Tacky green glasses roost on her head like a giant grasshopper. She flirts awkwardly with the camera from an angle that is intentionally hiding her red spots. Since she wants to look pretty with a hint of cool, she is half smiling, half duck-facing. Of course, she could never compete with the most popular girl in her class whose flawless, dollish face is crowned by silver-blonde hair. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming of being the most beautiful girl. In her dreams she stuns the world with dazzling beauty which lets her escape from the ugly reality where her appearance seems to be more repulsive than appealing, particularly to boys .
Two wimpy, thin lines sit over her eyes where thick, bushy eyebrows used to be. She has been self-conscious about them ever since teenagehood had started feeding her body dissatisfaction. You could tell from the photo that she also tampered with make-up although she had no idea how to actually flatter herself with the brown mousse. Her mum never wore make-up and didn’t support the beauty industry to begin with, so who should have taught her?
Her look is terribly rounded off by an orange T-shirt which is pressed onto her body so bright it hurts the eyes. She possesses little sense of what suits her well, about as much as a fish’s idea of a giraffe’s colour. She has little sense of herself in general, but this is simply the natural consequence from a lacking understanding for the person who truly lives inside her heart. It doesn’t help that her consuming efforts to be “normal” divert her attention further away from the path of discovering her true self. Who could blame her though, for all she longs for is to belong and to be liked in the face of harsh puberty.
Fast forward to another picture taken a couple of years later. In this shot she stages at an idyllic beach of Auckland’s urban shore. She has ditched the orange T-shirt for a white jumpsuit that blazons her athletic, slim figure with a breeze of summer. She has finally broken off with the shy shadow of herself that dominated high-school time. Moving out from home into a new, faraway environment has clearly spurred an unprecedented experimentalism and confidence, allowing her to flay the old skin of self-doubt and insecurity.
Compared to before, she is finally a person – no, a woman – noticed by the world around her. She is desired by many, and the awareness thereof bestows her with a whole new body image. She feels ready to conquer the world as if she embodied Aphrodite herself. Was it okay that she compensated for her former invisibility by actively playing her newly-found sense of appeal? One may say she overcompensated for the exclusion and subliminal bully that eroded her during high school.
She savoured life in stereo and louder than ever before. After this quick beach shoot she would head off to a house party following the invitation of some guys she befriended a week ago at another flat party hosted by this dude who she matched on a dating app. Every week promised fun and every weekend a party where she would dance her soul out of her lungs. Life was young and rolling out adventures on repeat: dating, sun-bathing, dating, shopping, travelling, clubbing, dating, promenading, partying; all merely interrupted by the occasional work shift. However, was she really living a life that filled her with genuine content? A couple of months later she would be so bored of it all, craving more meaningful accomplishments.
Snap! There is a third shot of her, again at the beach but this time on Scottish shores. In this photo she grins into the camera wearing her prettiest, most beautiful asset – her authenticity. Opposed to the staged portrays from before, this one presents a real shot of the moment capturing the memories of a spontaneous day with her friend at the beach, obligatory sunburn included. Her curls are styled by the salt of the sea, her face is contoured by a sandy tan, and her lips are glossed with strawberries and melon that sweetened the intimate conversation she shared with her friend throughout the whole afternoon. She brims with a healthy and firm sense of self. Happiness is written all over her.
You can tell that she finally convened with her true self – an ambitious, positive, and creative woman who is no longer just concerned with herself but has adopted an increased holistic perspective. She may not be perfect in the picture – for example her teeth could be whiter and more symmetric – however, such flaws in her appearance do no longer reign over her relationship with herself. Her self-definition has shifted its emphasis from outer aesthetics to inner strengths.
Note that she is also not smiling alone in the picture as her friend smirks sassily on the right. This is a notable detail because it nicely symbolises her transition from former self-centredness to a deep care for the people in her life. Donating time for her social connections has risen to her top priorities whereas the investment into an all-time favourable portrayal of herself has dropped to sparse attention. If you look very closely into her eyes you can even spot another detail: the reflection of a formidable, frisky wave she is riding in the waters of life. It surely has taken her some time to find her stance and balance, yet she becomes a little better at surfing on top of this wave every day.
Life stages many different shots of us. We may grapple with recognising ourselves on some of them, on others we may identify with the person in the picture very strongly. We like some of these shots more than others; we feel proud about them or embarrassed. Perhaps we would like to re-take a few selected snippets, even if for different reasons. The good thing is that we can take new shots at any time, and developing the shots of tomorrow is in fact what we can look forward to the most.