Look at the top of this column. There’s a current picture of me. It’s a measure of how much I wanted to write for you that I sat for a current picture. My husband took this photo with a portrait setting. It shows everything. I love my husband. I’m not so crazy about this picture.
It’s not a bad picture. It’s just a reminder that I’m not as young as I used to be. Is anyone as young as they used to be? That could be described as a self-evident statement. The minute after you say the words, “I am not as young as I used to be,” you’re a minute older. Tick, tick, tick.
Most women stop volunteering to have pictures taken right about the age of fifty. It’s harder now to withdraw from the photographic life than it used to be. We live in a photo-obsessed society. Everyone takes fish-eyed “selfies” or shots with an I-phone camera. All of our computers and tablets have cameras imbedded in them. Instant photography is omnipresent and ten seconds after the picture is snapped it travels, via Instagram, to someone’s Facebook page. You can duck your head, but you can’t hide.
It used to be much harder to take a picture, remember? You had to buy film, decide on a 12 or 24 roll exposure, load your family’s Brownie camera, and go out to the sidewalk where the light was good. All your pictures looked alike, taken either in front of your house or in front of the family car. Then it took another week to have them developed at the drugstore when they’d come back in those little cardboard folders with the deckled edges. Between the time you took the picture, used up all the shots, and got the developed pictures back, months may have passed. You could have changed your hair or gotten a new car for a backdrop. One way or another, the moment you froze in time was not current.
The last time we moved, I destroyed an entire year of photos from the early eighties in which I had inexplicably gotten a perm. I looked like someone’s pet poodle. I looked like Orphan Annie with eyes. I looked like a feminized Art Garfunkle. There is no longer any photographic record of that catastrophic hair-do or of my daughter’s fourth birthday party. Chalk up the lost birthday shots to collateral damage. You can no longer thoroughly destroy images. They are all hiding on the internet or in someone’s “cloud” waiting to resurface and embarrass you.
My sister is actually photogenic. She has also developed the single best technique for posing for a flattering picture. It’s really simple. She stands behind everyone else in the shot. I have tried this technique, and it is guaranteed to work especially if you are as short as I am. Surround me with people and every picture becomes a game of “Where’s Waldo.” Since I work with children, I’m usually the small, gray-haired person surrounded by towering fourth graders.
Here’s why I’m not resoundingly happy with this photo: it is possible to exist in a state of complete denial if you never have a close-up picture taken. If you squint hard enough, bathroom mirrors lie. Window reflections lie. You can talk yourself into believing that your youthful soul shines through your sparkling eyes to the exclusion of anything else age-defining. That’s when you assume the mantel of “Queen of Denial.”
However, when you take a headshot, you cannot deny a lifetime’s worth of “laugh lines” (or “cry” lines); a loose-skinned neck; and adult onset wiry hair. I got a haircut the day before the photo was taken. It doesn’t look as much like Jamie Lee Curtis’ cut as I had hoped. There should be a mandatory two week waiting period between a haircut and a photograph. Also, there’s the neck. To quote the late, great sage of middle aged women, Nora Ephron, “We all look good for our age. Except for our necks.” The effort to conceal a mature woman’s neck has dictated more Hollywood wardrobe decisions than Edith Head. Here’s a short list of famous actresses who have never seen with an exposed neck: Katherine Hepburn, Candace Bergen, Diane Keaton. When you see extravagant turtlenecks, high-placed scarves, or choker length necklaces, and you will find an actress who is desperately trying to avoid plastic surgery.
I posted this photo on my Facebook page as a trial run, and my friends all said appropriately flattering things about the picture. That’s what friends do, you know. They lie to your face about your face, and your neck, and your weight.
One of my friends said I looked like the intelligent person he remembered working with a decade ago. What a nice compliment! I can work with that. I pride myself on my intelligence. I’m still smart, witty, and have a sharp memory. Wait, what were we talking about?
Should I tell you something ironic? The best photo I’ve had taken in years is on my driver’s license. Seriously, it’s a great picture. I actually take it to hairdressers to show them how I want my hair cut. I should have asked the DMV for an 8’X10” and a bunch of wallet sized copies.
I accept the fact that the world is not going to end because you’re seeing a picture of me that is fairly representative of what I actually look like: cropped grey hair, eye wrinkles, and deep grooves around the mouth. I’ve earned them all, every single topographical marking. Might as well accept what you cannot change. Well, I could change it, but I’m not much for elective surgery. Then again, never say never.
Anyway, I have a youthful spirit and a beautiful soul. That’s what most people tell me. I have the energy of a younger person. I have an indefatigable and more than slightly caustic sense of humor about my appearance and my life. We all know what it means when someone describes you as having a great sense of humor, right? Never put that description on a dating website.
I’m reminded of a joke Woody Allen once told: “I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another boy.”
I think someone needs to develop a camera that takes pictures of people’s souls. To the best of my knowledge, you don’t have to cover your soul with a black turtleneck. Your soul doesn’t wrinkle. You will never need to apply Retinol to your wrinkly soul.
Watch for the publication of my future book, Botox for the Soul.