I’m usually the one behind the camera when my family travels, so there are lot of photos of my daughter — and some of my husband — but very few of me. I’ve gotten better about trying to get at least one photo a year of the three of us so I can use it on my New Year’s card, but this last year, while the kid has been so sick, I haven’t wanted to take many photos.
That’s not entirely true. Maybe I just haven’t wanted to keep many. The kid is documenting all her medical tests on Instagram, so I’ve taken photos of her — by request — every time she gets a new IV or they attach her to some new machine. Those aren’t the kind of photos you treasure.
I’ve taken selfies only a handful of times: At the starting gates when I walked Bay to Breakers alone. When the Horror Writers Association did a selfie promotion. Last Christmas Day, when the kid and I went sledding at my parents’ and our cheeks were pink with the cold. More recently, one fine day at China Beach.
Selfies feel awkward to me. I had modesty trained into me when I was a girl, so I’ve never been able to see past my flaws. For the most part, I’ve always felt invisible. I don’t even see myself in mirrors, unless I force myself to focus.
Last month I bought a bundle of work-related books and e-courses, mostly for Charlie Gilkey’s Momentum Planners (which, while not lovely, are absolutely the best. Here’s the link. I’m not affiliated with them; I just find them really useful.)
One of the other things that appealed to me was Vivienne McMaster’s Beloved Beginnings course on taking selfies. What I was hoping for was a lesson in how to take professional selfies, to record myself working and share my joy in writing. What I got was a lesson in facing my own self-criticism.
The homework was to take selfies every day for 10 days and post them online. Each day, Vivienne sent a prompt and some words of wisdom. The best thing she said was to take a bunch of photos and delete the ones you don’t like.
The first assignment was really hard for me: she wanted us to take a selfie with a hand on our hearts. First off, I’m really sensitive about my hands look. They are much more wrinkled than my face: too many years of harsh cleaning chemicals and no idea I needed to sunscreen my hands. Since my thyroid has started acting up, my nails are brittle and break really easily. There’s nothing beautiful about my hands.
And the position was really difficult. I had to balance my phone at arm’s length, look at myself in the mirror view, and take a photo without jiggling anything. It was hard to get my hand and my face in the frame at the same time, especially since I wanted to tip my face upward to minimize my double chin and the hollows under my eyes. In the end, I just couldn’t make “hand on heart” look natural. It felt too much like pledging allegiance or hugging myself. I looked stiff and uncomfortable.
Vivienne had an interesting take on what a selfie is. She suggested that we use it to connect to the world, recording things we touch, where we stood, how the world reflected us.
In the end, I took some photos that I like. They don’t show me as beautiful, but they reveal me as I am. I’m not sure why I hoped that 10 days would be enough to learn to take perfect selfies, but I do feel like I learned to not be so hard on myself. My kid is sick. I am worn out. Still, there were moments of beauty in my week. I have the photos to prove it.