Picture Picture on the Wall

“It takes a certain type of person to have a painting of themselves above the mantel” said my friend Kirk, who at the time was admiring the same great room I was, the walls packed floor to ceiling with minor Picassos, major Modiglianis and candid portraits of our genteel host as a younger, freer man in Paris which would have been beautiful even if they hadn’t been taken by Man Ray.

“Hey! I have a painting of myself on my mantel!” I protested.

“Exactly.”

If I’m being honest, it’s not a terribly good portrait and I can’t even remember who painted it. It’s a little Liechtenstein by way of early Byzantium for me, but although I have a painting, I don’t think I have a single photo of myself displayed anywhere in the house.

Is that weird? That’s probably weird.

It’s not the dreaded Fat Girl Shame, and it’s certainly not out of modesty. I don’t have many photos of myself from my younger days and most of my grand adventures were either solo, or else photo documentation would’ve been an unwise choice. I do have several photos from last year’s trip to Ireland, but most of them are from the budding hours of our last night in town and feature a good-hearted but misguided and exceedingly ungroomed gentleman of our recent acquaintance trying to forcibly tongue bathe me on the dance floor while I shot pleading looks to my BFF who, in the tradition of all BFFs everywhere, laughed at me mercilessly and kept the shutter snapping.

Other than that, no photos.

I have a girlfriend, Penelope (obv not her real name) on the other hand, who is a normal person.

Like normal people, she has photo documentation of her life scattered in little Ikea frames all over her living space. The odd thing to me is that almost all the photos are from her teens and early twenties…a hundred pounds ago. Especially the ones on the refrigerator. I know she’s uncomfortable with her weight. She’s been uncomfortable with it since she was nine, but it’s like size 22 Penelope doesn’t exist, just size 12 who could still fit in her cheerleader uniform.

I just don’t know what to think. It makes me unusually uncomfortable, like the friend who still uses a head shot from when she was 19 as her internet dating profile, even though she’s in her mid-thirties with a totally different body shape. It’s frustrating, because she’s just exactly as beautiful now as she was then. Same thing with my skinny photo girl.

Maybe I don’t know what it’s like since I’ve always been a big girl.

I’ve never had this slender past to look upon with a combination of pride and shame. Sometimes I’m larger and sometimes I’m smaller, but I don’t harbor any belief I could still pass for 19. The last time I passed for 19 I was probably twelve and a half. Still, if I had photos of myself from that period, I’d probably stick them up.

Just not exclusively. It’s the exclusivity that’s weird.

Is it diet motivation? Coincidence? Blanket self-delusion? Intellectual dishonesty in adorable Swedish frames?

Someone help me understand.

19 Responses to “Picture Picture on the Wall”

  1. Rebekka November 5, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    There are very few pictures of myself that I like. I think it has a little to do with the weight thing, but mostly it has to do with the fact that I look So Crooked when it’s not a mirror image. I’m so used to my reflection that I hate my photo. Also I have really bad posture, which I never think of until I suddenly see it in a photo and then I’m just appalled. And who wants to look at ugly pictures of herself?

  2. jojo.k November 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Like Plumcake I do not have any photos of my self posted in my house, though unlike her I have the photos. But I don’t have photos of anyone hung about the house. It’s more an decorative preference.
    The exception is the refrigerator where I keep the baby and engagement announcement photos, primarily for accessibility reasons. So when I’m talking to the relevant folks I know what to call the precious bundle or fiancee.

  3. catrandom November 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I was a fat teenager and loathed how I looked. My mom was a skinny kid and just plain *hot* when she got married (36-19-38, which in 1959 was pretty much a dream body). She had three kids in three years and got fat, and she hated it so much that she hated it even more when I got fat (about the same time I got boobs). So she set out to make me ashamed of my body and guilty about food, so I would stop being fat. Because that had worked so well for her.

    And I look at pictures in my parents’ house of when I was a teenager and young woman, and I was so damn pretty. I really was almost beautiful, in the snub-featured Irish style. And I never got one second’s innocent pleasure out of being a pretty girl because all I could see was “fat, weak, disgusting.” I never went out without layers of clothes back then, when I weighed all of 160 pounds.

    I am 50 now, and pretty left the building long time ago. So no, I don’t keep pictures around.

  4. TeleriB November 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    As I left my 20s and moved into my 30s, taking pictures became a lot less important to me overall. If you looked through my photo collection, you’d see Younger Me much more well-represented than Current Me because of that. (Also, Son1 has a thorough pictorial history of his first years, while you’d hardly know Son2 exists. It’s not just pictures of myself I’ve stopped taking.)

    On the other hand, if I needed a photo for a profile pic of some kind, I’d have someone take a current one. (Although after the pic is posted, inertia will likely take over. My blog’s profile pic hasn’t been updated in 3-4 years.)

  5. catrandom November 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Heavens, I went all martyred and whiny there, didn’t I? Apologies, just a rotten Monday.

  6. Susan November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Perhaps it’s simply nostalgia for a particular time in that person’s life?

  7. Jerri Lyn November 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    There aren’t many pictures of me and my size 24/26 self anywhere and I wish there were.

    How many of us wish there were more pictures of our mothers? Our grandmothers? Pictures of ourselves aren’t for us to look at, but for others to remember us by.

