When did we stop saying “cheese?”
I stood outside the restaurant in downtown Annapolis wearing my cute black tank top and new high-waisted skinny jeans with my favorite wedges. My five girlfriends, dressed head-to-toe in similar fashion, and I laughed together as we reminisced over funny college memories. My step-sister, the bachelorette of the weekend, suggested we take a photo to capture the moment as it would undoubtedly become one of those funny memories we would reminisce about ten years down the road. We asked a friendly face walking by if she would take the picture for us. “1,2,3!” she counted out loud giving us time to strike our desired poses.
1…I turn slightly in toward the group, bending my left knee diagonally to cover up my right leg that I fear looks fat in photos.
2….I tilt my head to the left so my loose curls fall over my shoulder, making my hair appear even longer than it is.
3…I begin to smile, but not too big as that will make my eyes look squinty, yet not too small as that will look unnatural. I think back to photos where my smile looks just right and try to recreate that look here.
“Say cheese!” the kind stranger snapping the photos says. None of us do.
In the week following the bachelorette weekend, I scrolled through the photos saved on my phone. As I looked back on almost every photo, I had a disturbing realization. We had taken so many pictures of the same moment in desperate need to get the perfect shot – you know that photo where every person feels they look beautiful, not too fat or too curvy, not too awkward or too silly. I began to wonder, when did the desire for perfection become more important to us than simply capturing a happy moment?
It seems that almost everywhere we look these days – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – we are bombarded with far more perfect images than realistic ones. When I make a smoothie, for example, it looks, well… like I blended up spinach, blueberries, almond milk, and almond butter which is precisely what I did. But when some of my friends make smoothies and post photos of their creations on social media, it looks like a bunch of fairies flew into their kitchen and sprinkled magic dust onto their concoction leaving me, the viewer, salivating asking two particular questions: what am I doing wrong and does Trader Joe's sell this magic dust in bulk?
Now I realize that some people are food bloggers or wellness coaches and so part of their job is to promote their business by posting photos that captivate their online audience. But it’s not just these entrepreneurs who post perfectly filtered images; so many of us have bought into this idea that if our photos of sunsets, girls’ nights out, smoothies or even working out aren’t pretty enough then they don’t deserve to be saved or shared. Yet I don’t think this reflects how we truly feel. Rather it is a byproduct of a world telling us that perfection has worth and imperfection simply does not.
So, let’s ask ourselves, what makes a sunset so beautiful? What makes a smoothie so delicious? What makes a night out with friends so enjoyable? For me, a sunset is reminder of how small I am in this wondrous world that we live in, but regardless of my smallness, I get to be a witness of so much natural beauty here. A smoothie is delicious because it’s a recipe full of my favorite things: fruit, almond butter, and a large scoop of nourishment and self-care. A night out with friends is full of laughter, dancing, and celebration of connectivity. It is in these moments that I find joy, gratitude, and peace. And honestly, those gifts are hard to capture in a photo.
Perhaps the intention behind having a picture taken shouldn’t always be about looking good while doing something enjoyable or fun or new so we can then share that filtered image with others; perhaps instead taking a picture can be far simpler. It can be about capturing a moment where we felt glad to be alive - curvy legs, wild hair, squinty eyes and all.