To show one’s face is part of having the courage to show who one is. And coming to terms with your own face takes a lifetime. Just think how, when you were twelve or sixteen, you wished you looked different. And that’s true for everyone; even the most perfect, beautiful boy or girl is dissatisfied. So why is that? It can’t just be that you don’t look like the model on the magazine cover. It’s something else. You haven’t yet accepted your fate, who you are. As you get older that relationship between your face and who you are matures. They blend together. Your true self shows more.
– James Hillman
Last night the oppressive heat and I had an arm wrestle. It won. My two fans were a weak show to the 102 degree heat. I sat down to write my blog and I struggled to write the first hundred words about the bird eggs that hatched outside my kitchen window. I could hardly get words onto the page. My brick bungalow heated up like a toaster oven, that small but powerful kiln that I cooked my favorite Stouffer’s pepperoni pizza in when I was a kid. The same pizza that I sometimes forgot about when I watched TV, only to open the rectangular door 45 minutes later and discover a good inch of charred edges. That’s how I felt last night, a brainless piece of petrified bread, the kind that you can hit against the counter with a satisfying knock. Useless.
I gave up trying to write. Even my laptop was a step away from lighting on fire. I assumed the starfish position under the ceiling fan and contemplated sleeping on the front lawn in my underwear but thought better of it; The grass is more sand pit these days than a plush pile rug. I roasted slowly in my sleep.
It’s a good thing my writing was halted last night, because I read this Hillman quote in an interview while I had my tea on my front porch this morning and changed my subject matter. I’ve wanted to write about self-perception, that strange and mind-changing beast for a while. Up until now, I had no clear ideas or format. Just random thoughts, like the floaties you can sometimes see in your eyes. There and then gone. But this quote glued something together for me.
Let’s start with a photo from my teenage years.
What I hoped my haircut would make me look like:
What I actually looked like:
It appears my hairdresser misunderstood me and I got more Shawn Cassidy than Farrah Fawcett at Supercuts. I want my 10 bucks back.
One thing I’ve noticed looking back at photos is that I’m often surprised by my perception of how I looked/felt about myself and the reality of what a photo revealed to me years later. Thinking I looked cool but didn’t or that I actually looked great (photo not pictured) even though at the time I remembered thinking less of myself because I wanted to look better somehow- better body, better hair, taller, thinner, less freckles, tanner or whatever characteristic was most wanted at the time. Held against whatever invisible measuring stick we all hold ourselves to. I often say to myself, geez, what was I complaining about? I should have been more than happy to look that way. This photo doesn’t represent that sentiment exactly because I don’t ever want the Daivd Cassidy look again. But its unconsciousness reminds me of what’s real and that self-consciousness is something to let go of.
If only I could always carry such wisdom every day and not forget I am one in the same person, all through the years. Sure we grow and change…but it’s not like the geeky self was someone who hijacked my body and then was never heard from again. All the thousands of verisons of me up until now: Still me.
As I get older, I’ve learned that there is room to love the glamour self, the geek, the skinny, the average or overweight, the fashion confused or the fashion forward self because all of those identities move with me. We ought to be a little kinder to ourselves along the way. I’m talking about the silent and seemingly innocuous but negative things we say to ourselves. That little voice that wishes our image could look a little better. The same voice that got me to take my Visa photos for South East Asia a few times so that I could live with a photo that would stick in my passport for a very long time.
I think that’s why I love this Polaroid picture. Life and self is represented here as it was. An un-airbrushed slice.
To the left is one of three rotary phones we owned. To the right, my questionable choice of white sports socks with my ensemble. Above, a pastel portrait of me done in Cape Cod at age nine.
There could be no truer image of that very moment. I love that my deep sullen thoughts were caught unawares on film. I am positive I yelled at my brother for snapping this photo. I had no time to pose, think of the look I wanted to portray, or hide my socks (would I think to?), or chose a place other than my dark-paneled living room with 1960s lamp still in plastic to showcase myself. It’s hideous and wonderful. Hideous only because I’m comparing it to contemporary fashions and wonderful because I recognize myself.
Maybe this is what’s really behind a good hearty chuckle when we see photos of ourselves from different eras and say Oh my God! That’s hysterical! Maybe it’s so hysterical because we can see some true part of ourselves which is to say we see our vulnerability. So we laugh because what is there to do with something so unbearably sweet and hopeful. What else is there to do but know you’re the same person with different clothes and a new haircut.