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Warning: This one is…weird. I may be suffering from acute humidity-induced something-or-other…
It’s a day that comes around every two years. It’s pretty easy to predict its arrival, really. The birds stop singing. Rabbits dive into their burrows and cower out of sight. The wind stills and ominous thunder rolls. This planet is no fool, you see. It knows when flight trumps fight and gingerly tiptoes its noise out of my angst. Every other year, I grit my teeth, square my shoulders and count to 10. Sometimes more. This year, I think I reached 123,254 on “Michèle’s Photo-Shoot Day”…
I hate pictures. I really do. But that didn’t stop me, last Sunday, from instructing my mom on the mysteries of my camera and asking her to take roughly 100 pictures of me standing by the old cabin behind her house. I’m preparing materials for this year’s ministry, you see, and in this “seeing is believing” culture, I need up-to-date photos to use for prayer cards, brochures and press-on tattoos. A cool’ish Canadian evening sealed the deal by providing that rare window of opportunity when hair tamed by gallons of mousse and hairspray stands a chance of holding its shape for more than thirty seconds in the thick and sticky summer air. Cue “spontaneous photo-shoot” and the Bambi’esque exodus of living creatures that ensued…rational thought close on their heels. After a half hour or so convincing myself that I was merely glistening (not sweating!), I came inside to download the triple-chinned and overweight harvest of my mom’s labor. She, like the rabbits before her, escaped to a church service. Probably a good thing, considering the increasingly loud clicking of my laptop’s “delete” button!
Plan B was introduced soon after. Return to the back yard with camera and tripod in tow. Set up tripod. Set camera to timer mode. Aim in the vague direction of the spot in which I’ll soon be standing. Push the button and leap into position while the camera’s beeping speeds up until the final, merciful click. Run back to the camera. View picture. Cringe. Delete picture. Make adjustments. Push button. Leap back into place. Say nasty things about the warming weather while pasting on a friendly and gregarious smile. Stare into the unmanned camera as if George Clooney were standing there. Hear the click. Dread the results. Slump and hope for something this side of Susan Boyle.
Here’s the bottom line: in my mind, I’m a rhinoceros. I seriously am! All wide and low riding and schlumping along. A bulldog’s jowls? That’s me. The grace and bearing of a pot-belly pig? Uh—present! My counselor friend tells me it could be body dysmorphia, but I think it’s a raging case of looking at myself in the mirror too often. The only upside I can think of to the fairly unflattering vision in my mind is that my husband could happily spend the rest of our married life engaged in a rousing game of connect-the-dimples…! Oh, wait—I’m not married! Scratch the upside. (Mild exaggeration intended for entertainment’s sake. Please don’t send motivational materials or the guys in white jackets! …unless they’re 40-something, world-minded, single, witty and pastry chefs.)
After my mom’s hundred pictures, I took at least another hundred with the help of my tripod and the final shreds of my legendary patience. Did I find one I really liked? No. And as I used every trick of my photo-editing software to try to salvage a handful of acceptable shots, did I make a list of all the women I WISH I resembled? Absolutely. The list was stellar. Sandra Bullock. Jaclyn Smith (showing my age!). Jennifer Aniston. Heck, I’d even go for Miley Cyrus, minus her singing “talent” (ugh) and recently acquired cage.
A few hours later, when a modicum of sanity had returned, I pondered the day’s drama over a healthy serving of pasta à la crème, effectively doubling the aforementioned dimples. Why is it that when I try to envision the best possible “me,” it’s always someone else? How futile and demeaning. And why is it that no amount of improvement in my appearance seems to be able to move my self-image dial out of the “rhinoceros” zone and somewhere closer to—I don’t know—Drew Carey? Oh, there HAVE been improvements since my decade long, teenage “homely phase,” but those don’t seem to matter. They say one’s self-esteem is established before the age of 16, and I tend to believe that’s true. I also believe that the image we have of our physical selves colors the way we evaluate everything else about our lives, including our impact on the world around us.
Someone like me trying to be inspirational on this topic is a bit like Michael Jackson lecturing on masculinity, but I feel the need to make just this one declaration, if only for my own sake: my best “me” is not and cannot be someone else. My best body cannot be Beyoncé’s. My best talent cannot be Meryl Streep’s. My best influence cannot be Mother Teresa’s. My best legacy cannot be Billy Graham’s. Just as I cannot measure my physical appearance against standards that are not scientifically achievable for someone with my particular collection of genes, so must I not evaluate my impact as a teacher, mentor and all-round human being by holding myself up in comparison with others who, simply put, are not me. Yet I tend to do that–to demean what I have contributed to this world by declaring it insignificant in comparison to what others have done.
Oprah is not someone I feel comfortable quoting, considering that her brand of “Christianity” could more aptly be called Budd-hind-uslim’ism, but I believe it is she who made the phrase “Be your best you” popular, perhaps unwittingly speaking biblical truth. At first glance, it is trite and t-shirt worthy. But it is also the goal to which we all should aspire… and could aspire if we reclaimed the time we waste wishing we were someone else and invested it instead in more noble pursuits! With Picture Day behind me for at least two more years, I find myself aspiring to be an improved person by the time it comes around again. To be a better me—not a better someone-else. To retire my inner rhinoceros and begin to make peace with the freckled, pale, not skinny and not-Sandra-Bullock person I truly am. To give and teach and inspire and learn and grow to the best of my abilities and strengths. Wishing I were someone else? A waste of mental and emotional energy. Beginning to make small improvements to the person God made me to be? Eternally worthwhile.
Spread the word: it’s safe for rabbits to exit their burrows and birds to begin singing again. And please—no sympathy notes. No heartfelt declarations about my “pretty” eyes or “shiny” hair or “winsome” smile, all code for “a face made for radio.” This blog entry was not a long-winded ploy to extract compliments from cyber-stalkers and friends! It was merely an exercise in brutal honesty. Consider yourselves unwitting participants in a virtual session of Michèle’s Group Therapy!