19 Feb JOY, NOT PERFECTION
By Ingrid Fetell Lee
I used to think of myself as unphotogenic.
I dreaded having my picture taken, because I was sure that any photo I took would reveal my awkward, ugly duckling-ness for all the world to see. If by chance someone did catch a photo of me, I would look at it after, scrutinizing every little flaw. My cheeks were too spotty, my posture too rounded, and in bright sun I always squinted so much you could barely see my eyes. My fine hair flew all over at the slightest breeze. My teeth weren’t white enough, so I tried to smile without exposing them, which only added to the awkwardness of the photo. Between trying to keep my hair down, keeping my eyes wide open into the blazing sun, and my weirdo half-smile, it’s not surprising that I didn’t feel like the camera liked me very much.
Then one day while scrolling through my camera roll, I came across a photo that Albert had taken of me a couple of years before. He had caught me off guard, and I was grinning. It was sunny, so of course I was squinting, but you could see that my eyes were flashing, alight with joy. My hair was all over and I had no makeup on, and at the time, I hadn’t wanted to post it publicly because I didn’t like how I looked. But now, as I looked at the photo, I found that I loved it. The flaws were still there, of course, but what I noticed when I looked at the photo was how happy I looked. “This girl,” I thought to myself, “looks like she’s having a good time.”
I realized in that moment that the photos where I actually looked my best weren’t “perfect.” (What would perfect even mean?) Instead, they were the ones where my joy was evident, where I wasn’t trying so hard to meet some impossible standard, but vulnerable enough to let the camera see my natural self.
Since then, before taking a photo, I began saying to myself, “Joy, not perfection.” If I have to take a photo for a specific purpose, like a photo shoot or a passport, I think about a recent joyful memory and try to put myself back in that moment. And when I look at the photo after, whenever I’m tempted to fixate on the lines on my face or the unflattering angle, instead I look at my expression. If I see genuine joy, then it’s a good one…
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