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The Jennifer Stays In The Picture

“I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days.”

In 2012, Allison Slater Tate wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post.  The Mom Stays in the Picture tells Allison’s story of feeling less than beautiful and recoiling in horror when her young son asked her to pose with him for a picture at a family event.  The story shows an evolution in her thought processes.  A woman who once cringed at the thought of being photographed because of her supposed imperfections came to realize that, “we really need to make an effort to get in the picture.”  She correctly asserted that our children had the right to have documented proof that we were once alive, and she recalled that in looking at pictures of her own mother, she saw nothing but love and light.  No flaws.  Only beauty.  She went on to say,

“Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were.  Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives.  Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?”

This amazing article had a beautiful yet unintended consequence.  Women from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes wrote in to confess feeling very similarly about their bodies, and not wanting there to be any tangible or visual documentation indicant of the fact that they had physical imperfections.  They started taking family pictures, and shared those with the Internet community.  What began as a tiny article ballooned into a beautiful notion.  The mom gets in the picture and she stays there.

I remember reading this article when it was first published and being in awe of both Allison and the other courageous women who set aside their own insecurities, even if only for a moment, and took and shared those family photographs and selfies.  I admired their courage, and wished that I too could abandon my own hesitancies about my appearance long enough to walk along their road of courage.  In this day of instant digital imagery and selfies abounding, I found myself absolutely hating any footprint, digital or otherwise, of my appearance.  The thought of anyone seeing proof of my size was just horrifying to me,  Sure, people knew I was heavy.  That’s not a fact that’s easily masked,  But what about the people of my long ago, I wondered.  What if they saw that I was still heavy now, even heavier than I was when I was younger?  What would they think?  What about the people who knew me just before my wedding…who knew that I had lost an extraordinary amount of weight only to put almost every pound back on?  Certainly, I thought, they’d look at me with either contempt or tremendous pity.  It was only recently, just this year actually, that I started feeling a little more comfortable posing for selfies and other funny and goofy photos, but those poses always came with careful planning and sometimes, multiple re-shots to hide a double chin or my large torso or other flaws that so glaringly stood out to me.  These re-shots were sometimes tedious to those sharing the camera lens with me, and they often did not understand why I was so consumed with worry about how the photo looked or how I looked in it.

A family friend is a wonderful photographer, and for the last year, I talked with her about taking family photos and triedtriedandtried to work up the courage to do it.  It’s strange.  I don’t know what I was afraid of, yet I know it distinctly.  What if my weight made me look bad and blemished these mementos?  What if I was an embarrassment to my family by being in them?  What if we posted them online and other people saw with photographic certainty just how heavy I am?  What if, what if, what if?  For many reasons, I swallowed hard and did it.  I committed to the date, I made sure my hair looked pretty(-ish?), and I showed up at the shoot.  I did so because my daughter and her daughters and their daughters deserve proof that I was once alive.  I did so because of the extreme hypocrisy I was demonstrating for my daughter and her friends by telling them how beautiful they were and how they should believe in their own beautiful worthiness when I myself couldn’t echo the same sentiment.  Because I envy the photographic Christmas cards my friends send every year and because I’ve secretly always wanted to do one.  Because my amazing husband and wonderful friends and family tell me that I am beautiful for no reason other than to do so, and surely these people wouldn’t lie to me.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that they see something I don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that chance weighs more than any fear, any double chin, any fat roll.  So I did it.  We took photos as a family and they are beautiful.  Yes, the photos show that I am heavy, but more than that, they show that I am alive.  My face is alit in joy and love and that joy and love are so clearly illustrated in these beautiful photos.  I posted them on Facebook today, and was thrilled and overwhelmed by the love and kind comments that followed.  Thank you to all of you who sent messages and posted such wonderful comments.  Those of you who know me know that this was a huge step for me, and I am so grateful for your outpouring of support and love.  You sure know how to make a girl feel ten feet tall.  You know, I might just make this family photo thing (and sharing the photos as well) an annual thing.

My right to feel beautiful and happy in my own skin weighs more than any self-doubt I may have.  It certainly weighs more than any ugly or hateful thoughts people have or comments that they may make.

My daughter’s right to have photos of me to share with her children and great-grandchildren weighs even more.

And so, the Jennifer got in the picture.  She’s gonna stay there, too.

(images courtesy Cheryl Singers from Cheryl’s Shutter Photography)

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Comments

  1. Virginia Roccaforte Pretz says:

    Love the pictures Jennifer. Even more, I love the fact that you took the step and faced your fears.
    Not just for yourself, but for Curtis & Erin too. We all come in different shapes and sizes…I really hate being so thin and getting old and shaky with wrinkles and looking so out of date…So, I understand more than you may realize….We all want to be shapely with beautiful hair and skin etc.. Only a very few get that way naturally and good for them…. Our families and friends that love us don’t really care about all of that superficial beauty. They love us because of who we are and how we treat others. For what is inside of our hearts,,,not inside of our closets or make up bags. You and I??? We are very blessed. We have many friends that love us and respect us for who we are and not just because we are glamorous or rich or have something they want from us. I am so happy that you came out of this shell and presented that beautiful face with the beautiful smile shining from your heart for everyone to see…. You are awesome and THAT is why I love and admire you so much!!! <3

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