Posts Categorized: beauty

The Photographed Body

Hi all – comments shouldn’t have been closed on this post. Re-posting so they’re open. Apologies – still no idea why this randomly happens sometimes …

woman and camera

A few months back, reader K emailed me about posing for photos. She told me that overall, she really loved her body, loved how it looked, and felt confident that it was lovely and strong. But whenever she saw still photos of herself, everything shifted.

I would wager that within the past few years, I’ve been very displeased with about 75% of pictures taken of me. I’ll see the pictures and immediately think, ugh my shoulders look huge, my breasts are too big for my body, my stomach pooches out in an unsightly manner, my arms look doughy and huge, and my thighs look massive. Then, after I see said unflattering pictures, my body confidence takes a huge hit. I’ll wonder, what is the real me that people see? Is it the one who I love to see in the mirror every day?

I’ve written about what it means to be photogenic before, and I feel compelled to lift this marvelous lyric from that post.

“It took me too long to realize that I don’t take good pictures ’cause I have the kind of beauty that moves.”
~ Ani DiFranco, “Evolve”

The first time I heard this phrase, I nearly fell over. It had literally never occurred to me that someone who appeared beautiful in person could look odd in photos, all photos, and that this disconnect could come down to the difference between still beauty and beauty in motion. But it made so much sense. In some cases, what makes us unique and lovely is specific to the nuances of live action. When we’re frozen in time, we just don’t look the same.

But beyond that, I think there is an element of cultural expectation and manipulation at play here. We see photos of people every day. And the VAST majority of those photos have been digitally manipulated in some way. Ridiculously Photoshopped magazine and ad photos may come immediately to mind, but consider the number of “beautification” apps available that can change the shapes, tones, and colors in our simple phone selfies. Truly candid, unretouched, unfiltered photos are relatively rare. And though many of us post images to social media, the ones that include our own images are meticulously selected to show our bodies and faces at their best. At our best.

There are ways to position yourself so you look slimmer in photos – turning your face slightly instead of looking straight into the lens, shifting your body so you’re seen slightly from the side instead of dead-on, good posture, rolled-back shoulders, and more – but if you try these and still loathe the results? There may be something deeper going on. You may be expecting to see a still image that mirrors the photos of digitally perfected women you see all around you. You may have the kind of beauty that moves. Or you may have some buried body image concern or issue that only ever surfaces when you see yourself in photographs.

In the first case, spending some time with old photo albums might be helpful. Immerse yourself in images that are truly candid, truly unretouched, and remind yourself that people can look wacky and soft and ordinary and disproportionate in still photos, and that is completely fine. Photos that include makeup and styling staff, professional lighting and photography, and post-production manipulation look amazing. Photos that were taken at the beach or while sledding or during a birthday party look amazing, too, but in a wholly different way.

In the second case, consider taking some short videos of yourself or asking for help creating some. Seeing yourself photographed but in motion may help things click into place. Some beauty moves. It might not make you feel any better when you get tagged on Facebook, but when someone whips out a camera you can breathe, manage your expectations, and remind yourself that still photos will never accurately represent the real you.

In the third case? Oh, I wish I had some actionable advice that would work for everyone, but I just don’t. I’ve watched as Vivienne McMaster has created and expanded her Be Your Own Beloved offerings, which focus on cultivating self-love through self-portraiture, and cruising through her blog may help shake some things loose. She also has workshops and e-courses that focus on body image and photography. But in some cases, unearthing what’s buried may be deeply personal.

One thing that may be helpful to anyone who dislikes her image in still photos? Remember that photos are not you. Just as your body is not all there is to your self, your image is not all there is to your body, your beauty, your identity. I know this can be tough to swallow since photos are how other people see us, in many cases. But you can’t control what others think of you, be it in person or through the lens. You can only control how you react. And reacting by remembering that your still image captures only a fragment of your unique beauty may help.

Our culture is obsessed with capturing moments on camera, but our lives are lived in motion. Two-dimensional versions will never compare to the living, breathing, thinking, feeling being that is you. Still photos of you are not you. Because more often than not, beauty moves.

Image courtesy Lauren Powell-Smothers

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The Photographed Body

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Afro-versary: One Year Of Natural Hair

The fro...has grown!

The fro…has grown!

It’s been exactly one year since I big chopped my chemically straightened hair, returning to my natural texture for the first time in over twenty years.

In the twelve months since I lopped off my locks, I’ve experience growth both personally and afro…ly. Living with a head full of nappy hair isn’t always easy, but for the most part it’s been a lot of fun! So in the spirit of fun, I thought I’d celebrate my twelve months of kinky living, by sharing twelve things I’ve learned about my natural hair this year.

