for appearance’s sake

I didn’t get a whole lot accomplished this weekend.  We had a terrible kitchen sink back-up late on Friday that took all of Saturday to resolve, so nothing I’d planned on doing in the kitchen happened and then today was just a rough one–physically and mentally.

I ended up watching a bunch of stuff on Netflix, including Bridget Jones’ Baby.  I’ve watched the other movies and liked them well enough.  I’ve always really liked Renee Zellweger and the other actors, so I was expecting a decently fun time.  And it was.  But there was something that bothered me about the film–and I’m not proud to admit it.

Darcy had lost a lot of his charm and was just rigid and old.  I know that was the character and all, but man–it was too well done.  But worse than that?  My fixation with Zellweger’s face.  I’m ashamed to admit I noticed right away that her face was different.  I remember seeing photos of her prior to this film’s release and thinking she was still beautiful–but not even recognizing her.  But I was completely thrown out of the movie a few times, wondering what exactly happened.  I couldn’t help but think this wasn’t natural aging.  While still beautiful, I was expecting one face and my mind was freaking out.  I found myself googling her age.  It was odd because, while I noticed other people in the film had aged–they didn’t bother me one bit.  I just noted it and moved on.

48.  She’s 48.  In the movie, she’s 43.  And that’s where I was thrown so much, I think.  Knowing she was actually 48, I thought, well–that could be normal aging.  Maybe she smoked or sat in the sun a lot.  But looking at her–I noticed other things–her body had changed, too.  She had lost weight and that had slimmed her face–maybe that was why her eyes sagged like that.  I wasn’t bothered by her body.  It was her eyes that bothered me.  They didn’t look the same.  She must’ve had something done.

And then I slapped myself for scrutinizing this poor woman.  Who am I to judge?  I mean–I chose a horrible bob when I was 9 that made my face look so wide and I wore red in that year’s photo–so it was even worse with rosacea.

We all have made some questionable choices.  We all have aged.  We all change.

I’m 38, and lately, I’ve been getting a lot more comments about my appearance–especially from men.  It’s weird because Colorado peeps really never talk about other people’s bodies.  We’re not like that.  It’s about what we can DO with those bodies back home.  Here–people are much more vocal about what’s valued and what isn’t, physically.  It’s a bit off-putting to me.

It usually happens when we talk about how old I am.  Literally every person I tell lately has been utterly shocked.  A few proclaiming–“No way!  I thought you were mid-20s at most.”  It’s flattering, but I wonder how sincere it is.  But also sort of insulting.  Because what’s so horrible about being 38?  People act as though it’s a death sentence.  Maybe it’s just California culture.  But it’s weird how people will hear I’m 38 but then try to reassure me by saying how good I look.  That I must have good genes.  Because clearly age is this mythical creature we must battle against.

To be pretty transparent, I don’t like my age.  Being 38 is cringeworthy for all sorts of reasons–which is surprising to me because I’ve never been one to really care much about age.  For me, it’s because I realize I’m closer to things.  It’s an emotional punch for me.  But I’m proud of who I am and finally, mostly, love who I am.  Most days.  Except when I’m looking at huge selfies of myself.  I’m not a big appearances person.  I wear things that make me feel pretty or comfortable.  I dress for me, mostly.  I wear perfume for me.  I care about how I look, sure, but it’s about me…no one else.

I’m learning how to take compliments–even if they feel backhanded.  I don’t put much salt in them.  Mostly because of this: I know that the very thing people commented about in a past life is the thing that is spurring this compliment now.  I have a young face because I had extra weight back in the day.  It’s a fact–fat people wrinkle less.  I’ve never done much with my skin, until recently, but I always ate a lot of antioxidants, avoided smoking, drank very little, stayed out of the sun, and didn’t pile on makeup.  But mostly, I think people think I’m young because I don’t think like an old person.  I’m full of ideas and dreams and hope.  I’m young at heart because I didn’t spend my entire existence scrutinizing my ass.  I chased knowledge and joy and great enchiladas.  There was plenty of self-loathing, sure, but I never wrung my hands over things that made me happy.  And I gave up hating my body years ago.

Anyway, the Zellweger thing really bothered me, so I wanted to figure out why.  Mostly because it wasn’t my first dance with appearance this weekend that bothered me.

