It’s not that I hate being framed by the lens of a camera, rather it’s that I hate what it might “see”.
Out of my profile a nose arcs out like a parrot’s beak. My mouth is typically caught open in a gaping guffaw or wide smile that forces my lips into the shape of a curly bracket } and my cheeks into a featureless beach ball. And, the penance I pay for a lush head of hair? A peach-fuzzed visage topped off with a post-partum shadow over my upper lip. My patchy skin, my short forehead, my bushy eyebrows, my thick neck… the list of critiques is lengthy and I haven’t even begun to describe below my shoulders!
That’s what I see, but this is what she sees:
When my friend Uli snapped this photo we were two-and-a-half weeks into our trip through Europe and visiting our dear friends in Germany. We were enjoying our last evening in the ample garden of our hosts, circled around servings of barbecued Würst with Brötchen and Salat, when she crawled up onto the bench beside me and snuggled into my arms.
In a new setting, my daughter keeps to herself at first, and when she’s engulfed in another language, she stays quiet for even longer. So even after a week at what I consider my home away from home, she was still whispering her wants and needs. Finally disregarding the audience watching her, she had just measured the length of the yard with a series of 27 cartwheels. She was thirsty and tired. We were all tired. We were all ready to move on to the next leg of our trip in Edinburgh, where Daddy was waiting to see us again. She sidled up beside me, wrapped her arms tightly around me, and snuggled in.
This is not the first time I have watched Uli reach across the table and pick up my camera, supposedly to explore its simple features. I knew what he was doing. This time though, instead of awkwardly pretending he wasn’t snapping a collection of spontaneous photos of me, I looked straight into the camera.
The result? A look of comfortable protection that says: You have permission to snap a photo, but this sense of peace and security is hers and hers alone.
Uli captured, what I suspect my children see: a nose that breathes a calming rhythm, a mouth and cheeks ready to smile or soothe, hair and skin that single me out in a crowd, a forehead storied to be heart-shaped because I was born on Valentines Day, eyebrows that furrow and rise with their emotions, and the strong neck of a mother who is proud of her children.
I know too many women who actively avoid the camera, but as mothers, we need to understand that our images are no longer solely our own. A mother’s image also belongs to her children. Photos help us weave together the threads of our individual stories as each of us remembers our time together. I am a character in each of their individual stories, just as they are in mine.
I am grateful to Uli for picking up my camera that day. He helped connect our beautiful stories in one surprising image.
Live within limits without limiting life
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