The first photo of me, as a newborn, hid it. The focus of the shot was my dad – the young, handsome, and thin version of him. The newborn me, balanced on his lap, looked like a cute little pink piglet swaddled in a brand-new receiving blanket as white as a first snowfall. It was downhill from there, though. Photos from my first birthday featured me with bright red decorative icing smeared all over my face, looking like a baby vampire. Mom and Dad were pretty poor, back in the day, so Mom used to cut my hair herself. Needless to say, ages two and three featured the asymmetrical bangs that accidentally made me look like a 60’s mod trend-setting toddler. When I was four, Mom became obsessed with the television show “Family Affair.” One of the characters was an adorable moppet named Buffy, whose golden hair was always pulled into two perfectly pipe-curled ponytails. My mother so adored this character that she had me spend the spring/summer chilling in the sun, in my little rocking lawn chair, with my baby-fine baby hair saturated in the then-popular hair lightening product Sun-In. What’s the downside to that? Yeah. Well, the only thing that could make a preschooler look like a white trash, hot mess is having brown roots and flowing bleach blond locks. That’s how I started kindergarten.
Kindergarten was my first school photo. It featured those roots and a shirt whose collar spanned the entire width of my shoulders. The kicker? The color – goldenrod! Sorry. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth thinking about it. By first grade, I’d lost my first tooth – a front one. Yup! First grade’s school photo was a snaggle-tooth nightmare. The dental situation was only the beginning, though. Scottish plaid was all the rage that year (thank you, Bay City Rollers!), and my favorite outfit was a “maxi-dress” with a smocked bodice in burgundy/gold/green plaid. This was not a good look against my anemic looking, milk-white complexion. I guess I should just be thankful that my roots had grown out by then. By second grade, I’d begun to put on weight (a LOT of weight), but the real tragedy is that I’d begun to experiment with boxed home perms. I know, I know, I know. In retrospect, I can’t believe it either. I mean, a boney gal like Gilda Radner could get away with hair that looked like Joan Crawford’s in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. But a butterball like me? No, not so much. Happily, my perm fascination was short-lived. So, apart from my hair always looking messy/greasy/dirty – whether I’d just washed it or not – school pictures in third, fourth, and fifth grade were awful mostly due to the horrendous fashion of the times – a navy-blue polyester dress with a white peter pan collar and a bonus tiny rose applique on the neckline that looked oh-so-flattering against my fat girl double chin, a polyester pinafore dress in hunter green with a gold floral blouse, a floral kelly-green blouse with a white cardigan. Have you thrown up yet?
Then, as I got older, I began “experimenting” with grooming techniques. The photographic evidence of this is featured in my seventh-grade school photo. I had THE coolest dolman sleeve sweatshirt… and that was a BIG get for me with my skinflint of a mother. It came from the Juniors department at JC Penney! Super cool! Unfortunately, the other “accomplishment” from that year was my failed attempt to remedy what I considered to be a “uni-brow.” In actuality, it was just a few stray hairs. In my thirteen-year-old mind, however, I was straight-up Frida Kahlo. Consequently, in my seventh-grade school photo, I am missing approximately a third of my left eyebrow, thanks to a failed attempt at shaving between the two. My eighth-grade photo featured yet another “fashion” trend – tinted glasses. Why, yes, I DO look like a stoner, but NO, I was not one. Hey, thanks for noticing, though! I looked pretty normal in my ninth, tenth, and eleventh-grade pictures…well, except for being fat. With that being said, after we got the proofs of my senior pictures, the pose I chose for the final one was based solely on how thin I thought I looked in it. Never mind that I appear to be looking off, wistfully, toward a future that was n’er to be as the thin, gorgeous, and photogenic lead singer of the next Go-Gos! Sigh! Some things never change. How thin I look is still the standard with which I choose any Facebook profile pic.
For many years, I put school pictures behind me. Then, at age thirty-five, I became a public school teacher. Of course, that meant the annual “picture day” was back in my life. Once again, evidence of the “hot mess” that I am has been thrust upon me year after year thanks to LifeTouch school photos. The good thing is that teachers don’t have to pay good money for these ghastly things. LifeTouch gives a few prints to them for free. I usually toss them in the closet, though, after giving one wallet-size pic to my dad. He gets a big kick out of showing it to people and saying, “This is my daughter. She’s in kindergarten” and then laughing like Pee-Wee Herman. “Haha!” The bad thing is that this photo also takes the form of the id badge I wear. It’s a daily reminder of just how un-photogenic I am. There it is…every day…hanging, literally, like an albatross around my neck. And, believe me, at this point in my career I have quite the collection of gag-inducing photos.
I think the only photographs of me I feel are truly “good” might be the ones from my second wedding. My dress, the most expensive garment I’ve ever worn, seemed to fit just right, and somehow this important day miraculously seemed to coincide with a “good hair day.” My complexion was clear that day, too. The home tooth-whitening system I’d been using for the previous six months seemed to have been effective. Although I did my makeup myself, exactly the way I always do, on that day it made feel like I was glowing. I felt beautiful, and, somehow, the photos translated it into the most flattering images of me that have ever been made…which, given my history, is no great feat. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the joy of that day somehow radiated into the molecules that compose the human shell I lug around, enhancing them temporarily, in the way photogenic people experience every day. It was nice.
Look. I’m okay with the fact that I don’t look like Gigi Hadid. At my age, really, I truly am. I’ve got other things going for me, I think. I’m just curious, though. I’d REALLY like to know what the secret is. How do you people do it, those of you that don’t have to take forty selfies before you find the one that’s the least disgusting to post as your profile pic? How do you do it, those of you that are always the best-looking family member in those holiday family snaps? And how the hell do you manage to look SO good in a fucking driver’s license photo? Really! HOW? Us ugly folks wanna know!