###

I belong to a FB group wherein other creative people share things and ask for feedback and advice.  Over the weekend, someone posted a set of senior photos she had taken for a high school student.  The photographer doesn’t do a lot of senior photos and edits things in a bright, cheerful way.  Normally, her clients love her work, but this time–the clients said the girl looked washed out and that there was something about the photos that bothered them.  The photographer posted this information professionally and mentioned that the girl had insisted on wearing house slippers during the shoot along with ratty clothing and didn’t really do her hair, against the photographer’s recommendations.  She was wondering what we thought of the photos.

So, I looked.  Beautiful photos, exactly in this photographer’s style.  Beautiful girl.  Odd choices.  All usable.  All stuff I’d be thrilled to share.  But there was one thing about them: the eyebrows.  My God.  The girl was blonde, but had severely dark, bold eyebrows that were clearly not natural.  They were definitely tweezed to death and then painted on–in this bushy line that took over her whole face.  She did look pale in the photos, but I suspect she looks like that everywhere.  The photographer had done her job, but the eyebrows were the issue.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed the brows.  Women were jumping in to comment who had no real feedback and weren’t photographers.  They were just there to say what an idiot the girl was for painting on those brows and wearing the slippers.  How she should have done her hair.  How her mother was awful because she allowed her to go to a paid shoot like that.  On and on and on–400 comments worth.  A few woman jumped in saying how awful it was that we, adults, were posting about the appearance of a child–that we’re why girls loathe themselves.

I wasn’t judgmental about the brows and never posted, but I had that inner reaction initially–that repulsion about something that didn’t jive–that didn’t fit what I expected and that wasn’t my choice.  They were right–it was awful that people were tearing down this poor girl over what we perceived as mistakes.

What is it that makes us go there?  We see some things that we find unfortunate.  Choices we would not have made.  Things that don’t affect us AT ALL.  And we find the need to have an opinion about it.  I know, growing up, plenty of people had opinions about my ass.  As if I had any say in my genetic predisposition to a bubble butt.  Same thing with my boobs.  It caused me to cover myself up rather than exercise more or just love my body as it was.

Thinking about it–I think I personally do it for less mean reasons than most.  I think my brain likes to predict things so I know how to interact.  As a socially awkward person, spontaneity and surprise are bad things for me.  So, it’s hard for me to improvise in situations where I couldn’t know ahead of time.

I’m also an artist–a photographer–and details are very big for me.  I notice them instantly, and when something doesn’t fit, it bothers me from an aesthetic point of view.  That’s my perfectionism.  It’s why I don’t post a lot of selfies.  I notice certain things–that no one sees–or that they even find endearing…and the photo looks fine.  But I want a different face, even though I like my face.  It’s the imperfect details that still get me.

Ultimately, our rejection of others and fixation on appearance is about us needing to control the world–most especially ourselves.  About us needing to be perfect and right.  About us needing to know who we should be.

And the problem with all of that is it means that, while we often see the beauty in people, we throw that awareness away to pick it apart.

And the sadder thing about that is–in doing that–we miss things.  Like how sacred beauty is and how we all possess it–no matter our flaws or the silly choices we make.

Like instead of criticizing the girl–we should be critiquing how the photographer handled this girl–and those eyebrows.  As photographers–our job is not to fix people’s flaws.  It’s to capture a soul and a body–and make it look as authentic as possible.  It’s to showcase that person for who they are–put them in the best light possible.

Yea–the girl has bushy, distracting eyebrows.  But the edit was made in such a way that the brows were exaggerated because the photographer pretended like they weren’t there.  She should have adjusted her white balance.  She should have had the girl change outfits to something that would warm her skin.  She should have done a warmer edit on the background or even softened the brows digitally.  While the edit was a good edit, it didn’t account for the fact that this girl had special considerations that affected the final outcome.

Instead of pretending it didn’t exist–just acknowledge it does–acknowledge that it bothers you and move on.  When I did that with the movie, I actually enjoyed myself.

Humans are weird creatures.  A lot of what we do is about science and survival.  It’s not evil.  But it has the potential to harm.  We are conditioned to think in certain ways–to react in certain ways–and it doesn’t mean we’re bad people.  It means we’re human.  It’s only when we try to pretend and be something else that it’s a problem.  We have to be honest about things, but also realize we’re not the experts on everything.  Everything we think and feel is subject to question–especially by us.

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