I've been taking a lot of pictures lately and been in a lot more than I have been for almost all my life put together. It's a weird feeling. Actually, it's unsettling. Every time I look at the recent pictures, I feel the same tension I had when the picture was being taken--an uneasiness that the pictures won't turn out right; that my face will look wrong; my eyes will be closed or that I have the wrong smile. For the most part, the concerns are grounded in reality. I look inexplicably intoxicated in many of the pictures I 'pose' for, even though I don't drink. My favorite pictures are those that I'm hiding behind dark sunglasses, preferably a hat or a tall person--proof of my presence should an alibi be required, but none of the ugliness.
As I was looking through pictures from my most recent trips, there is one of me laughing as I cover my mouth. It may be one of my favorite pictures, because every time I look at it, I remember the exact moment I acquired the habit.
Since about the time I was five years old, my mother has been trying to 'fix' my nose. Learning from the Chinese tradition of foot binding, she would scotch-tape my nose and have me sit still for hours to correct the offending feature. After seeing no results, she was sure the problem was with the tools not the method, so she upgraded to duct tape. Sadly, this was the one problem duct tape couldn't fix. By the time I was in second grade, promises of rhinoplasty* were made in exchange for good behavior and grades. Until then, every time I came home with a school picture there would The Talk. I had been warned not to smile the way I smile (how does one change their smile?) in pictures, but it was hard to obey my mother when school photographers adamantly insisted that I smile and show my teeth. Soon my pictures became glaring reminders of the necessity of rhinoplasty--and I hated it. Logically, I stopped smiling in my pictures--which made me look either scared or baleful. Neither look is flattering.
Just as I was getting the hang of not smiling at picture time, another problem presented itself: my habit of laughing and/or giggling and its subsequent effect on my face. Not good. The Talk was amended to include not laughing when I spoke, sticking to 'serious' topics, controlling my laugh and holding my head at certain angles if I had to laugh. Now, I'm sure models and other beautiful people go through training of how to stay beautiful at all times and that there are more flattering angles than others, but all of this was too much work and instruction. I broke out in giggles for no good reason, I was an unintentional joke waiting to happen and got a crick in my neck when I tried to maintain the 'flattering' angle. I really did try for a couple of years before I finally gave up. One day, when some neighbors were visiting, something or another was said and of course I started to laugh the uncontrollable laughter of a bored adolescent. As soon as I started laughing, I thought of the effect it would have on me. I immediately covered the lower half of my face and continued to laugh, even more at the sheer genius of my solution to the problem. Since that summer morning, I cover my face when I laugh--and love the picture that has captured the habit.
*To my mother's great sorrow (we literally discuss this every time she visits), I never had rhinoplasty. If God answers her prayers one day, I will get over my stubborn resistance and make her dream come true. I think God is on my side on this particular topic and will continue to cover my face to spare people the horrors of seeing my laughing face.