Self-Image, and the Purpose of Pictures

As Mother’s Day draws nearer, I find myself thinking more about self-image. I know it seems an odd pair, but hear me out. First of all, it reminds me of what I want to pass on—and don’t want to pass on—to my daughter. I think of how much we look alike: my daughter, my mother, and me. I’ve thought about my self-image in relation to my daughter before, as per this post, but now I also think of my mother.

First of all, I was fortunate to have a mother who was not at all focused on external appearances. I was aware that makeup existed, and that sometimes she wore some. But I never heard her complain if she had to leave the house without it. Heck, I’m not sure I ever noticed if she had it on or not. I knew my mother was beautiful, and I never heard her shatter my perception. She’s not svelte, but I never heard her complain about her weight, or how her clothes fit. I do remember when she and Dad would do things to try to be healthier. I remember a time when my parents would walk to the end of the neighborhood and back before he went to work; sometimes I would join them. But I don’t remember her ever focusing on losing weight or looking better.

I also have a mom who never hesitated to be in a picture. She never held back because she didn’t think she looked good. She understands the purpose of pictures, and their audience. We look at pictures because they are memories—we want to remember what we were doing when this picture was taken. We do not look at family pictures to critique each others’ appearances. (Actually, there probably are people like that. Apparently there are also people who care if their mom friends show up for lunch in sweatpants and a ponytail. As far as my experience goes, however, both types of people are mythical.) My mom didn’t care if we’d been in an amusement park all day and she was red-faced and sweaty. When we wanted a picture, she was up for it. Because when we look back on that picture, we see our beautiful mother having a wonderful time with us, not … whatever it is that people see when they look in the mirror.

So I grew up without much concern about my appearance, except to make sure that I was appropriately attired for my destination. As I grow older, however, it’s a little easier for our cultural body dysmorphia to kick in. It’s easy to look in the mirror and see eyebrows that haven’t seen wax or tweezers in way too long, hair that needs a new style, and that stubborn flab around my middle.

But you know what? Just as I can look at Kara and realize that if she’s beautiful, I must be too, I can look at my mom and think the same thing. We look so much alike—what would I think if I heard her thinking those things about herself? I’d be mortified. She’s a lovely woman! Do I really think that when my husband, my daughter, my friends look at me, they see the flaws I see? Certainly they do, but they only see them in the context of the whole woman they love.

And so it is with you.

Stop beating yourself up. You’re lovely. Be healthy, be happy, and let yourself be loved for the person you are now.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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