    I’ve never understood why people try to deny me the opportunity to take a picture of them. And they all seem to be appearance based. But it’s WHO YOU ARE. The picture reminds me more of the feelings I associate with being around you, not what you look like!

    I just don’t get it.

  8. Sarah G. November 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    There aren’t a whole lot of pictures of me now, but that is mostly due to the fact I’m the photographer of the family and I hate bathroom self-portraits, horrible lighting and I can’t compose the shot in the viewfinder.

  9. txbunny November 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    A few yrs ago I had friends ask me what I looked like when younger. I had to search for a while to find 1 picture at each of these ages: 2, 10, 26, 27, 35. I was a skinny little thing in childhood and my 20s but I always hated how I looked (ie too tall and just blond Slavic enough to not fit in the wasp deep US south). I had just turned 47 and I realized that while I was happy experiencing my life, I needed to get over my fear of cameras. I booked an appointment with a professional photographer who was a friend the next week.

    The session was 3 hrs and painful at first but April kept me laughing and at the end I would up with a b&w portrait that I that looks like me AND that I like.

    Now due to the glories of facebook I am trying to have some kind of picture up that I am ok with every few weeks. I am happier with myself now at age 50 than any other time in my life so it is time to embrace all of me as I am.

  10. Lunakitsch November 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Ok, so I sort of resemble both of those friends of yours. I have a few pictures of me in group shots with friends, but none of them are more recent than from 10 years ago. I must say, when I think of myself it’s in my size 16-18 body and not the current size 22 one. Therefore any recent picture of me always feels like a shock & horror when I see it, since it doesn’t jibe with my internal vision of myself. I think that’s also the reason I use a cartoon picture for my avatar on Facebook– though most people tell me that the cartoon looks remarkably like me.

    The main picture that I use on dating websites is also about 12 years old. I’ve been thinking that I really ought to get some new ones taken and not live in denial (though until about 2 years ago I could still easily pass for 25). I just dread the idea of what new photos of myself will look like. I should most likely follow Leslie’s advice and just take a picture of myself in the mirror every day for a year as a form of immersion therapy.

  11. Vera November 7, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    While I don’t hang old pictures of myself up (because I feel like that’s a little strange, unless we’re in a dorm room…), I definitely keep some around from my teenage days. I’m not ashamed of my body, even though it’s a good 125lbs bigger than I was in high school. However, I’ve never EVER felt really-truly pretty. Even when I was. So for me, I guess they are just proof. Proof that once I actually was someone that others might have thought of as decent looking. I think I’m always aware that I am very far outside the standard for what others would call beautiful. So, it’s a nice reminiscence.

  12. Miss Plumcake November 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    @Luna: Yeah, you’ve gotta update that photo. The new photos will look like you, which means the person who likes you will like the way you look now, a pretty handy thing when you think about it.

  13. Thea November 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    I have a portrait of myself hanging in the living room (tho not over the mantle) it was painted by a dear friend as a thank you for modeling for several of her art projects.

    I have to agree with Jeri Lyn, there are beloved relatives that I have no pictures of because they didn’t like the way they looked.

    I exist and I take up space I’m not gonna apologize for either. While there are unflattering photos that get deleted from my camera immediately, there are others that are good/fine/ok and remind me of happy times and places

  14. Liz November 8, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    I don’t have any photos of myself, although my parents have some. It’s simply because I feel better about myself when I don’t see them. I can feel confident and happy, and like it never occurs to me that I don’t have a right to take up space, until I see photos of myself. It might be nice to feel otherwise, but I’m not going to sacrifice my mental health to make a Size Positive point.

  15. A November 8, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    My WASP-y parents raised me to believe you don’t hang pictures of your self and your family on the walls. It’s “a bit much.” I am not sure a giant portrait is the same thing, though!

  16. txbunny November 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    @A – Same here as from my old deep South family (ie hanging pictures of self and family on the walls of the living areas). But it is ok to hang pictures of the generations of family in the hallway to the bedrooms. :-)

  17. marvel November 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I’ve always thought the point of displaying photographs of any sort was to remind one of people of whom one is fond, or of events one likes to remember. Hence the proliferation of pictures of my kids all over my office bulletin board. Pictures that include me that are displayed in our home are either of signficant events to remember (e.g. wedding day, family vacations) or are pictures of distant friends and family members I like to think about that happen to include me. But there are no displays of photos of just me — that would be weird.

  18. Whitney November 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    I’ve never liked photos of myself, because all I can see when I smile is the double chin and too much gumline and bad teeth. But I have a husband (we just hit our 5th anniversary!) who understands, and *likes* taking pictures of us, and of me. He encourages me to take photos of us together, and keeps the ones he knows I’ll like – along with the ones that make HIM happy. That horrid, awkward smile lets him know I’m happy, and that makes me happy – and so I smile some more. There are some damn ugly pictures of me up in this house, and I’m learning not to care.

  19. -kathy- November 9, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    We have family photos in the hallway. There are a few photos of me from younger days and also a few more current from some “proud” moments. When my mom died, I realized how few pictures we have of her because she HATED being in pictures. She didn’t think she was photogenic. I was the same — I would leave the room to avoid being in pictures. But, I want my kids and grandkids (when they come along) to have pics of me….so I have been reminding myself gently when opportunities arise to take part in the pics and SMILE (cause it is really one of my best features).