During the late 90s a little boy picked up a camera and photographed his Mummy and two sisters lounging on their deep three-seater sofa. This was the age before digital home photography, where there were no filters, no edits, no ‘try agains’, chances are it was a throw away disposable camera with no funky lenses too. What he saw was what was processed on the glossy photo paper a couple of weeks later. It was, in no doubt, a beautiful photograph, three smiling faces looking down lovingly at the photographer, however, it was a picture that never made it to an album or a frame, it was swept up by the elder sister into a collection, under her bed, where it stayed for decades.
The elder sister was me. Recently I came across the group of photos, initially they made me smile, looking at the young faces of my siblings, my parents when they were still together, my friends hanging out by the pool. None of them were of me. The photograph of my sister, mum and I had been cut down in to a gorgeous photo of my mum and sister. In the photographs of myself with friends on my fifteenth birthday I had been beheaded. Photographs which should have commemorated my beautiful upbringing in the Middle East now just show off faces that, to my children, are the faces of strangers.
Since having my children, I have liked to believe that I am a good role model for self-esteem. I am very careful not to complain about my appearance in front of the girls, I keep myself healthy, exercise often, our walls are adorned with beautiful family photography, myself included. However, one of these days they will cotton onto the fact that there are very few photos of me in my early teens through to the age of seventeen, and I will have to explain why. In those days I wore glasses, which sounds like a ridiculous reason to deface photos, but I did. I have a complex prescription and extreme short-sightedness and the glasses were an eye sore- think stereotypical 'geek' milk bottle bottom lenses. In those years I had zero self-esteem. I was lucky growing up where I did, I had amazing friends, and I was never bullied. But I never felt attractive, I was the 'nice girl', not someone the guys wanted to date, and I was never competition for the girls.
At the age of sixteen I finally wore my parents down on the subject of contact lenses, I hated them, but I persevered poking myself in the eye daily. Without the glasses I worked harder on my appearance, discovered fashion, make up. By seventeen I was shy, yes, but people noticed me more and for the first time ever I began having self-esteem. This was the time I accepted the photos taken of me. In my mind pinning photos of happy, smiling, beautiful seventeen-year-old me to the walls is enough to show my kids that I was a confident self-assured young lady and they should be the same. It doesn't work like that.
Finding the box of headless portraits quickly saddened me, those are photos I will never get back, those are memories I cannot replace, and my vanity ruined them, just like my vanity could just as easily ruin my children's self-esteem. Instead of hiding, or destroying the 'me' I hated, I should have embraced it. I should never have worried about what my daughters thought of me, concerned they may think their mother was a 'loser' instead I should have pinned them to the wall, showing them no matter who you are, or what you look like, you can enjoy life, be confident in who you are and live to the full.
This is the age of digital photography, of 'instagramming' your life and for filtering EVERYTHING. In ninety percent of the photographs taken we don't even look like ourselves. This is the time we need to show our children that they don't need to cover up who they really are, they don't need to hide away or filter their appearance. From now on I am taking my contact lenses out earlier, my make up off sooner and I am embracing the person that I really am, flaws and all. I can only hope that it’s not too late to teach them to do the same.