We came across this photograph of my grandmother the other week.
In it, she was laughing hysterically at something my grandfather had said. I noticed the sparkle in her eyes, and her invisible giggle. I didn’t notice if it appropriately captured her beauty, or if it was a flattering shot of her. Her joy in that moment with someone she loved was all that needed to be witnessed.
I think about the pictures of me that my own kids will fall in love with. They surely won’t care if I look thin enough in them, or if my nose looked big. They probably won’t be able to tell if I’m 5 or 10 pounds heavier in one.
Instead, they’ll look for my genuine smile—the mile-wide kind that initiates from crinkling eyes. They might look for pictures of me gazing adoringly at their dad. They likely won’t glance twice at my thighs.
Women are taught that we should generally look picturesque, especially in photographs that we share with others. (One of my absolute favorite memes is one with a commercial-worthy picture of a hamburger—fluffy bun and nice, thick, colorful layers—and a “real” hamburger—all smooshed and flat and ready to plow into—with the respective words: “A selfie you post” and “A picture someone tags you in.”Bwahahahaha!)
Yet, it’s true. I read an article recently about a celebrity that freely admits to using multiple filters and techniques to make her Instagram shots as “perfect” as they can be, and she doesn’t care if they represent her real life. And that’s fine, but, for younger girls—like mine—growing up only with these social-media training-wheels—where they’re on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, etc—I can’t help but wonder if they’ll know how beautiful they are, without filters, or thigh gaps, or flawless complexions?
Sometimes I think back to my little group of best girlfriends that I loved and grew up with in high school. I imagine what we would have been like, had our group selfies not been taken on cameras that needed a week to develop the film.
There was always one of us with our eyes shut, or an almost grotesque expression captured at that awkward moment of shifting from talking into laughing. These types of pictures are special, and nearly dinosaur-like, because they are genuine candids.
My favorite pictures of my little girls are when I accidentally take one of them laughing together in between the “say cheese!” photographs I was trying for. My favorite ones of myself, however, are ones where I look my best. I’m terribly hypocritical.
Recently, I decided to share this picture of me with my two girls.
My baby had fallen asleep, which is rare—if she naps, it’s in her crib, and not in my arms. My oldest cuddled up next to me—another rarity, as she’s not much of a “sitter” in general, much less on the couch—neither am I really. But here I was with two of the most important people in the world snuggled around me, and my phone just happened to be right there on the edge of the couch.
I took a picture.
My daughter put her thumb up, and it was the silliest, cutest picture ever. It wasn’t the most wonderful portrait of me, but I thought about that picture of my grandparents on my dad’s plaid 70s-era sofa, laughing, and looking happy, and I made a firm decision not to care.
I’m not suggesting that we stop admiring well-thought-out beauty, or that we all ban filters on Instagram. I’m not even suggesting that this is a completely unique experience, since my husband recently pointed out that we’re almost regressing to paintings—the epitome of a properly developed visual portrayal.
I am offering that we remember what a truly great photograph captures—emotion.
A moment in time that was special enough to want to hold onto, and re-discover later.
My kids might not be going through old shoe boxes looking at Polaroids, but I hope that they take the time to appreciate all of these moments of their lives and mine that I try to freeze-frame for them. I hope, more than anything, that they notice what matters.