Friday, February 13, 2009

What You Said
Happy 1234567890 Day!

The Roll of Film digital portrait post was an experiment to explore self portraits and how I feel about seeing my own face/body and to look in to some of the issues that entwine themselves with this subject. Scientific experiments start with a hypothesis, and I did not, and I am kind of glad about that, because I realize my experiment is really more of a conversation, an explore, and I am really enjoying the dialogue that is warming up. Please read the comments.

First of all, thank you. Thank you for commenting and thank you for saying nice things about how I look. Blush.

The compliments feel good, and I also got to think about something new... I brought up the subject of "beauty," and now I am wondering about other qualities that appear in portraits... things like, intelligence, wisdom, maturity, grace, gentleness, relaxed, comfortable, strong, innocent, athletic, old, funny, creative, demure, artistic, serious. How many of these things might appear in a person's portrait, and how many of them can be construed as flattering remarks to make about a person? I am thinking about the adage that if you say "She is smart," then by omission, you are saying "She is not pretty." Maybe it goes back to my concern that we are witnessing such tremendous filtering of the qualities of physical beauty, that like in refined food, we have lost all other substance and quality. Sugar is sweet, but how far will it take you? Beauty is wonderful, but why have we diminished the value of age, experience, intelligence, strength, humor, and those elusive things we call character?

To be kind, to be sensitive, there is an instinctive compulsion to say something nice about prettiness (and I am trying to be tactful and delicate as I talk about this, because I don't want anyone to take offense about Me or You being insincere.) It's interesting that if people looked at a picture of me and said smart, rested, happy, shy, kind, gentle, humorous... I probably would hope to hear just 1 more remark about my looks. Even though "smart, rested, happy, shy, kind, gentle, humorous" are all great or interesting qualities, I would still crave that little ego massage that comes with a 'pretty, gorgeous, beautiful,' kind of compliment and I would even fretfully assume I must be unpretty if no one said "pretty." What is up with that? Is it because I am insecure, or co-dependent? Is it because I am conditioned to believe that an omission is an indirect statement? And here is what really concerns me: Is it hard to omit "pretty," because we do not appreciate, value all those other qualities?

I don't have answers.

I have an anecdote...

Our family was together in a waiting room, as were other families with children. Another boy, about 7 or 8 years old, was talking to my boys, and that boy's mother and her friend/sister were nearby. So, the little boy asked Max and Alex the usual kinds of questions about age and schools and favorite toys, and he kept glancing at Geoff, my husband.
After a bit, the boy asked Max, "Hey, is he your dad?"
Max turned to Geoff, his dad, and answered the boy, "Yeah, he's my dad."
The boy dropped his jaw a bit and said, "Whoa. How old is your dad?"
Geoff was 39 at the time.
The boy looked surprised, and he said, "Man, your dad's only 39? My dad is old. My dad's 65."
At this point the boy's mother turned on her heels and in a tone of admonishment, slightly embarrassed, said, "Your dad is not old. He is not old." She moved swiftly and with a fervor that was lioness, to defend this man's honor. As though the 65 year old father had been maligned and reproached, publicly disgraced, she stood to restore his dignity and youth.
Touchy subject, I thought. The lady doth protest a bit much, yeah? I mean, where is the insult in recognizing that 65 is old? It is certainly older than 39 or even 50. Old does not mean at death's door or decrepit, right? Her son's description did not leave me picturing his father on a feeding tube, in a rocking chair, mumbling about the Civil War. I thought it was a sad example of how we allow our words and beliefs to diminish worthwhile traits and characteristics. She could have said so much more by emphasizing the man's virility, his intellect or career, his good health or even good looks, but what was the point or truth in insisting that her 65 year old husband is young?
Why don't we appreciate Old? More to think about.

I love how every conversation can have many angles and approaches. Judy, in Kentucky, brought up the decorator phenomenon and all those granite countertops! I totally agree, just like the look alike faces of cosmetic surgery, people seem to have surrendered personal taste for the HGTV-master-suite themes that are so common and expected, they have become positively dull. Houses and people should look like themselves.

And ourselves look so good when they project a Whole person, whether we are old or innocent, brainy or athletic, brainy and athletic, tired, funny, eager, reserved, pretty, strange, unique, encumbered, struggling, liberated, confused, in progress. I wish I had more time to say more and really put my thoughts in order, so that I can be certain I am saying what I mean and meaning what I say, instead of just clucking around, scratching the surface, like a hen. And I hope You have more to say, more to share, because it's the exchange and discourse that make this enjoyable, which is why I was so happy to find Peacebang's thoughts about portraits and self image.

The images I am sharing in today's post are a mix from way back and from recent days. They are another kind of portrait of me.


judy in ky said...

Wow, Natalie, you are giving us a lot to think about here. Regarding your series of self-portraits: if we saw a single, posed photo we would say "she looks pretty". With the series of photos, however, there is so much more to say because you show so many sides of yourself through different facial expressions. They convey so much about who you are: playful, funny, etc. Also, the things in the background (sleeping bag, boxes of ornaments, etc.) convey even more; about having family life, celebrating Churistmas, etc. In a similar way, your mix of photos today tells us who you are without even showing your face. (Is this making any sense? I hope so.)

The "old" thing, the "age" thing bothers me too. In our society where we place so much emphasis on superficial, external appearances, there is a tendency to overlook older people, just seeing them as "old" rather than individuals with unique qualities. And that's a shame. I could go on and on about how much we value the "style" rather than the "substance" of people in our society, but this is already long enough!

tara said...

I left you a very, I'm sure, witty and complimentary comment in you last post but it didnt show up. Anyway, you are pretty. You are just going to have to accept that.
I understand though. I struggle with similar issues. I am smart and funny but pretty? Why cant we think that about ourselves?
I just turned 37 and love it. I am happier and, thankfully, better looking now than at any age.
I might have to revisit the self portrait thing.

Natalie said...

You make great sense Judy. And thank you for continuing along with my deep thoughts and other musings, sharing your own insights.
I really feel like the whole subject is important, yet elusive and mysterious and a lot of fun to discuss and unravel.
The sad thing is, that boy didn't seem to attach any negative assumptions about the age differences... it almost sounded like an awareness
that dads can come in different ages (sizes, colors, models.) I wonder if his mom didn't make him wonder what was wrong with "old?

Thank you for your comment Tara.
Another pitfall of posting your self portrait, is the possibility that
people will think you are hoping they will say "You are ______"
I cannot deny that it feels nice to hear compliments, but I feel
surprisingly detached from hoping for praise. I think it has been interesting
to try and understand all of the messages, overt, hidden, subtle, inferred etc
about ourselves as "faces" and "bodies." And curse my server for losing your
witty comment! What a happy birthday when you can feel so good about You.

Jennifer said...

I'm off on a whole series of different ideas and reactions -- what an amazing couple of posts here. I do think where you live has a huge impact on perceptions and ideals of beauty; New Englanders are just ruthlessly practical and straightforward -- I don't feel out of place without makeup and wearing the same clothes I've been wearing for 10+ years, wearing the stupid looking but warm hat, all that stuff. You are beautiful when you know that the moment you wake up in the morning and not after an hour of working at it. And you are beautiful.