There are things that one simply does not do in polite society. One does not rap along to Salt-n-Peppa during the Church camp sing-a-long. One does not flash an audience while wearing a bra so old it was being held together by staples and wistful thinking. One does not ditch out on a guy right before he realizes that you got your period mid-hook up and now his sheets look like a murder scene. And one does not, for the love of god, one does not EVER allow a truly bad picture of yourself to go up on social media.
Are all of these things equally terrible?
Have I done all of these things?
You bet your ass.
Do I deserve to be punished?
Well. . .
That bra was pretty heinous.
It was the kind of white, heavily-stitched, big-girl-shaming bra that really should have never seen the light of day.
The kind of bra you get flashed while working the Dr. Phil show.
I shudder when I think about the amount of cheap booze it took to perpetrate that crime against humanity. My liver still sends me hate mail.
But I find that, for most of my idiotic, foolhardy, embarrassing moments, I feel a strange protective fondness. My mistakes, especially the horrifying ones, are part of what define who I am. Who else has a story about meeting August Wilson, and accidentally insulting him two minutes after that introduction? Or a story about being asked to leave a meeting by a Tony winning author? Nobody, that’s who! Those mistakes are my defining strokes, the ones that kept my insanely high self-esteem from going through the proverbial roof.
I didn’t care if people find out any of those things about me.
But I do care about taking a bad picture.
The moment I see a picture that makes me look too fat, or old, or weird, I find it and crush it until the juices run down the jpeg. That is NOT going to be how I am remembered, thank you very much. No mid-snort picture for me. Let the skinny girls’ put up terrible pictures in an effort to appear deep. I am sticking with the I-always-look-like-this lie. That how we do in America.
I spent years trying to curate my cyber image as though my Facebook page was bringing in money. No bad pictures, not one. Not ever, I guiled friends into taking down party shots that made me look as intoxicated as I absolutely was. I blocked people from posting on my wall. I stopped taking pictures. Or I would hide in the background of pictures, hoping to hide my flabby arms or big tummy behind a wall of laughing friends.
It was exhausting.
Then, one day, I had a moment of clarity.
I was in a group chat with a few dear friends and we were reminiscing about some of our mutual adventures. These are women I love and trust, people with whom I have traveled and camped for years. We all know each other intimately and have enjoyed many incarnations of each other. As we were teasing each other about past hooliganisms, my friend posted a picture of me in the private chat with a gigantic smile and a tag that read, “Too much?”
Now, I have always hated taking photos of myself. I never look quite like I expect (or fervently prayed for). But this picture. . .
Well, it wasn’t flattering. I am seated in a camping chair, green summer dress hiked up to my mid-thigh. My motorcycle boots are caked with dirt. I am sunburnt, obviously drunk (the Jameson bottle I am holding seals that query up tight), my hair is sweaty and plastered to my head, my cleavage is threatening to bust out of my wrinkled dress and you can see the cellulite on my upper thighs. I am mid-elaborate gesture and my face is in sort of a mid-smirk/guffaw.
I look terrible.
My initial reaction when I saw the picture was to blush. Holycrap, I did not realize I looked that bad on that particular day. I felt the shame-flush begin to spread up the back of my neck and across my cheeks. Oh god. How can these cool people be friends with me? I look like a trailer park hooker’s mother. I always do this, I thought to myself. I always take such lousy pictures and I ruin everyone else’s shots.
My inner angst continued to ramble inside my head, but somewhere else, something else was starting. Something angry. Something confrontational.
Why did I care so much about this stupid picture? So what if I look terrible! So what if I had a moment of being more concerned about how I felt than how I looked? I started to get angry at no one because there was no one saying I had to look pretty in those pictures but me. I was the source of that horrible, little voice that criticizes every move I make. I was the one asking friends to take down pictures of our time together because you could see my double chin. What the fuck is wrong with me?!?
I took another look at that terrible picture. Then I looked again. And then I looked again.
After fifty or sixty viewings, something strange started to happen.
I started to like this picture.
Is it flattering?
Oh hell no! I look like Mama June’s less pretty high school friend.
But there is more to that picture than just cellulite and drunkenness.
I am seated because I had spent the last 6 hours dancing to amazing live music, my boots caked with mud from walking with my friends from stage to stage as we saw one killer band after another. I am sunburnt from being outside on a beautiful spring day in New Orleans, my darling friend had just passed me a bottle of Jameson (my favorite drink and college boyfriend) that she ingeniously had hidden in a box of kotex. My hair is a mess because I let my real-life boyfriend pull the ties from my hair and let is swirl around me while I danced with the man I love. My cleavage is busting out because I let him cop a feel mid encore of Pearl Jam, my dress wrinkling as we pressed close to one another. The cellulite I acquired from years of loving food and having the chance my starving Irish ancestors never got: to try cuisine from around the world, whenever and wherever I choose. I am gesturing because my friends were making me laugh myself sick with their hilarious banter, so much so that I may have actually snorted.
I looked at that photo and I realized, I don’t care if I look bad. I like this photo of me. I like it, and I refuse to apologize for it.
I am so tired of going on Facebook to see everyone’s carefully planned, perfectly filtered, why I always-look-like-this shot. I know, I know to take a bad picture in the digital age is a fate worse than death. Who will love you? Who will take you in? But really, is it that bad? Is it worth the amount of stress and strain and worry that we cause ourselves each and every time that phone comes out during a visit or vacation? So you looked chubby in that shot, so you sneezed when they took the picture. Why are we so concerned about looking perfect? The people you love don’t stay in perfect, coiffed still frames, they race through your mind and heart, laughing, weeping, drinking, and throwing up from drinking. . . . (Ah, college.) We all work so hard to maintain these perfect illusions of ourselves, we forget that sometimes it is the cracks and the weeping and the drinking that makes you love that person. Someone who is willing to let you see behind the mask and really know them. Someone who laughs with you in the rain and rubs their fuzzy legs against yours mid-camping trip is someone worth knowing, worth keeping. When you think of them, you never see the perfect moments, you see the moments that they shared your heart and soul. Pretty has nothing to do with it.
I decided right there that I will embrace that goofy, unkempt, foolish part of me. I will love her as much as the rest of me because she is as much a part of me as the rest. She may not always be pretty, but she will dance in the rain and not care about her make-up. She will stay for a week in a land of dust and fire, because she wants to feel the intensity of the universe and not care about her hair. She will go on the adventure, and take a chance because she loves her friends and sometimes you gotta just let those well-laid plans go. She will cry in public and not care if people stare, because she knows that sometimes you just can’t wait until you get home.
That girl is pretty great. She deserves some respect. She deserves some love. She deserves to be admired, no matter what she looks like.
So go ahead and do your worst. I no longer care if my cyber image makes me look good. I just want to be real. I want to be real and when I am gone, I want my friends to scroll through their pictures of me mid-snort and say, “That girl sure did know how to make me feel loved.” If I can get there, if I can help the people around me see how much I love them, then there is no picture bad enough to take that away.
So, go ahead.
Take a bad picture of me.