I hated my picture taken as a child. The idea that I was not very photogenic, or even willing to have my picture taken, might be surprising to those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I can spend hours in front of the camera now. As a child, the gazing black eye was frightening.
My mom took tons of pictures in her life. She fancies herself as quite the photographer. Which, so do I, so I suppose I should give her that one. She’s a photographer.
There are hundreds of pictures of my sister from before I was born. I had heard as a child that the first born gets the most pictures, and by the second child the parents get a little lazy.
Judging by today’s current Instagram-mom-brigade, that is not truly the case.
My mom also brought my sister and I to those tortured mall photographers every few months in matching outfits to document how unrelated we looked and highlight our differences the more we grew apart. I had straight, front bangs that both me and my cowlick hated.
Every time I got in front of a camera, my mom would launch into the normal hysterics.
“Smile! Smile for me! Say cheeeeese!”
As a child, I had a big-toothed smile. My cheekbones stuck out like little marshmallows were in my cheeks. My teeth were too big for my tiny mouth. They were spread so far apart that I could fit my tongue between almost all of them.
I was an odd looking child. But children are supposed to be a little odd looking. They haven’t grown into their nose or teeth yet.
For a period of time in my life, pictures were scarce. My parents always told me that my terrible two’s lasted until I was seven. I had a deadly blood disorder and was on steroids at only two-years-old, but I guess I was a little cranky. They didn’t take many pictures during that time, but apparently the steroids made me fat.
As a young teen, my mom would get a little more specific with her asks. If I didn’t raise my cheekbones so high when I smiles, widened my eyes a little, and closed my eyes until the very last second, she could get her shot.
Family vacation was always at the same beach, and always had the same theme. Drinking on the beach for a week, and taking our Christmas card photos. No matter how traumatic the trip had been, no matter how many times my mother yelled at me or shamed me on the trip, I had to act happy.
“Smile!” She would say.
I had different reactions to this command. Sometimes, if I were in a good mood, I’d smile. I’d put a mangled look on my face that I thought resembled happiness.
“Don’t smile so hard; relax your cheeks. Open your eyes, [Redacted.]”
Other times, if I woke up a little sad or was up all night with insomnia, I would raise the corners of my lips. I’d relax my face as much as possible and only smile with my mouth.
“Smile for REAL!” She’d say.
I didn’t know what my “real” smile looked like. I barely understood who I was.
When I look at picture of me today, my smile looks genuine. I, and everyone around me, can see the peace and gender euphoria on my face every time I take a good photo. I have a close friend who will let me know the times I look the most “in the zone.”
Now that I don’t have to perform as someone I’m not, I can feel free to be myself. I can play dress up and be whoever I want for a photo, and smile however I damn well please.
I am happy. Every day, I make a conscious effort to be myself, and be happy. Now, when I smile, it’s real.