1. Water Water Water

When my hair was relaxed, I had to work very hard to avoid getting it wet. Moisture is the natural enemy of chemically straightened tresses. Unless you’re at the ready with a blow dryers, straightening irons and various hair serums, water will turn a smooth, shiny relaxer into a jacked-up mess in the blink of an eye.

But my hair in it’s natural state is prone to dryness, which means I’m now obsessed with getting my head wet. I put damp bags on my head and squirt myself with spray bottles. Humidity is my new best friend and umbrellas are my mortal enemies!

2. Mudslinging

Most folks I know use shampoo to wash their hair. I use mud. For real, y’all.

Regular shampoo strips my hair too much leaving it brittle. So instead, I use this special wash from Terressentials about once a month. It’s similar to the type of fancy mud that people sit in when they go to the spa. It’s made with bentonite clay, nourishing oils and other goodness that kind of draws the gunk out of my hair and cleanses my scalp without stripping out the little moisture I have.

I also wash my hair once a week using conditioner only. Occasionally I use an apple-cider vinegar rinse in lieu of clarifying shampoo. Works like a charm!

3. Shrinkage…no, not THAT kind of shrinkage!

Pulled out straight, my hair is about collar-bone length but I’ve got a mad-tight curl pattern. I can do a style that stretches them out longer, or I can let them spring back for a shorter look. It’s like getting a commitment-free haircut!

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Twisted!

4. Defying gravity

My hair only grows in two directions: Up and out.

5. Conversation starter

Sometimes I’m at the bus stop or in line at the supermarket and I’ll spot another person with nappy hair like mine. Invariably we’ll strike up a conversation, comparing notes on our big chops, our respective hair care regimes and all of our afro-related feelings. Being able to meet new people has been especially important this year when I’m away from home. Who knew that hair could be such an effective ice breaker?

6. Accessories Included

I can style my hair into its own headband. I think that’s kind of neat.

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I can also use it to hold pencils!

7. Options

When I first went natural, I was worried that my styling choices were going to be very limited. Not so. I can pin and tuck and stretch and twist and braid it in all sorts of fun ways. I can do it up or I can let it out. Now that it’s grown out some I can even do a couple of fun, pulled back styles. I’ve also had some major style fails, but it’s all part of the fun!

My son told me this pulled back do made me look like an alien. :-)

My son told me this pulled back do made me look like an alien. :-) 

8. The Five-fingered comb

Not only do I not use shampoo, I no longer brush my hair and I very rarely use a comb. I have a lot of hair, but the individual strands are actually very fine and tend to snap if I go at them with styling tools. So I detangle with my fingers. I don’t just mean raking my fingers through my hair.  I put conditioner in my hair and then painstakingly separate the individual strands and undo any knots that have formed. It’s tedious work, but them’s the breaks when you’ve got natural hair.

9. Olive Oil…It’s not just for fancy restaurant bread anyone!

Sometimes after I put water on my hair, I put on a tiny bit of oil to seal in the moisture. I like olive oil because it’s cheap and I always have it around, but I’ve also used avocado oil, jojoba oil, castor oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil or sometimes a mixture of everything.

10. A flax-inating discovery

Did you know you can make hair gel by boiling flax seeds? If you’ve never done it, you need to YouTube that shizz pronto because it’s super-easy to do!  The gel not only holds well, it makes my hair really soft.

11. High maintenance

Washing my hair takes about two hours. Styling it can take 30 minutes. Detangling takes upwards of 90 minutes. The trade off is that I only have to do these things once or twice a week as opposed to every day. Still, sometimes I do wish that my texture was a little easier to manage. But I try to look at my hair-doin’ efforts as self-care time when I can groove out to my good-bad music or binge-watch Orange Is The New Black.

12. New love

When I cut my hair last year, I wasn’t sure I’d be okay with it. At best, I hoped I’d get to a place where I was able to accept my natural texture. A year later, I love my hair!  It’s weird to feel love for the random strands of protein coming out of my scalp but over the course of this last year, my hair has become my favourite physical feature. I don’t know how to describe it, except to say now when I look at myself in the mirror, I look like…me. It makes me really happy.

And finally, I have to say thank you to all of you. When I first presented my newly natural hair last year, you responded with tremendous encouragement. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Your kindness quelled my fears of what other people would think of my decision to go natural. In the grand scheme of the universe, my natural hair is a very small thing, but it’s been a big, positive change for me. You all helped me embrace that change. So from the bottom of my heart…thank you!

Then...and now!

Then…and now!

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Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is a new resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, having recently moved from Ottawa, Ontario to pursue a PhD in human sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.

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