Monday, October 6, 2008

It was agony

What is the worst possible anxiety that can be inflicted on May Voirrey, other than the possibility of bankruptcy? That would be photography where am not the one taking the pictures.

The email came on Friday, just in time for me to suffer near-crippling waves of anxiety for the entire weekend. The message said that as part of the Website overhaul, all staff would now be featured on the site with a picture and short bio. I read it and froze.

I don't let people take my picture. I don't shoo them away when they try--I get rude to the point of being outright hostile. Do not take my picture. Ever. Period.

I am not attractive, that is a point I won't belabor, however, I am really, really not photogenic. There is something about my facial structure that may not look freakish in person, but in photographs looks almost deformed. It's bad. I have reached a point in my life where I am no longer willing to play along nicely as if it doesn't bother me. It bothers me a lot. I don't want anyone to control or share any images of me. And now I'll be on the Internet.

I feel a little sick to my stomach.

You could do a Google image search on my name or any user name I've ever used online, but you won't get any pictures of me. I've been especially careful about this. There are no pictures of me in conference catalogs, published articles, or on blogs, forums, or anything else. Now I'm going to be exposed and vulnerable. Here's how the last 24 hours went. Yesterday, I sat down and sent an email to my boss, begging her to understand my discomfort and aggravated fear. Here is what it said:

Is there any way around having my picture taken and plastering it on the Website? Why are we doing this? My stomach is in knots over this. I don't even have a staff ID because I can't bear to have my picture taken. I let my passport application expire because after agonizing over the photograph issue and then going to three places to have the pictures taken and retaken, I was still embarrassed and sickened by the camera's objectivity in showing the unflinching reality of my physical form.

A good personality cannot be captured in a photograph; this leaves nothing more than a still image of flesh and bone structure to show who we are. When we see others in person, we can filter out the physical in exchange for focusing on the animated being, as well as on conversation, personal history, and personality traits. Whereas we can subjectively filter out the realities of homeliness and obesity, the camera does not. Real life lets us create meaning through context, but a photo of a homely woman that is removed from that context is just a photo of a homely woman.

I don't like this idea of being one Google Image Search away from being looked at in a very restricted visual context. It's hard enough for me to leave the house every day knowing I can't be invisible. I really think you should go with the Ugly Betty picture.

No reply. I got up earlier than usual today and tried to get my hair to be something other than flat and disheveled. It took a long time, so I had abandon the rest of the beauty routine and take my makeup with me. I did manage to get my contacts in. I was really out of practice, so I was surprised it went as well as it did.

When my boss came in, she pulled up a chair in my office and said that she wouldn't force me to have my picture online, but she wanted me to know that I "look just fine," and that I would be the only person whose picture would be missing from the "Meet the Staff" page--there would only be the bio. She said it in a way that implied this annoyed her--it would cause a huge flaw in the design. I pointed out that we don't sell anything or have a client base, so it's not like putting our pictures online was going to benefit us in any way.

All day, coworkers asked how my picture came out. It got annoying. I went into the restroom and quite literally poured makeup onto my face. First I slathered on a generous layer of silicone skin prep goo that makes skin just as flawless as Barbie's. Then I poured a couple of tablespoons of foundation onto a sponge and sort of washed my face with it until it was smooth and streak-free. I had my contacts in, but since they aren't bifocal, I couldn't really see to do my eye makeup. I just aimed the pencils and brushes in the right direction and hoped for the best. Mascara was particularly difficult, so I just kept putting it on until I could see it without the bifocals. The lash curler was an awful challenge, but I managed. The finishing flourish was dark lipstick blotted off and followed by a slick of lip gel.

None of it helped. I just looked like frumpy me with a lot of color and no visible pores.

As I entered the main office, one of the women said, "Well..Oh! Look at you! Makeup. Don't you look nice?" It didn't look garish. If it had, I never would have emerged from the ladies' room.

I told the kid who's doing the photography that he had to work very, very fast, and I would only let him take one shot. No trying again and again, no multiple poses, no re-dos. I also had to tell him that I just cannot smile on demand, which is why I never smile in posed pictures. If I try to smile when that's not what I feel, it comes out as a weird grimace.

I stood in the appointed spot and said, "OK, go. Be quick." Click click click. "OK, that was three." I walked away from the photo spot.
"May, I'm not finish--"
"You're finished. I hope you got what you need."

My stomach hurt and my mouth was dry. My picture was going to be online with my name attached, meaning anyone looking for me would easily find a picture showing my deterioration. It still makes me feel a little queasy.

Later in the day, I walked past the budding photographer's desk. He said, "May, do you want to see your picture? It's OK." I just kept walking and said what I've been trying to say: "No."


Sophie in the Moonlight said...

I completely sympathize. I HATE having my picture taken. The right side of my face, between my ear and my cheekbone, has a flat spot, like someone punched in the side of my face when I was small and it never healed. Who knows, with my history that could very well be the truth. It's about 2 1/2 inches long and an inch and a half wide and has a little concave spot in the middle. When I look straight on into a camera, I think my face looks malformed. My husband says it is utterly unnoticeable. I think he's being polite.

You have my empathy. I'd say it won't be as bad as you think it will, but b/c this is an ongoing photogenic struggle with you, it'll be what you think it is.

Sometimes I hate modern technology.

Spilling Ink said...

Okay, now we agree on a 'looks' issue. I hate it, too. I would also rather have the option of being animated lest one weird look define me. Ugh. I so get it. But I don't think I'd be able to not look at the picture. I guess I'd need to see it and try to 'make friends' with it somehow.

Anonymous said...

I swear, if I didn't know what you looked like, I'd be picturing some kind of gargoyle. At this point, I'd like to punch whoever got you thinking that you're ugly because you are far far far from it -- in fact, the opposite.