"Mom, please, for the love of all things good and holy, BACK UP," I would whine, "you're putting the camera way too close."
"But you're so beautiful!" my mom would say, attempting to reassure me.
(Spoiler: I was never reassured by this.)
I could pretend this was one, isolated event, but this actually happened every time my mom would pull out the Nikon when I was growing up. Whether I was performing with my high school jazz choir, donning black, dramatic gloves, or I was on a road trip to California, wearing tragically-fitting Bermuda shorts (y'all know the ones), my mom would always use that hateful zoom feature on her camera. Over time, I memorized the motion the lens would make, bracing myself for impact. It was terrifying.
And it's not that I thought I was ugly or that I had no self worth. That wasn't necessarily the problem. I simply thought that close-up photos were reserved for certain super humans, the kind like these:
- Girls with cheekbones sharp enough to cut through steak, medium-well.
- Girls who had genetic makeup similar to Tyra Banks (my favorite TV host when I was in middle school).
- Girls with perfectly sculpted eyebrows.
- Girls with no acne, or at least flawless makeup. Sometimes, both.
- Girls with dimples, the ones that made all the boys drool onto their late homework.
- Girls that could "smize," as Tyra would say.
- Girls with smooth, silky hair, expertly straightened, all before 7 am.
- Girls who weren't me.
I've grown up knowing that my personality was my "selling factor," but I didn't realize how deeply I believed that until I realized I'd created my own personal demon: the zoom feature. When I look in the mirror, what I see peering back at me is, well, complex. My face is marked by laughter lines from late nights with dear friends. It's adorned with spots of acne scarring that never quite disappeared. My jawline is, in fact, a bread knife at best, but more like a spoon. My cheekbones are present, but not the glowing pieces of architecture that some people possess. As a Jane Austen character might say, my face is plain.
Or at least it would be, if it wasn't a part of me.
It can be scarily easy to separate someone's appearance from their soul. We watch romantic comedies starring actors who play characters that seem to have it all: whit, charm, looks, and a tight ass. They are sexy. They are attractive. They are flawless.
But in actuality: they're not real. (If they're Jennifer Lopez, they might actually be super human. But I'll get back to you on that.) What I know to be true is this: as time goes on, your skin gets peeled back. What people begin to see is the tone of your heart. The contents of your brain. The passions that keep your eyes lit up. I've met people who appear gorgeous, but once the layers are torn back, the flawed and messy parts come to light, and you see who they truly are: human.
So although I don't look at my face and see a model, or even a cousin of a model, I see me. I see the flaws right beside the beauty. I see the parts of myself that I'm proud of. I see the parts that might not be perfect, but they're unique to who I am, in this time and this place. And there's something amazing about that, don't you think?
I've come to an agreement with the zoom feature. We've made an arrangement. As long as I'm keeping who I am in check, managing the back of house operations to the best of my abilities, the zoom feature can go to town. Because the best close up is of someone who knows they're imperfect, but still loves who they are. They know that their imperfections aren't a cause for shame or embarrassment. They're a cause for celebration, and for grace.
So, gal, are you ready for your close up?