I took a lovely selfie on the weekend. I’d just had a make-up tutorial, and was looking (and feeling) awesome. I rarely take pretty photos – I’m just not built that way or so inclined. But the pretty opportunity present, so I took the pic, and entered into the philosophical question of our year – whether to put it on social media or not.
It made me think of earlier in the year, when I was scrolling through Instagram, being delighted and amused and in sympathy will my friends who are living all over the world. I saw summer sunsets, children, clouds, messes and weddings and dogs and the carbs of my dreams… but not a lot of my friends. (Feet and shoes not counted). Back then, I took a picture of myself, did no filtering or magic with it – just posted it with this note:
I rarely take photos of myself, but I’d love to see all your faces today so advance reciprocity it is! I love Insta for the glimpses it gives me to what you’re looking at, but frankly I love you! So, take a pic of you for me? Luvies, me. #friendsareawesomesauce #prettyplease #luviessmoochesetc
Then, over the course of a couple of days, I got to see my friends! I got side eyes and bed hair, diva poses and action shots, blurred edges, winged eyeliner and deliberately hilarious angles. I also got oh-i-never-get-my-photo-takens, and you-don’t-want-to-see-me-right-nows and so-good-to-see-you-its-been-too-longs! I was tagged in some photos with “As promised!” and “Just for you!” I had a couple of pics shyly tiptoe into my messages, my email, for my eyes only and not for the social media world’s stare. Every single picture I saw of my friends – wherever in the world and whenever they took it – made me grin, and I went back over the pics again and again looking for the clues, the subtleties that told me of how my friend was doing, feeling, going at that particular random everyday moment. My friends, their faces and worries and hearts and choices all visible on my screen, a moment from a world away.
I have a box of everyday and momentous moments, filled with photographs spanning decades. I’d gone through three boxes of photos a while before my selfie request, thinning out the herd of sleeping baby shots, tracing the evolving jawline and hair of my sons, seeing family members in some and vanishing in others, never to be seen again. Multi-generational shots, posed shots, running out of frame shots, friends and family shot in the wild of the moment and stuck to glossy paper – pictures and events I’d forgotten about, but that flooded back just by looking.
I’m not in many of those photos. When I was in my late teens I was busy, awkward, and the photos were rare. When I had kids, I was the one behind the camera, focusing on the people I loved through the lens, hoping at least one of the shots would be okay once the film was developed. Going through the boxes was bitter-ashes chilli-sweet – so much history, chaos and glorious everyday breaths that I could remember but not see myself in. “I was there,” I tell my boys “I was there, looking at the most important people in my life.”
I take more photos of myself now, though usually it’s with my sons in the same shot. I want there to be proof, visible and tangible beyond a .jpg file that I was present in my sons’ lives, to see my smile copied in glorious variations besides my friends’, to show that I was not – that I AM not – ashamed to be alive and present and willing to mug terribly for the camera when the opportunity presents. I don’t take selfies often. I did on the weekend, capturing a moment when I was both wearing makeup and when my mascara wasn’t abseiling down my face. I posted it on Instagram, shared it to Facebook, as a reminder and statement and nice picture. But then, as much as I liked the first selfie, I took a shot of my usual goofy scrunched grin, laugh lines carved deep and slant into my face.
It’s not a serene shot, but it’s definitely me – the squidgy messy real life me that people I love recognise. It’s the me I recognise. It’s my profile picture too, until I share something else important to my here and now. I still don’t like my photo to be taken, but I’ll get over myself. Get over myself to take a family picture at Christmas time, multiple times to try and get us all with our eyes open at once. Get over myself and my curves to have my son take a shot of me running into or out of the ocean, get over myself enough to be on both sides of the camera, to be present now and in the future.