Say “Cheese”!

James (the fiancé) and I just got back from having our engagement photos taken. Yes, I know we’re getting married in less than four months so we should have done this a long time ago, but apparently we’re not organized. Anyway, I’ve been panicking about this day for the last week, and now that it is over I can breathe a sigh of relief, until we actually get the photos back, at which time I’ll probably freak out all over again.

Here’s the thing, I HATE having my picture taken. Sometimes I can’t believe that there are people out there who actually enjoy it. Let’s start with a little back story.

My dad is a professional photographer and growing up there were always lots of cameras around, so you would think I would be used to it. I want to say that it has to do with having poor self-esteem, but I think that’s only part of it. Even as a kid, when I wasn’t very self-conscious, I dreaded when we would go to my dad’s studio and take our holiday pictures every year. I didn’t give a darn what I looked like in them, but I hated sitting there with my sister having to stay still, and sit up straight, and not make weird faces, and wear uncomfortable matching dresses, so I think that’s really where the camera and I started our dislike of each other.


At least my parents were creative enough to work with my impatience, that’s me on the left—this photo was not posed.

Sometimes I wonder if I hated the camera so much as a kid, always sneering at it and throwing fits about it, that it took revenge on me as an adult. As a teenager, those yearly photo shoots only got worse, because once I learned to be self-conscious, having to sit there and have my picture taken (with my very photogenic sister) just became unbearable, and I was a total bitch about it. I should take this moment to apologize to my parents and sister for that—sorry guys, thanks for putting up with me!!

I’ve seen people who tuck their leg in, stand up straight, angle their head a certain way and look amazing in photos. I don’t know how they figured it out, or if their just photogenic to begin with, but when I attempt the same thing, I look like I have a disorder. When you aim a camera at me, I immediately get awkward, position my body in a weird way, make a pained face, or all the emotion drains out and I just look stunned. Tyra would be screaming  “smile with your eyes!” because I literally just raise the corners of my mouth without showing any other sort of expression on the rest of my face, I’m being brave here and will show you an example:

I chose a picture that isn’t completely mortifying because I have some dignity, but it is an example of my sad attempt at “picture face”. It’s especially bad because James is exactly the same way! It’s amazing that we found each other, we are both brilliant at unflattering photographs.

In our defense it was really sunny and humid that day.

If it weren’t bad enough that I make strange faces, freeze up, and squint in photos, I’m also as my father says, a “blinker”. To illustrate, I found this old contact sheet he took of me in high school.

Yup, definitely a blinker, not a good look.

When I think about my reaction to having photos taken, and even worse, my feelings once I see the results of those photos, I find myself thinking about the world before cameras. Do you think people had better self-esteem when they didn’t have to worry about being caught on film? If the mirror was my only way to see myself, I know I’d be happier with they way I looked. The camera can be so cruel, and even worse, it captures what must be an absolute truth. Even if you know that it’s just a freeze frame, and that you can’t possibly always look that way, deep down it gets to you, because any way you cut it, it is you.

I always think about Anne Of Cleves. If you’re not familiar, she was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. When Henry was looking for a new wife after he had divorced one, beheaded one, and watched one die in child-birth, he sent his court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to paint her in Germany before he consented to marry her.

Upon meeting Anne, Henry felt betrayed and was quoted as saying “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported”, it was also said that Holbein painted her full on from the front to hide that she had a hook nose in profile. He was forced to marry her anyway, but managed to have the marriage annulled, and moved on his next wife Catherine Howard, who he later had beheaded for committing adultery. Lucky for Anne, being unattractive may just have saved her her head. I guess it never occurred to Henry that if he had less attractive wives, he wouldn’t be so suspicious of them cheating on him.

I mention Anne because I always wonder if she knew why Henry refused her. Did she think the portrait did her justice? Did she have low self-esteem? In the days before cameras we depended on paintings to leave the legacy of our looks, and that duty was in the hands of an artist who could change that image at his will. Now we have Photoshop which does the same thing, only that the original photo, that truth, will always be out there too—which is especially unfortunate for celebrities.

Anyway, I don’t know how my engagement photos will turn out, but we had fun taking them and I have every bit of faith in our fantastic photographer Shira, if I don’t like how I look in them it will be my own issues, not the fault of anyone else. When both of us are happy and comfortable we can look pretty decent.

I’d love to know if other  people feel this way about pictures of themselves, I think most of us do. I’m really curious if there are people who love having their picture taken! Oh, and Kate, who is over at Eat the Damn Cake, has a great post about this same issue, you should check out her take on it here.

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10 Comments

Filed under acceptance

10 responses to “Say “Cheese”!

  1. Megan

    Posing for pictures can be a bit of a skill – it’s all about the sm’ize. But there are just some people who look better in real life than they do in print (and vice versa on that too, some people who look great in photos are sort of funny looking in person). I’m sure you’ll look amazing in the engagement photos though. Did you get one with your eyebrows lined up so that you can get profiled in the Times??

  2. haren

    I would have thought you would ignore the camera by now.

  3. Memories… I remember that Holiday card of you and Megan- precious (and you both still are) 🙂 Candids are definitely the way to go with photos. That’s why your Dad is such an amazing Photographer!!! Maybe you get the blinking syndrome from me; just ask your dad (LOL).
    BTW- you and James are an adorable couple in both shots.

  4. The Kermit suit was a bit tight but I am confident our engagement photos will look spectacular!

  5. Kathy

    The photos of you and James are great! Your wedding and engagement photos will be great to! My experience on my wedding day was that you get so used to smiling for photos, you won’t give it a second thought after a while. Maybe you should start now…:)

  6. shelley

    Justine, I have never met a photo of myself that I have liked, but for some odd reason, when you look at them later on in life, the photos seem to capture the youth that life has taken away, and they become easier to look at.
    I am sure that you will be a spectacular looking bride!

    • Justine

      Shelley, I know, I worry that I shouldn’t think about it too much now because I’m sure I’ll look back on old photos and wish I had felt better about myself!

  7. alison

    Yesterday, I felt self conscious of my shadow…MY SHADOW. I caught a glimpse of it and had to look away.I am much worse with pictures, you know how insane I am in with photographs…ugh..I am so annoying. I have so many pictures that I keep hidden because they are just so awful. Digital cameras have made it a bit easier for a bad picture to vanish, while simultaneously making it possible for a bad picture to be seen by everyone you know. (thanks facebook)

    This post should have been titled “Pruuuuunes” the Olsen twin trick for being pouty and adorable in every picture. wa ha.

    Ps I love that picture of you and james….so cute.

    • Justine

      I know you’re bad with pictures Alison, but we have to keep trying! I can assure you that you’re gorgeous in real life, it sucks that pictures don’t show you that! Ugh, I hate facebook pictures, thank god for un-tagging!

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