You know that saying about a picture being worth 1,000 words? This is especially true when the picture is you looking like crap and the 1,000 words are your friends telling you how cute you are in real life.
We've all been there -- I'm sure since the advent of photography, olde-timey people have been getting the self-esteem smackdown of realizing they aint as cute as they thought they were. But it's WAY worse nowadays, as everybody has a camera and so many wield them IRRESPONSIBLY by snapping "cute, candid" shots of you from weird angles while you are slouching/talking/stuffing food in your mouth.
The bad photo that takes your self-esteem from 60 to 0 in a half-second is such a reliable phenomenon that I really think we need some kind of cute pop cultural lexicon for it -- I know "photobomb" already means something, but isn't that really what we're dealing with here? An aggressively bad photo is like a grenade lobbed straight at your self esteem.
I saw it happen to a woman right in front of me once and it was just as devastating from the outside. "I'm very overweight," she murmured quietly, sadly, as a group shot was passed her way. I saw a light in her eyes go out, I swear to God. It haunts me to this day.
The thing is, I saw my own photo bomb coming. When my (well-meaning, I love you, I'm sorry) family member first chirped that we should take a picture together, I'd tried to demur.
"I haven't showered or brushed my hair or put on makeup or anything," I protested.
"Me neither, you look fine!" she insisted.
So I dutifully daughtered my way into formation and fixed a smile on my face despite knowing even as the camera flashed that this picture was definitely coming back to devastate me some day.
Sure enough, this particular photo bomb arrived tucked into a packet of pics said family member sweetly sent along to me. I LOVE YOU FAMILY MEMBER AND YOUR SWEET PACKAGE AND I'M SORRY I'M WRITING A WHOLE ARTICLE THROWING YOU UNDER THE BUS BUT PLEASE NEVER SEND ME A PHOTO THAT LOOKS LIKE THAT AGAIN.
Corynne was actually talking to me about something when I started flipping through the photos, but I just immediately stopped listening or caring about anything besides the extremely superficial drama happening inside my own head.
OH MY GOD IT'S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT, my brain shouted. I LOOK LIKE A MONSTER. NO, WORSE THAN A MONSTER, A CREATURE. WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
I immediately swore off sex.
I have no business having sex looking like this, I thought to myself. I really have no business leaving the house looking like this, but as I have to make a living, the least I can do is keep my clothes on. Then I went to the gym. Like, right then -- I got up from my desk and walked straight to the treadmill. It was either that or sit there and hate myself all afternoon.
At least the girls around the office had the decency to tell me I look nothing like that picture. Nothing adds insult to injury more than when you say "Oh my god, this is a HORRIBLE picture of me," only to have a "helpful" bystander say something like "What do you mean? It looks cute!" BECAUSE THAT MEANS YOU ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE THAT IN THE REAL WORLD.
And honestly, at least I knew I looked busted. We were camping, for god's sake! The worst is when you FELT fine as hell when the photograph was taken -- suddenly your remembered self-esteem is mocking you. It's the tinge of disgust you feel when viewing awkward junior high photos in your favorite-at-the-time dumb outfit you remember LOVING more than the latest TGIF sitcom lineup. Except at least you feel sympathy for that person.
But as much as a bad photo can devastate you, it can also motivate you.
I can make a lot of semi-valid excuses about that photograph -- it's a bad angle, my stomach is jutting forward to support the weight of my son in my arms, the light is bad, the dress is unflattering, we were CAMPING FOR GOD'S SAKE. But the truth is that as much as I value and continue to work on self-acceptance, I've also dropped a lot of the self-care that contributes to feeling good about myself in the past year-and-a-half since becoming a mom.
I don't eat well, I scarf my son's half-finished meals simply because they're there, I don't exercise regularly, I make fewer recovery meetings and my meditation practice has gone to hell. And all of that led up to me being confronted with a physical appearance that I'm deeply unhappy with.
I'm privileged to do more for myself than most moms I know -- I devote a lot of time and brain power to my career, I dress well and spend money on nice haircuts and makeup. But moving forward, I'm going to reallocate some of the resources I've been devoting to decorating my body to my physical health, and the way my body actually feels and looks.
I went to the gym the day I saw this photo, and again the day after. Then, on Sunday, instead of walking to my recovery meeting, I decided to jog the mile there and back. Tonight, instead of going to the industry event I RSVPed to, I'm going to use that hour of free time to take a SPIN class. Because SPIN class makes me feel great emotionally, gives me more energy and yes, contributes to an appearance that doesn't make me want to GOUGE MY EYES OUT OF THEIR SOCKETS.
Have you been photobombed in this sense of the word? Did it motivate you toward positive change or just make you want to die? Do you even look at the other people in a group shot or just zero in on yourself and declare it a "good" or "bad" picture?