I look at my personal Facebook page in the morning, and share things my friends find cool.  And, by the way, our Facebook page is open – if you come across something that sends chills down your spine, share it.  Or be my personal  friend and I’ll keep an eye open.  I’ll even wish you “Happy Birthday Month!” Somewhere around your birthday.  (Because I celebrate my birthday for a month.)
One video I came across was from a high school student that simply filmed people’s reaction after she told them “I’m filming people I find beautiful.
Reactions to her innocuous comment ranged from mugging it up for the camera, to one girl screaming she “had a blade and I will cut you, bitch!”
Even professional cheerleaders aren’t immune 
from feeling self conscious in front of the camera.

How badly do you have to feel about yourself to have that reaction?!  And where did our low opinion of ourselves come from?  The media?  Our parents?  Fashion?   Donald Trump?  Shhh!  Let me have my left wing bias in peace.

I think it’s a snowball.  I think the answer is “yes.”  It’s from our parents who make fun of us when they take our photo.  It’s from the media that highlights one standard of beauty,  it’s from Photoshopped models that create an impossible bar to reach.  It’s from our friends who are thinner than us but say they look fat – so what does that make us?  Obese of course.  And, yes, it’s from politicians like Donald Trump who call women “Miss Piggy” because they don’t meet his standard – a standard, by the way, which exempts he and his yes men.
Remember the Saturday Night live skit of “Self Affirmations” where the comedian looked in the mirror and  stroked his ego in an attempt to – what? – have an ego?  I’m not sure we all shouldn’t be doing that.  
For a long time, I was the photographer for a convention of plastic surgeons.  Attending were  both doctors and people interested is having plastic surgery.  Some have so many procedures, they stopped looking human.
There’s a name for it:  body dysmorphic disorder.  Like an anorexic, the self we see in the mirror isn’t what our brain sees.  We see ugly, no matter what stares back.
I think these issues bubble up for all of us when we are the subject of a photo.  For some, it’s extreme,  for others, it’s nearly nonexistent.  We are our own worse critic.
The great photographer moves participants past their body dysmorphic disorder to focus on what makes the person beautiful.  And everyone has something that makes them beautiful.
I know, you think I’m full of crap.  But I’m not.  I’ve been a photographer for a long time.  I’d wager – given my job as a large event photographer — I’ve photographed more people than almost anyone else in the world.
 One of 1900 headshots recently over the course of 1.5 days. 
 And she looks good.

No, seriously.  Think about this.  Recently I did a local job for Xerox.  (see the images here) It was a small event, and I did a “headshot booth” for a day and a half.

I shot  nearly 1950 headshots in that day and a half.  And that’s a small event.  Multiply that over the 40 or so events I shoot a year, and then for the 16 years I’ve been doing this, and that is a lot of people.
Every.  Single.  Person.  Has something that makes them amazing.  It might be their hair,  their smile, their eyes.  It may be something I can’t point too.  And, yes, most everyone I photograph is an average person.  They are all ages.  All weights.  All physical abilities.
So I can say this with expertise.  Look in the mirror.  Repeat after me.  “I am beautiful.  I am thin enough.  I am young enough.  I am fat enough.  I am old enough.  Doggonit, people like me.”
Do it until it sinks in.  Then do it some more.
And if something is bugging you—the bags under your eyes, your weight — whatever, take steps to fix it.  But don’t be defined by your perceived fat thighs or bulging gut.
Be ruled by your strength.  It’s there.  I’ve seen it.  And join me in telling the person next to you:  “you know, you look great.”
(Thanks to my mom and my partner, Matthew, for helping me think about this over the years.)

Matthew (r) with a participant (l) at an event in Mexico.

I share this photo for only one reason.  When we gave this photo to this participant, my mom noticed her off to the side, crying.  She went over, and asked if she was ok.  “Yes,” the woman replied, “I just never have a good photo of myself.”

We followed two participants from the start of their photo experience to the end.  Here’s how we roll.