Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Photographic Phobia

Sure, I could start off logically with a list of research, resources, and information on size acceptance, and I probably will return to that sort of information in the next few weeks. On the other hand, while a blog is, by nature, written to the public, I plan to begin with the approach of "it's my website, and I'll blog what I want to."

So I wanted to continue a post I made on a topic in the forums at Big Fat Blog which began as a discussion of double chins in photographs.

Photographs and video are "the last frontier" of self acceptance. Not just in fat people, but particularly in fat people. You can be comfortable in your skin, stand up for your rights as a human being, celebrate a healthy lifestyle, and all that can still fly out of the window at the sight of a picture of your double chin from a bad angle. It's a Pavolovian reaction instilled in us from birth by subtle and overwhelming pressure to fear being different. From childhood games "One of these things is not like the other..." to an endless stream of women held up as role-models and airbrushed into faint clones of an imaginary ideal woman as determined by self-loathing executives of fashion. It's so deeply instilled, "Brave New World" style, that only a conscious and deliberate mental detox can check it.

The topic began with a very pretty girl talking about how she considered throwing away one of her wedding photos because it showed an extra chin. She put on the mental brakes, and realized that the photo was in every other respect a good one, and ended up keeping it. I think that's marvelous, and shows great strength of character. On my part, it made me realize something else. I went through four books of photos from the last 15 years, and several digital archives. Out of all the places I've been, all the things I've done, I only have, at most, five or six photographs of myself that I consider "keepers". Not only do I discard great photos, but I've pushed friends and family to trash great pictures because I don't like the way I look in them. The result is a type of lonely invisibility. There was the year spent in Europe, with pictures of ancient buildings and crowds of laughing exchange students. I always volunteered to hold the camera, so there are only two pictures with me in them. There's roadtrips full of sunsets, and shots of laughing friends flashing peace signs or making faces at odd roadside attractions. The only pictures of me in the lot are carefully posed, carefully flattering mugshots. I know I was there because I was holding the camera, but a stranger looking through the collection would have no idea who was experiencing these frozen moments, even though they represented the best times of my life.

So what is the meaning of a sunset over the ocean, without me in frame? The sun sets in that particular spot every single night, 365 days a year, and has done so for milennia. Sure, a snapshot of my friends at the Appalachain overlook is grand, but if I'm not in there with them, isn't it just a picture of some people and a mountain that thousands of people drive by every day? What gives a picture meaning is not just the view, it's the event, the context, the personal connection. If I remove a picture because the image of me doesn't match the image planted in my subconscious mind as ideal, I remove myself from the memory of a place and take only the position of distant observer. The result is a sterile, disposable postcard.

I don't pick through the pictures for others, eliminating one because a person is squinting and another because they look stoned. I consider that part of the memory (remember that one? He looks like hell. He decided we could make the mountains if we drove all night and he was on two energy drinks and a pot of roadside coffee...we spent more time stopping so he could pee it out than we would have stopping at a hotel!) The stuff that looks awful on film is usually what makes the best stories. Perfectly poised and coiffed like a glamour shot tells no story, and could be done at home with the right backdrop. That one where I look like three days of hell just proves that we had a hell of a lot of fun.

So, and I hope to follow my own rede on this one: live without regrets. If you love your self, then you can't be afraid to capture it on film. Strike a semi-dirty pose with the giant concrete elephant. Dig your toes in the sand for that sunset backdrop. Smile and squint and laugh at the bad ones, but keep them anyway. Hand the camera to a trustworthy stranger and jump into the middle of that shot with the whole gang. Don't worry about chins or rolls or frizzy hair because it's the only proof you'll ever have that you were there, and you did that, and you bought the lousy tee-shirt :-)


Moonfyr said...

You know. I realized that one day.. That most of the pictures in our family albums are not of me. But of others because I would rather be behind the camera than in front of it.. I'm still like that most of the time but I'm getting so much better. What it takes to feel better about it is encouragement from friends. With out encouragement from Friends like you and Erin I would not have stepped in front of it for photo shoots. I still don't feel all that comfortable there. But I sure am trying. Which brings me to this. I have done a lot of research on BBW photography.. Most of the shit you find is pornographic. which just pisses me off. Why should someone with a big amazingly curvy body have to hide in porn? no reason really other than either A they think they can do it to. Which is cool Or B they think its the only place the fit. So its my goal with my studio to do the most beautiful photo's I can of plus size curvy sexy hot mama's like you and I.. We are beautiful. And deep down we will know that. Which leads me to.. You want to do some pin up work soon as i get my new camera? All the damn pin up of fat chic is porn crap. And you are so pretty. I want you in some of my series please!!!!

JoGeek said...

Not all of it is porn, there's some really tasteful stuff, I'll try and hunt down some links to some artists. A lot of fat advocates are against the "fetishization" of fat by the porn industry. On the other hand, some feel like nude photos are actually empowering, like "here's my body, it's beautiful and there's no reason not to show it." You pays your penny and takes your choice :-) Personally I'd say it's a sort of identity struggle, and will sort itself out.

JoGeek said...

Here's a collection of artists, some do nudes, some don't:

Here's another link I found:


Yeah, a lot of them are nudes, or at least sexual in nature. I wonder if it's because fat people are told so often that they can't be sexual or desirable, that it's the first point of rebellion. It would be interesting to see more fat positive art that found a happy medium between beauty and sex object. If you have something like that in mind, I'll definitely volunteer to pose :-)