Let’s talk about photographs. Of ourselves.
I recently got my picture taken for the church directory. This ponytailed kid young enough to be my grandson put me through all the poses he’d been instructed to use for women: sit, stand, tilt your head, smile. Afterward, he took me into the other room for the big sales pitch. These guys don’t make their money on church directories. They make their money selling photo packages for the folks to give to their friends and families. The sample photos all showed happy couples and moms and dads with their kids, no singles like me.
I wasn’t planning to buy any fancy framed photos. Four years ago, I bought a CD containing all the shots and used them as author publicity photos. I thought I might do that again if the pictures were good. Just in case, I got my hair cut and put on eyeliner and my mother’s blue scarf. But I hated this year’s pictures. My smile was fake, and I never realized I had so many wrinkles.
The photographer insisted on flipping through the options anyway. I felt like I was at the eye doctor: which do you like better, 1 or 2, 3 or 4? None. I picked the least obnoxious shot for the directory.
“Don’t you want to give copies to your children and grandchildren?” he asked.
“I don’t have any,” I said.
“Oh!” Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have anyone who was interested in putting her picture on display. It’s one of those things people who are not alone don’t think about.
I don’t get my photo taken very often. Not a single picture of me was taken at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I received Christmas cards full of photos of kids, dogs, and retired couples on cruises, the same stuff I see on Facebook. But I had no pictures to send.
I’d be invisible but for selfies, pictures I take of myself, and I’m terrible at them. If I manage to get my whole face in the picture, it shows my frustration or it’s at such a weird angle that I delete it right away. Once in a while when I’m dressed up and feeling attractive, I’ll try again. Sometimes I succeed. My new Facebook profile photo is the latest effort. Was my nose always so big? Don’t answer that.
I prefer to pretend I’m gorgeous and 25 years old. A little self-delusion is healthy.
Sitting on my desk waiting to be scanned are two of my parents’ photo albums from the early days of their marriage. I love going through them, seeing how young and attractive they were, studying pictures of my brother and myself as we grew up. Mom and Dad documented everything with their old-fashioned box cameras, shooting eight or twelve pictures to a roll in black and white, saving the prints in their albums. Most of the pictures look as good now as they did 60 years ago. I don’t know what will happen with today’s digital photos stored in our computers.
But I’m straying off course. As a widow with no kids, I have no one to be photographed by or to take pictures of. Nor do I have someone to inherit the photos when I die. My selfies are a temporary fix.
What is the purpose of “selfies” anyway? Although some of my Facebook friends seem to post new selfies every day (Ego? A need for FB friends to compliment them?), it seems like most people use them to shoot pictures of themselves with someone else. It’s like those old-time photo booths you can still find at theme parks, where two people squeeze in and make goofy faces at the camera. Now, one person holds up the cell phone, they get close together and make goofy faces.
If my parents had had “selfies,” maybe there wouldn’t be so many pictures of my mother standing alone in front of a monument or a tree or a museum. She and Dad would both be standing in front of the monument or tree or museum.
Cell phone selfies, a 21st century phenomenon, are not the first instance of people photographing themselves. Ever since we had cameras, people have been devising ways to run around in front and get themselves in the picture. I tried putting the camera on a tripod, setting the timer and dashing around to pose. The pictures were always awful. There’s also the mirror method, in which you point your camera at your reflection in a mirror, but they always show a camera in your face and your features come out backward. Only recently have we had cameras designed to turn the lens on ourselves. The cameras are embedded in our cell phones, tablets and laptop computers.
“Selfie” is a relatively new word. The rumor is it came from an Australian guy who bashed his lip and took a picture of it to post online. He called it a “selfie.” The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. I keep thinking that grammatically, it should be spelled selfy. How do you conjugate that thing? To selfie? selfying, selfied, had selfied?
I hate staring at myself while taking a selfie. I look ugly. Why does my mouth move so weird? Why don’t the sides of my hair ever match? The old way of getting your picture taken and not seeing the results for at least a week had some definite advantages.
I need to work on my selfie technique. I found some good advice online: Avoid shadows, use natural light, hold the camera at your eye level, don’t over-pose, and feel free to edit the picture—but not too much. Chin down, tilt head slightly just like that church photographer told me to do. Actually just like every photographer my whole life has told me to do. Here’s another new word: Smize. It’s when you smile with your eyes while keeping your lips and teeth neutral. It’s supposed to be sexy. When I try it, I see a bad case of RBF, resting bitch face.
My selfie technique needs work, but if I want a picture of myself, rather than going to the young punks who want to charge me hundreds of dollars for the privilege, I’ll hold up my cell phone, strike a pose and do it myself-ie.
Here are some other links about the selfie phenomenon:
Do you take selfies? Alone or with others? When? Why? How do they turn out? Do you have any advice or special techniques to share? Feel free to share your own selfies, the good ones or the embarrassing ones.