Facing Down the Beauty Police

I went to get my head shots today. A head shot! Yes, you know it’s a professional photo, but doesn’t it sound more like an execution?

I would have felt that way about it a few years ago. I hadn’t had a head shot session in, what? Twenty years? And I remembered the feeling of nerves that last time, turning my smile into a grimace, like aliens had taken over my face. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to be nervous and worried about how I look today. I wanted to be in my skin.

So, I started by going down to the creek. The moss was in full reaching mania. This is its time. Soon, so many edges will be softened by its chartreuse green fur. The pink cherry blossoms will billow and the blue-green lichen will spackle the rain-blacked branches, all against the pale pearl skies. There is no other time like this, when the warming days and still wet air form the conditions for this wash of color, this perfectly soft palette. I walked through all of it, the spring that is, and the spring that that is yet to come, down to the greening boulder in the middle of the still high waters and I faced the four directions and asked for help. Asked for my inspiration and my enthusiasm and my love and my strength (air, fire, water and earth if you are following along at home), to enter my face and free it from the bad grimace.

And then I went home and watched comedy on Netflix. John Mulvaney’s The Comeback Kid. Because yes, I wanted to be filled with what I believe and comfortable in my own skin. And also not to be just smiling at the camera, but – is it possible? ­– to relax and be myself enough to laugh my ass off.

The sun was shining bright when I left the house. I went down to Pioneer Square with my professional outfit and my casual outfit and shook the hand of Michael the photographer. He showed me into the studio – square, old brick, high ceilings – and started out by taking a couple of test shots to check the light. Right away those shots showed up on the (huge!) computer monitor behind him.

And that just kept right on happening.

It’s one thing to decide to relax and be myself and just have fun. It’s another to do it while watching shot after giant shot of my face come up, with my half-closed eyes and are those my teeth? and what is happening to my hair?!?

You can see how this could go right off the rails.

But no.  NO!

I will not let the beauty police ruin my head shot execution. Er, session.

Because, finally, finally, I have made friends with my face. Man, it took me years to get here. 43 to be exact. There is something about the last two years that settled me into my bones. I started looking at myself in the mirror differently, not sliding my eyes around and sucking my cheeks in and tilting my chin this way and that to see if my face is okay, to see if it is an oval or a heart shape, like I learned to as a teenager, taking those beauty tests that every Cosmo/Glamour/Mindfuck magazine says to. Finally not doing that anymore, but just looking at my face, this face, and accepting.

I know this face. It has been sculpted by not just my genes but my life. I have my mother’s eyes, but not hers, because one of mine has a dark dot near the iris and the green is slightly bluer and the orange is slightly oranger and mine have been opened and creased by different loves and pains than hers. I have my dad’s nose, but not his, because I can smell a winter-blooming daphne from half a block away, and whether a mushroom is done and my nose has a particular tilt to it that is mine and that I love, now, though my eyes always slid away from it before. I have lines around my mouth from years of using my voice. I have violet circles under my eyes that are as changeable as the moon, waxing and waning with my son’s uneasy nights, or the arrival of a new lover whose skin is like vitamins, or the fact that my dog (my dog!) talks in his sleep.

I love this face. I hear Edith telling me that sounds vain, but I think never being able to love my outsides as well as my insides… well that is also wrong. That is the second side of the double-edged sword, opposite the beauty police’s never-ending citations.

I love this face, just as surely as I love my life. So. I looked at that huge fucking monitor and kept on smiling.

After the shoot, I went through the pics, narrowing down to top five best and ten others that I just want. There was one of me looking up that I liked. Sure, my forehead is shining like I am wearing a coalminer’s helmet, but there was sort of dreaming in the expression… There was one of my actual so happy smile and several of my arguing, (We talked a lot during the shoot. Now I know exactly what that looks like.)

And at least one of me really laughing.

Power of being in my own skin: One.

Beauty Police: Zero.