Monday, November 21, 2011

Before and After Photos

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.  ~Dorothea Lange

When I got home from work last week, a stack of photos sat on the kitchen counter. It’s funny to see real photos now since all images now generally live on our computers and phones. The pictures came from the marathon Marc and I ran in Sept. While that wasn’t the most pleasant race, if there was one part of the it I felt energized it was the finish. Despite the near-death experience, when I felt the finish line near I got that burst of energy. I “finished strong” or so I thought. You see, my father in law bought a disposable camera and snapped a few action shots of each of us finishing. So now I have evidence that there wasn’t even one salvageable moment on that marathon day.

If a picture were worth a thousand words the first five of those words for these photos would be would be ungraceful, pained, awkward, squat and disheveled. I’ve talked about race photos before and I'm not being harsh. Most people dislike race photos. I honestly can’t believe there are companies (ahem Brightroom) that try to profit from the sale of these images.  I think it would be good for my business to advertise on their website. “This is how you really look, not to worry there’s help out there, who ya gonna call Foodtrainers.” It’s just ironic that you train and presumably get in shape for these races…apparently not, at least not according to these images. At least mug shots are only from the shoulders up.

Later that night,  my 7 year old had a homework assignment. He was to find a picture from when he was a year old and write about it. Does the teacher expect him to recall events at 18 months? And if not who does she think is doing this “writing”? Regardless, we sat at the computer and pulled up Picasa. W. clicked on Puerto Rico pictures. As he scanned through photos, I remembered the boys at 1 and 3 wearing water wings and chasing lizards. As I reminisced a photo pops of the boys and me at the edge of the ocean. They’re jumping over the waves and I’m watching. My back is to the camera so basically you see my butt and thighs. I zeroed in ready to pick myself apart and realized something. If this were someone else’s’ body parts I would’ve thought they looked fine. Pale and pasty but passable.  I smiled as we moved on to other photos.

I am not sure if the camera adds 10 pounds, Slate.com explains “distortions will be introduced any time you try to project a three-dimensional object onto the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. (Just compare globes with maps, which always make things look a little funny.)”  With race photos so universally hated I tend to think there's something up. However, sometimes looking back I feel I looked better than I remember. It’s the same thing as clients telling me in retrospect they “weren’t really overweight”. It’s a pity we can’t appreciate it more in the moment. They say pictures don't like but maybe they do or maybe we lie to ourselves. Hard to tell.
When you look back at photos, do you criticize yourself or think you looked well? What are your favorite pictures of yourself? Why do you think it’s often hard to appreciate our bodies or looks in the moment? And how gross are race photos?

28 comments:

  1. Agreed! Do you think because they're action photos/the lens used?

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  2. I do tend to criticize myself in photos...
    It is nice that I can delete the photos I don't like before I print them now... whereas (back in the dark ages) with film it was a take it or leave it situation.

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  3. Race photos should be banned :) I don't think I've ever seen one I would willingly share, let alone purchase.

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  4. Great outlook - weird assignment. haha I love looking back at old photos - I'm a sap.

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  5. Tiff- assignment has them do a photo from each year and write about it, just makes more sense when it's a year they can recall. Do you like photos of yourself?

    Jen- in all the years of running only 1 race I liked photos from a) was a great experience so I don't mind the images as much but also they were head on and I think better than from the side, my theory.

    Lisa- all about that delete button though sometimes I think we remember how we feel vrs how we looked and some I may have deleted (hello tush photo) I don't mind now. Also, don't you think as a mom you can hate yourself in a photo and adore the kids.

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  6. I am so over-critical of myself in photos -- and never see flaws in anyone else. I usually just hope that everyone else just sees me and not my flaws in photos and try to forget about it -- but it's hard sometimes! I was struggling with some unexplained strange weight gain during the time of my wedding -- before I found ayurveda and no diet that I tried was working -- and sometimes it makes me want to get married again to my husband so that I can feel "okay" with the wedding photographs! Then I feel horrible for thinking that and see the photos as a celebration of the love we committed to that day. Maybe those marathon photos can just be testament to the accomplishment of finishing the marathon, no matter how you looked.

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  7. I feel like there's a certain amount of pressure for women to criticize photos of themselves. While I'm sure there are plenty of women who aren't compelled to zero in on flaws, I really can't think of anyone I know who sees a photo of herself and says, "Wow, I look amazing there!"

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  8. I generally don't like photos of myself. At all. I've never posted a full-length photo of myself, and even face-only photos are carefully chosen. Honestly? I wish I didn't care so much.

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  9. I criticize myself to no end. It's a terrible habit. And really, I just want to delete 99% of the ugly pictures of myself that my husband insists on keeping!

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  10. Jess- you haven't met my mother. In fact at seventy plus, she just got home from a trip and said "there are the nicest photos of me I have to show you." Seriously.

    Stephanie- interesting, given your writing and openness, I am surprised.

    Ameena- keep some of them. Like me you may look back and feel they're not entirely terrible. You post photos of yourself and always look amazing.

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  11. I've never seen a picture of myself in a race, but I do look back at old pictures and find myself analyzing my appearance. It's funny how the times when I thought I looked best I didn't actually look much different than the times when I didn't feel in the best shape.

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  12. Samantha- not sure if that's a good or a bad thing that the difference isn't so great. It does have a lot to do with perception. Somehow, with time we can be more objective. Also, when you felt you were in better shape we see ourselves, at the time, appearing differently..

