By Penny Venticinque
It’s funny how all women have issues with their bodies. No matter what actual shape our bodies are in, we all harbor some ill feelings about how we look – whether it’s our bodies as a whole, or individual parts – there’s always something about our bodies that make us cringe.
And I thought it was just me.
Just this morning I was talking to a colleague who used to be a model. I like this person very much, but I really don’t think we have much in common, as far as being “women” is concerned, other than the plumbing. She’s tall, I’m short. She’s thin, I’m not. (I refuse to use the “F” word, or any other euphemism for size.) She’s young, well, 40-ish (yes, that’s young to me), and I’m getting to be 60-ish. She’s stylish in her dress, and I tend to be conservative and understated. She’s married, I’m single. You get it. In short, there’s really not much, on the surface, that we have in common, other than being female.
Until we looked at photos.
A few months ago we had a celebration at work, in recognition of Women’s History Month. This is a time when we honor some female colleagues for their contributions to our professional community, and the community at large. I was the “mistress of ceremonies”, welcoming everyone and handing out the individual awards, so I had plenty of “face time” on camera. I’m never comfortable with having my picture taken. I don’t think any woman is, unless she is posing for a professional photographer, making certain that all the angles are flattering, there is ample opportunity for airbrushing (or, these days, Photoshop-ing), and she can control which images get seen by anyone. Most of us just make the best of things when we have to have our pictures taken.
Most women, well, I’m probably telling on myself here, but I assume most women have figured out how they look their best in photos. We will stand in front of the mirror practicing that look, the look that is most flattering to our faces and bodies – so that when a camera is in the vicinity, we know just what to do. We know how to smile – not too much teeth, not too broad so the crow’s feet don’t show, turn your head just so. We also know how to stand – one foot in front of the other, feet at a slight angle, toes pointing slightly in opposite directions, shoulder tilted toward the camera, head up, so as not to show a shadow which might be mistaken for (or actually produce) a double-chin. Pick up a camera around a woman, and she will immediately say “wait…don’t take it yet, I have to be ready.” Most men will take this as vanity. It isn’t. Men often prefer the candid shots, photos that capture the moment as it was. Women, on the other hand, do not, under any circumstances, wish to have moments captured as they were. We want them to reflect our beauty and charm and poise. And yes, this takes a minute to create. For example, no woman wants to be photographed while eating. Even if she is eating a salad. Men, please make a note of this. If a woman is eating a salad, that’s all well and good, and it could be used as proof that she is trying to be weight-conscious, which is always a plus, but it could just as easily result in spinach stuck in her teeth, or salad dressing oozing from the side of her mouth. And few women wish to be photographed while laughing heartily. This produces a contorted face that is never flattering. Do I look like that when I laugh? Jeez. From now on, I’m never laughing at ANYthing. I don’t care how funny it is. Get away from me with that camera or you’ll be walking “funny”. Also, if possible, do not photograph women sitting down. Sitting down produces that famous belly roll, or middle-aged spread. If you must take a picture of a seated woman, make sure there is a table or a desk or a half-ton boulder in front of her, or at the very least, another person. Oh, and never, and I repeat NEVER, from below. The first time I saw a photo of me taken from an angle below me I thought I would just vaporize right there on the spot. I looked like the Goodyear blimp on steroids. Not flattering.
So here we are, my friend and I, looking at photos of ourselves, not as mementos of a special occasion in which we gathered to honor our sisters, but as indications of how horrible we looked at that moment, and probably all the time. For my part, I am always comparing myself to others’ sizes. Oh, OK, I’m smaller than her. Oh wow, look at my hips! Gee, where did that bulge come from? Must be that sweater. Note to self – those grey slacks go to Goodwill as soon as I get home. They make me look like a battleship. I didn’t know my nose was that big. Is it possible to gain weight in your nose?? My friend, who used to be a model, says…oh thank God, my arms don’t look fat! I wanted to smack her. I didn’t. My restraint is remarkable these days. It must be age. Er, I mean maturity.
It is notable that neither of us even mentioned or acknowledged the actual reason why we were having our photos taken that day. And I am certain that when we show these same photos to the other women in them, they will have the same reactions. Rather than seeing the occasion, the honorable circumstances, the historical significance, they will, instead, scan the photos for evidence of cellulite, weight gain, and age-related facial manifestations. In this day of digital imaging, every line, wrinkle, hump, bump, stump, lump, and protrusion shows in acute detail, leaving little to the imagination. We may as well get used to it. The days of blurred photos are over. There we are, blemishes and all, with nothing to hide behind.
Anyone got a half-ton boulder?