As I'm sorting and putting in albums, I came across a time when there weren't a great deal of photos with me in them. It was right around when my daughter was about two or three. This was a time when I didn't feel comfortable with who I was; I had extra weight, I looked exhausted, and I couldn't find clothes that fit right. I remember it because it took me doing exactly what I'm doing now - sorting old photos - to realize the mistake I was making by hiding from the camera.
I get it. The years go by and our bodies change. We gain extra pounds, our muscles aren't as tight, wrinkles seep onto our faces and my enemy - grey hair - finds it's way into our locks. And yes, what we all wouldn't give to be as fat as we thought we were at seventeen. We shy away from the camera, untag ourselves in photos, never include them on a Christmas card. I understand. I've been there and sometimes I still am there.
And then I look at this photo of my great-grandmother, in the moo-moo she wore with her white hair in a messy bun, and a huge grin across her face. The kind of grin where you smile back at the photo because it's obvious she is somehow having the time of her life simply standing knee deep in a river. It's one of the few photos I have of her, not because she didn't want to look fat in a photo, but because they didn't have the same photographic capabilities then. Pictures were expensive, and I am so grateful that she spared the cost of printing this photo out.
What if she had told the photographer (likely my grandfather) no? What if she had refused to be the subject? I wouldn't know what she looked like, or that my smile looks just like hers. All I'd have to remember this woman would be her name in a book with no image to accompany it. What a loss that would be!
I realized the same goes for my kids. Nearly every morning, I feel pretty lucky that my daughter will tell me I look nice. "Why are you putting makeup on Mommy? You look beautiful without it." She'll compliment my shirt (which I may secretly be thinking I look to chubby in) because she likes the design. She looks at pictures over the years in the albums and says "Mommy, I love your dress! It's pink, my favorite color!" or "Mommy, you have the best smile in this one." Wrinkles, grey hair, and pudgy arms don't exist in her mind because that's not what she sees when she looks at me; she sees her mama, just as I see my own when I look back at the only place I can see her face since she went to heaven.
Here's the thing: our kids see us as beautiful. They see our smiles, they hear our laughter, they remember how mom and dad smell. The body negativity only seeps in when it is taught, and I am guilty of that. By hiding from photos we aren't saving ourselves the embarrassment of how we think we look; we're robbing our kiddos of the opportunity to remember how happy we are to be a part of their lives and their experiences. We're instilling in them that if you don't look a certain way, you certainly shouldn't allow yourself to be photographed. We're saying that we aren't confident enough in ourselves to create a visible memory with them.
In five, ten, twenty years, our kids aren't going to look at a photo and think, "Gee mom, you looked really chubby." They may comment on a retro hairstyle or laugh about clothing choices, but behind the giggles will be the sheer pleasure they have in holding a photograph of one of the people they look up to most - the same pleasure we have when we look at photos of our loved ones.
I may not be the most confident person in the world, but I've learned over the years to step in front of the camera with my little ones. Of all the accessories I have that could make me look like a million bucks, this little girl and little boy make me look every bit as beautiful as I feel when they're in my arms. (Side note: They're the best filter my camera has ever had - every picture looks better with them in it!)