I have never thought of myself as a photogenic person. I’m not putting myself down that’s just the way it has always been. My family tells me I often make a fake smile. “Mom you’re doing that smile again!” they say when I am looking into the camera. For many years I haven’t liked the way I looked in photos because well, my smile looked just wrong. But have you ever tried to change something you aren’t even aware you’re doing? It’s impossible!
My daughter, however, is extremely photogenic. She cannot take a bad picture if she wanted to. With her little blonde ringlets, baby blue eyes and a smile that lights up a room, she looks like an American Girl doll. She’s cute, sure, but I started thinking is she photogenic because of her appearance? Or is it really that her smile is so genuine and innocent that pictures can’t help but capture that?
Recently, I was going through some old photos of my daughter and her friends that her kindergarten teacher had given me. The pictures are from a field trip we took to a farm six years ago. The first thing I said when I saw myself was “Oh thank God I look thin.” The second thing I noticed was how sweetly my daughter had her head tilted on my chest as she sat on my lap.
Most women can relate to that feeling. We harshly judge our bodies and our appearance, with the thought that somehow we just don’t measure up. I was overweight for the first half of my life. I am literally half the size I was. There are plenty of people in my life now who only know me as “thin.” Yet size for me is like age, it is just a number. It’s how you feel when you are there. For me it represents something else. Who I used to be and who I am now. I am healthy. I am happy. I am strong. I have worked hard to be where I am, to be happy with who I am.
Often as a photographer I am asked to make sure I get a person’s good side. Can I make them look skinnier or touch up their flaws? Those questions are invariably asked by women, not by men. Yet as I look at these women, many of whom I know personally, I see something entirely different. I see their hopes and dreams for their children. I see their beauty and their smiles. I see their perseverance and strength. Time and time again I wish they could see themselves as I, and their families do. As the women that they are, each in their own unique way are all beautiful.
Even though I don’t always like the way I photograph, my strength, physical and emotional, is what makes me proud of who I am. Not too long ago a friend remarked that I had “Michelle Obama arms.” I was thrilled! Not because of the compliment of my physical appearance, although that was nice. For me, Michelle Obama is a woman of great strength. It is not her arms I admire, but the strength of her character, the strength of her convictions, and the strength of her self-confidence.
A few months back, blogger Allison Tate wrote how she never wanted to appear in pictures with her children because she was unhappy with how she looked. She said she never felt put together and struggled with her weight after having children. She came to realize that what she saw was not what her children saw. “ I want them to have pictures of me,” said Tate. “I want them to see the way I looked at them; see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at, not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”
It struck a chord with me. That awkward smile that I do, well its part of who I am. Over time I have come to see that pictures are a reflection of where I was and how I was feeling at that moment in time. Do I think I have flaws? Sure I have plenty, but I have come to see those flaws as just another part of me. What is important is how my family sees me. To them, I am strong, I am a good mom. I want my children to see me in pictures and see how much joy they bring to me. To see how proud I am of who they have become. To see how much love I feel for them. The greatest gift I can give my kids is the strength of my love. I want them to see all of that, in pictures that will be shared with their children and grandchildren, long after I am gone.Add New
I want women to see their strength, their beauty and how it is reflected in their pictures. I want my daughter to not only have that strength but to see it as well. I saw a great quote the other day author unknown, on the internet. “When I look back on my life I see pain, mistakes and heartache. When I look in the mirror I see strength, learned lessons and pride in myself.” When I look at pictures of myself and that awkward smile, I have to laugh knowing it’s part of my beauty and my strength. I am more than OK with that.
Patricia Moreis-Stiles is a wife, mother, freelance writer and professional photographer. After many years as an amateur photographer, she started her own photography business, Photo Stiles in 2011. Trish enjoys hiking, biking, gardening and cooking all of which she treasures with her family. Her personal philosophy is that everyone can make a difference and teaches her children the importance of giving back to your community. Trish is a long-time volunteer and has been actively involved with a wide variety of charities in her local community. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.