On being in The Boston Globe, getting photographed, and self-perception.

By | January 12, 2010

Look kids, I’m in the venerable Boston Globe! I was interviewed for the article in question over a couple of weeks back in November and December, though at the time I had no idea it was going to be printed by such a conspicuous institution. I first read the above (and wrote 99% of this post) at 4AM this morning. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it—I totally, totally was. Of course, upon seeing the online version of the article, the first thought that broke through my brain was damn Lesley, why didn’t you wear a less wrinkle-prone dress? Fortunately, the photo they chose for the front of the section—OH YES, there is a GIANT picture of me in mid-guffaw on the front cover of the G section—is less a wrinkle-showcase and actually looks surprisingly like me in real life, plus it should please those of you who scold me about not smiling in pictures enough.

[As an aside: I’m not reading the comments over there, because, frankly, I’ve read the comments on Boston.com before and am pretty sure I know what to expect. If the ensuing conversation holds to the usual levels of wackness, it will include, but not be limited to: some people passionately wishing me ill by some fat-related doom; some people passively-but-ominously observing that while they don’t actively wish me fat-related doom, fat-related doom is coming for me nonetheless; some people wondering how the Globe can possibly justify publishing anything not on the subject of unemployment, the economy, and/or local sports right now in These Troubled Times, and bemoaning this evidence of irresponsible journalism; and some people exasperatedly opining that if SOME people can’t handle a little snow during a New England winter, then SOME people should move south and shut the hell up about it. If you have the sanity watchers points to spare and care to engage, I wish you Godspeed, with a warning, to borrow from local hero Barney Frank, that it may be more productive to argue with a dining-room table. Should you persist, you are a stronger person than I.]

Of this experience so far, the most illuminating aspect was being professionally photographed. Now, over the years, I’ve been photographed, often in costume or a great deal of makeup, by many photography-student friends in need of a friendly and patient model, but this is the first professional photo experience I’ve had, assuming childhood pictures slumped over a fake plastic log at Olan Mills don’t count. The photographing involved just over an hour of standing, leaning, dancing, reclining bemusedly on an antique sideboard (sort of bummed these pictures have not come to light, as I suspect they are HILARIOUS), and twirling. It was strangely exhausting, enough that I may have to back up off my usual high levels of Top Model snark and acknowledge that being so acutely aware of every part of one’s body AND at the same time remembering to smile (with your eyes) and not look like you’re concentrating on being so acutely aware of every part of your body… well, it’s hard, kids. I was surprised by the difficulty. Models, I salute you, and I am grateful I will never be one of you.

While the shoot itself was great fun (heaven knows I love me some twirling), the anxiety I felt between the end of the photo session and the printing of the article was something I’ve not felt in a long time, mostly because this represented my handing control of my representation to someone else. It was sobering. I’ve talked about the power of photography to influence our perception of ourselves before, and the anxiety took the form of wondering, “What if I don’t recognize the woman in those pictures?” It’s been years since I’ve looked at a picture of myself and given a mortified shiver at the prospect—”Do I REALLY look like that?” I already know that I look like that, and am untroubled by it. Moreso, I don’t expect everyone to agree with regards to how I look —- fuck, y’all, we live in a culture in which folks can’t even come to a broad consensus on whether Angelina Jolie is hot or unappealing, and we have millions of public photos to use for reference in our endeavors to make that determination. The wonder of self-acceptance isn’t that it makes you instantly attractive to everyone; it’s that it makes you not particularly care whether other folks uniformly find you attractive or not. Too often any kind of fat-positive talk is inaccurately distilled into the idea that fat people just want other folks to find them pretty. In my case, I am far less invested in being seen as attractive than I am in being seen as interesting. I will take interesting over bland broad appeal any day of the week. And yet, the publicness of this whole thing was so unfamiliar, and still is. It was me challenging myself to be personally and individually vulnerable, and to be able to live through it, and even more, to thrive on it.

The truth is that the image of ourselves most of us carry around in our heads rarely matches the image we’re projecting in reality. This becomes a problem when we allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in trying to be our fantasy selves that it turns into paralysis. During the shoot, I really didn’t care about how I looked; it was only [over]thinking it later that I began to worry, that I began to wonder if I should have held back more, been more restrained. Second-guessing myself. This is pretty preposterous. Why put on a persona that isn’t me? Why pretend to be the freshly-pressed and perfectly-coiffed person I ain’t? The only way to fight the fear of being seen is to learn to accept yourself as others see you; instead of trying to change your outside to match the fantasy in your head, I’d suggest you change the image if yourself in your head to more accurately reflect the person you are.

Personally, I find that twirling with reckless abandon is an excellent antidote for an overabundance of self-restraint.

ETA: To head off any folks coming over from the Globe who want to ream me for having a fat cat, allow me to clarify. We adopted Rufus in November, at which time he weighed 26 pounds. He and his sister had been dumped outside the shelter, and were clearly neglected, as Rufus was so covered in mats he needed to be shaved. Having fed him an appropriate diet at an appropriate rate, he’s since lost three pounds. I’ll love this cat no matter what he weighs, but I wanted to clarify that Rufus’ fatassery is not due to my efforts, but rather was well in place when we adopted him. More info on Rufus is here. Thanks, loves.

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