Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Whole Roll of Film

The self portrait.
Tricky business.
Technically, not an easy shot... at least not without a tripod.
Tripod? The tripod is the least of my challenges. I need a make-up artist and a stylist, and imagine the wonders Photo-shop could do. Let's leave Botox and Clairol out of the equation, and you can still see my point: Self portraits are tricky. Emotionally, technically, self-esteemedly tricky.

Many bloggers challenge themselves to explore who they are and how they present themselves to the world, by facing the camera and *click* posting that straight out of camera shot. SOOC It's an experiment in self acceptance. Other bloggers adhere to a strictly cropped version of themselves... shoulders down, hands only, in the distance, from the side... anonymous, shy, discreet, subtle. Some bloggers post severe criticisms of their faces, the lines, the spots, the colors, the too much here and not enough there... derisions we are probably all guilty of making when we stare too long. And if you have not learned about Photoshop and other editing tools and what they can alter, enhance, diminish, replace, smooth, soften, slim, inflate, whiten and brighten... then you are missing a fascinating web of lies and deceits... it's sad or scary or weird how we can be manipulated, how our ideas about beauty can be twisted.

Whoa... I just took a Youtube-Photoshop journey that steered my thoughts way off course!

Where was I? Oh, yes. I saw Pioneer Woman's post about "What Women Do" and her own experiment with her self portrait. She has a healthy sense of humor, and it's not easy to tell where her joking ends and her actual self image is showing. I can't think of a woman I have ever met that didn't know her "flaws," that didn't have a mental list of fixes she wished for. Maybe that's even healthy to an extent... sort of. Hmmm... must ponder. When does our self criticism go too far? At what point are we being unkind or simply unrealistic? I think it gets harder to appreciate our physical beauty, our real selves,when the media is saturating our views with fabrications and glossed over interpretations of beauty. It creates something of an avalanche too... If I lament my appearance, either verbally or by neglect, then what am I saying to my daughter about me and my looks, my size, my pretty quotient and hers? How much of my self-worth is dependent on the image I can project? What truth or value is there in thinking our eyes are not blue enough, our noses not slim enough, our abdomens not firm enough, our skin not smooth enough, when many of the images we compare ourselves with, or just frequently see, are created by airbrush artists and less ideal visionaries.

Yeah, so I thought about all that stuff as I steadied the camera and pointed it at my face. I thought about the uneven texture of my skin and my crowded teeth, the grey hairs. I was really disappointed to see that the lower humidity made my sassy do less sassy... I liked it better on the rainy days, when it kind of curled a bit. I thought about how to smile and how to not smile too much. I am vain. And I am insecure. And I am hoping that I can grow old gracefully, but I still half kinda whole heartedly wish I could see a beautiful me... a cover shot, with the right light and some subtle airbrushing, an hour with a make-up specialist and someone who knows which glasses will make me look smart and sexy. Of course all of that is a secret, and not something that I would admit out-loud. It's not what I put in my profile, you know.

I also thought about my friend Anne and her "Low Maintenance Photo." She looks like my friend. Like that smart and lovely woman I know, with the gorgeous blue eyes and... and she's pretty. I know her. I don't want to take it apart and examen the photograph like a Cosmo editor... I just want to hear her laugh and go on a hike with her and reflect on all the good and wonderful things she does. Her portrait is like a window, a small view of a bigger picture and it is beautiful.

We cannot all of us be iconic, or maybe we can have fun trying. Around here there are way too many people that can't possibly be having fun trying... trying for an iconic look of beauty, or youth. Around here Youth = Beauty. I see the taut, stretched, lifted faces, the over polished brows and detail obsessed clients all over our fair city, and it's sad and kind of creepy. Yeah, creepy. They don't look like unique beings... they look like a subset of our species all bearing the same appearance of someone that traded experience and character for a worked on mask ... I say this sympathetically. I find it curious, and wonder if I will feel the tug to try and reverse time and life.

I cannot deny that beauty is amazing. It has a kind of power and undeniable allure. Beauty makes us catch our breath, draws us closer. I say this, and then I get sad again, thinking of the generation of people growing up with a steady diet of magazines, ads, Internet, CG, and manufactured beauty that is increasingly served universally, and too a younger and younger audience. I'm not going to Google the statistics or find the articles, but they are out there... mounting evidence that boob jobs, and other nips and tucks are increasingly popular with children, very young adults. What a tragedy that children believe they are not beautiful, that beauty requires certain shapes and sizes, that there isn't time to develop inner beauty and lasting qualities that will exude beauty over a life time.

Anyone looking for magazine-supermodel-Internet beauty in my face, can look elsewhere.

There's a joke that goes like this:

I would do anything to look like that.
Except diet and exercise.

I used to think it was funnier when I was younger, slimmer, fitter. It's less funny because I see the truth of it. An airbrush and push-up bra could go a long way to giving me a great self-portrait, but I would still walk away as Me. I think a good self portrait has to tell some truth. I am older and rounder. I have less of this and more of that, and it all reflects where I've been and it's sticking with me, unless I change Me not the pixels on the screen.

I wanted to see the back of my haircut. It feels a bit too short. I never like to have my hair layered, because even when I like my short cut, invariably I will fall back on my fantasy of being like Dorothy Lamour or Salma Hayek. Sigh. I told Daniel he had artistic license . Is it too short in the back? How long before I can pull it in to a braid again?

Oh yeah. It's kind of short. I mean the length is okay, but he layered it, so their are choppy bits near the crown. I still like it, but it's a long way from the fantasy.

