I saw an instagrammed of a well-known plus size model posing for a picture somewhere in Europe. She was standing in the middle of a cobblestone street smiling slightly. I was envious, as is expected; she was doing something I have always dreamed of: looking good in pictures. This seems like the silliest thing someone can yearn so specifically and to be very truthful the only times I’ve looked my best, physically, has been in pictures. But, I envied this specific picture because it embodied what to me is aesthetically beautiful about a selfie. Where you also look like the photo that comes along with an essay by Joan Didion on Vogue. There’s this great niche of photographer/models that, as plus sized, would have been cornered into the sexy big girl part of modeling but have created for themselves these great outlets to photograph each other in beautiful pictures. As a fat person myself I admire them and am doubly envious at their ability to create these beautiful pictures that are more often than not usually reserved for the thin and pale. I look up to them all and see them as revolutionary mediums. I aspire to be them and follow them on their Instagrams for those gorgeous selfies that inspired my writing this along with introspection onto my own history with the art of the selfie.
As a young girl, I always dreamed of what it would be like when I grew older and travelled far and how those amazing pictures would look. Pictures of me in an artistic black and white fade where I’m not looking at the camera and I appear lit-from-within and you can catch a snippet of a foreign city in the background. Pictures of me taking sips of an Americano in Paris looking graceful. The closest to any of this I ever got was a picture of me posing in front of a magnificent Buenos Aires sunset on a rooftop. My face covered in shadows and my awkward smile peeping through. My moment of the truly beautiful envy-inducing selfie has yet to happen.
So I sit here now, looking at that same picture and wonder how someone can look so amazing. How the world of Instagram selfies create such a hysterical passion in me I’ll never know. And why is that? Even as a young girl I lived in a world without Facebook or Instagram but yearned for that photographic apex of beauty. I would buy disposable cameras and go with my friend to the local thrift store and sneak in pictures of ourselves in silly outfits. I would write in my journal about how badly I wanted a camera to “document my life” and to have it commemorated in beautiful pictures. It was a way to show myself in a light that I wasn’t seen in real life. I was (am) awkward, ample, and not graceful. I take space harshly. I don’t have dainty features or an evenly distributed body. I’m wide. When I see myself in profile I feel like a Muppet. I never really took pictures of myself for this reason. I saw nothing worthy of photographing.
There are several years throughout my pre-teen and teenaged days where I have one or two pictures of myself and they are diffused by sweaters or huge trousers or hiding behind someone else. It is not until the advent of the Instagram selfie that I allowed myself to be pictured——on my own terms. There are tons of pictures out there of me taken by friends that I cannot bring myself to look at. I blocked the photo tagging feature on my Facebook to make sure I can never see them; saving myself the torture of looking at my body through the eyes of others. Those pictures where my profile is highly visible or where I’m not positioned in the exact way that my double chin isn’t the main attraction. Once in a while I’ll see one and there are two reactions: (1) wow, I need to lose more weight or (2) when will I learn to tuck in my neck blubber? A stranger would probably think nothing of any of those pictures. They are just me. But I don’t see myself. I see that person I try to not be, every day. I see what I fear I am and not what I aspire to be. I don’t even see the person I think I am regularly and in person (on my best days). I see insecurity, half smiles, no teeth. I see glazed eyes. I see awkwardly positioned hands. And more often than not I see much better looking people beside me.
But that isn’t always the case. I don’t always hate myself in pictures. Those moments I do appreciate myself in photographs are the moments where I’m alone with my iPhone in a strategically held position so that my best face is shown. Those mirror pictures where I have complete control of how my hips look or how my face is turned. Those pictures are the only pictures of myself I can handle showing the world.
So to see that picture of a beautiful girl (a model no less) looking like my dream self it is not hatred or sadness that I look at it but with appreciation. I look at that picture and think that could still be me one day sooner than later. I’m on my way. I mean that in the sense that not only I’m growing into my looks but also that I no longer feel shame. I allow myself to want beauty and aesthetics. I allow myself to work towards that goal in physical fitness. One thing I have learned is that you are more authentic the more you resemble what you dreamed of yourself. I can begin to appreciate my beauty but I can also lose the shame I feel in wanting more. So here’s to all those beautiful selfies everyone takes. Here’s to the world of self-adoration. Here’s to me and getting to a point in my life where I am the subject. I am the beautiful subject of a picture—black and white—in a glamorous European city posing (full body with no hesitation) smiling naturally; those pictures you see pop up on your Instagram feed and make you think “wow, beautiful.”