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  13. I have this convo with my boyfriend more than I would even like to share. When we take photos and I look back at them all I tend to look at is those "imperfections". He always says how crazy I am that I point out "oh I wish this was different blah blah blah" and I have to agree. I think we just tend to zoom in on those small little imperfections while forgetting that our mind can play horrible tricks on ourselves! Likewise, I have had clients who said they didn't realize how much change was needed until they saw themselves in a photo. I think it can go both ways ya know?

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  14. I have seen race photos of my before and the main thing I thought was, "wow, I look like I am really struggling" I always envisioned myself to look cool while I run. Guess not! ha.
    But I am VERY critical of the way I look in pictures..especially my arms. Usually never like those pics.

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  15. Absolutely, I am more critical of myself in photos then when I look at photos of my friends and family. That being said, I will offer another perspective...My dad has a photo in his office of me from when i ran my first half-marathon. I love that photo, because it was my dad {who took up running marathons at age 40 after his doctor said he needed to exercise and lose weight NOW or he would be on his way to a major heart attack}that got me in to running {when i was 10}, so it has a very special significance to me. And, I just ordered a race photo from Brightroom :-)that is of my daughter {also 10} and I completing our second 5K together. May not be the most flattering picture of me, but it will be prominently displayed by this proud mom on our wall for all to see!

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  16. Great post! I have thought about this a lot, actually. I too find that "in the moment" I am such a harsh critic of myself and when I look back (at old pics) I think, "Why didn't I see how great I looked? Why the tears?" Especially any photo of me in my 20's. I struggled so hard back then. I never felt pretty, or fit, or young even. I look back at photos and see perfect, taught skin, bright eyes, shiny hair, and (gasp) not fat! I feel like I wasted my youth obsessing over my body and my looks and never feeling good enough. I certainly don't want to waste what is left of my 30's! I think we all need to do our best to take care of ourselves, and then just let go of trying to control it. We could all use the reminder to stop being such harsh self-critics. Thanks!

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  17. Interesting how many people hate race photos and to discover I'm one of the few who actually like them. Of course, I'm a ham and take the opportunity when I see a race photographer to lengthen my stride (nothing like a race photo with both feet off the ground mid run) and smile.

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  18. Gayle, I think a smile can improve almost anything except a race photo.

    Cameo- I agree the reminder is that our bodies work, that we need to appreciate our 20s or 30s and sometimes move on.

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  19. Cameo, I once read a celebrity interview in which she (forget who!) said "I wish I appreciated how great I looked in my 20s/30s and wasn't so hard on myself" similar to what you said. Whenever I have a bad day/photo I try to remind myself of that! Some day I'm sure I will look back on myself with kinder eyes, wishing I hadn't stressed so much.

    I always wonder about pictures (one photo is great, another - terrible. which one am i really?) and MIRRORS! We have a skinny mirror in our office bathroom that cracks me up. I like to think that's the real me :)

    Also, Lauren your mother sounds hilarious.

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  20. Jessica, such a good reminder. Yes, it's often clients saying- when older and heavier I look back and didn't even realize how pretty or slim I was. We have to look at the good parts versus bad parts. Mirrors a whole other story. And "hilarious" is a nice way of putting it.

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  21. My first response when I saw my race photos were "I look fat." My husband said "Only you would say that." He reminded me of my accomplishment but I still wish I looked better :) Needless to say I chose the best one to put on my blog and haven't looked at them since.

    I used to hate having my picture taken, and still kind of do, but I am trying to live more in the here and now as opposed to the future - this is how I look now and there is no need to put things off for something that may never materialize. At the same time I am still debating whether or not to post some pictures from Lincoln's swimming lessons. I'm in a bathing suit and don't think I'm quite ready to share that with everyone :)

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  22. Oh man, my race photos are the worst! I am so envious of runner-friends who can flash gracious smiles and look gorgeous while running past the photographer. I am almost always grimacing. Sigh.

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  23. What a fabulous post LAuren. Funny, during the past two days I have been looking through old photos of Nick and I to create an album for our wedding. As I was looking through the photos there were plenty where I thought "I need to show this to Nick, I look HOT!" and then there were ones where I thought, "I can't believe I left the house looking like that!". We really are our own worst critics. It's a great idea to think as you did, "if this were someone else, would I be saying the same thing?" I like that.

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  24. I think if you think you look "hot" in some you're an honest judge/not too harsh. I think, with back to camera, easy to pretend someone else. Again, we all need to focus (pun intended) on the good in the photos not bad outfit/makeup or body part.

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  25. Well, I think the camera really does add a few pounds - have you ever seen some of the celebrities in person? Some of them look stick thin, even though they look kind of "normal thin" on TV. But in general I think I look much better in mirrors than in photos. Not sure why that is!

    For what it's worth, and a big grain of salt here, my son (age 5 now, I think he was 3.5 at this time) once told me "I remember when I was a baby, when I was one year old." I asked what he remembered about it and he said, "I remember drooling a lot. I'm sorry I drooled on you when I was a baby." I didn't tell him that drool was the most innocuous of bodily fluids that one could find on my person on any given day when he was a baby! Sometimes it's fun to see what they make up about their memories ;)

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  26. I got a photo of myself this morning and thought about this post right away. My first thought was how mannish I looked, for Pete's sake! Last year at a wedding, I felt like a million bucks - great hair, makeup, the perfect dress, lovely figure. I was shocked at how ordinary I looked in the photos. But I had several men (shhhh) comment on how nice I looked!! I think that proves the notion of projecting the 3D onto the 2D. But still...what do I do with all those "awful" photos!!

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  27. So agree. I kick myself now for hating my body so much then, esp. when I look back and see how darn cute I was. I'm very thankful that I've been lucky enough to appreciate myself these days despite the very few body parts that I might change if given a magic wand.

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