I remembered to put on lipstick. I have a favorite tube of L'oreal, and I think it makes a nice difference. I look less parched when I wear Makes Me Blush 250. I forgot earrings. My mom reminds me that earrings are a great asset when sporting a short do, and I agree they are fun to wear now that they show.

I own make-up. I bought it in October? Pretty sure it was October. I keep meaning to go back to the store to ask them about the small container of Medium Beige and how to make my eyes look dreamy, but not actually asleep. Probably for a good self portrait it would be worthwhile and not too phony to wear make-up. I worry about looking made-up or over done. I feel uncertain about what looks right on me. I should wear make-up for a nice portrait.

How do you keep from feeling goofy, then self important, then embarrassed?
How do you feel good about yourself without obsessing about yourself?

Uh. Could we lose the sleeping bag?
Okay. So a self portrait can reveal things about yourself that you may not even realize... things like setting and camera angle and crap articles in the background... these elements tell part of the story, part of the this is Me of the portrait.

This is Me. I kicked the sleeping bag in to the hall. (Remind me to tell Max to put it away when he gets home.) And I thought this cleaned up setting would be more flattering, but the raised arms are not working for me, and... ? Geez. Are those Christmas ornament boxes under my right pit? Yes. I was so proud of myself for carefully and efficiently packing Christmas this year, that my swollen head caused me to completely overlook the job of putting those packed boxes in the garage.

This is embarrassing.
But why? Consider how often we close our eyes... to blink, to sneeze, to sleep, so why does it look so weird, so bad.
Plus, I can still see that sleeping bag.
So embarrassing.
Did I say something about "honesty, telling the truth in a portrait?"
That's not all together true.
I look bad in many photographs and I would never post a bad picture of myself or anyone else. No blinkers, no mouth-full and talking, no muffin tops, bad colds, rashes, bad hair days... none of that.
Except to make a point. Now look away. I feel ugly.

Thank goodness for digital. This experiment would have taken a whole roll of film, and I would have thought it was a waste. I would have been disappointed that I didn't get the focus sharp enough, and because I wasn't wearing earrings and never bothered to set up a tripod or a stack of books, didn't use the self timer. Maybe the mirror was the difficult part... I didn't even think of that. It shouldn't be so new, so unfamiliar, but sometimes I really feel as though I am still getting to know myself.

Work in progress... in the middle of my journey... looking for answers... asking questions, and taking pictures along the way.

Meow. Look as long as you want. I am beautiful. SOOC.


Tiglizzyclone said...

Since getting a digital camera several years back I have been trying to take pictures of myself. Some of them are awful, some aren't too bad. Self photos are educational. I especially like the photo where you have you hand over your eyes.

Laura Jane said...

Hey sweetie, what an interesting exercise.

First of all - I love the new do, that colour looks GREAT on you, and the white mirror surrounds makes you look like Snow White - in a good way.

Some interesting photos. It is HARD to get a photo that looks like the self we sometimes glimspse in the mirror, yet one feels vain trying to find it to share - using a whole roll of film.

Thankyou Mr Digital!

Tracy said...

LOVE your new shorter 'do, Natalie! And an exercise in self-portrait is very interesting. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to show all such attempts at my hat off to you! You make everything seem such fun...even the "seriousness" of self-portraiture. :o) ((HUGS))

warren said...

I love self-portraits...they are so real. I don't care for airbrushed stuff. Like you said, it's fake. You look like you had fun taking them...that's better than any fake, made-up picture any day!

Mama Spark said...

You are soooo beautiful, Natalie! I love all the faces of Natalie. I like the hair short, I liked it long. You are simply Natalie to me. My friend. I saw each of your children in your different faces and then just yours. Neat!

judy in ky said...

Natalie, I think your self-portrait experiment was a complete success. Wonderful variety of expressions. I know what you mean about so many "clones" these days, all looking cut from the same mold. You must see a lot of those in Southern California. All thin, all with plumped-up lips, shaped eyebrows, humongous breasts, and too much makeup.

People seem to be like that with their houses these days, too. All kitchens have to have "granite countertops" and "stainless steel appliances", "master suites" with huge walk-in closets, and bathrooms with ceramic tile, marble, and a jacuzzi tub. (If you watch HGTV you hear couples recite the same specs every time! Boring! I actually like someone better if I walk in their kitchen and see good old white appliances. At least they can think for themselves!

I like to see people who look like themselves, too... we have a lot of those in Kentucky. Maybe I will go out and find some examples and ask to take their photo. At least most people here look like real people!

Anna Banana said...

Wow, what a post! Deep thoughts. Thank you.

Em said...

You are beautiful, and I love it when you smile!

Katie said...

This was a fun post to read. Being the one always behind the camera, it's hard to jump in front of it and be exposed.

Tami @ Lemon Tree Tales said...

Lovely photos Natalie! Ah yes, the plastics of soCal ... something that I do NOT miss from there. It's interesting how an area that's home to so many creative people also is obsessed with Ponce de Leon. :-)

Oh, I have white kitchen appliances. They looked fresher than stainless steel.

d.a. said...

I can definitely see your childrens faces reflecting from your own. Mirrors and photos... gah. The Mac laptop I use has a camera built in. It defaults taking pictures in "mirror mode" (as if you took a pic in a mirror), or it will flip the photo so it reflects how others would normally see you. The difference is startling... "this is how people see my face?".

If you ever try something like that, I hope you post about it...

Anonymous said...

When did you cut your hair "mija"?You look great!