Picture Women

         My husband is a photographer, a chronicler of street activity and the keeper of a wonderful website of people and places. His camera is always with him and so when we’re together he is often taking pictures of the people we encounter. Some we already know and some we just meet. My occasional and informal job is art director, especially when women are the subjects. It’s surprisingly consistent. The men just stand there and the women often complain about looking terrible in pictures. The bit of attention to lighting or the stray strand of hair standing up in the wind often makes for a better photo. And if the women are older and they complain about their saggy neck or the bags under their eyes, I share my strategies for “hiding the waddle” and for making those bags disappear with a big smile.
A little beauty pageant and modeling experience in my youth taught me how to look the best in pictures. And for most of my adult life I have wished that I looked as good as my pictures.
The consistency of women from all backgrounds saying, “I look terrible in pictures.” is as remarkable as the fact that I have never heard one of the men my husband photographs say that.
I sometimes think that we have come far in our gender equality quest, but the lack of it is abundantly apparent in these impromptu photo sessions. The fact is that the culture still expects so much more of women in terms of appearance. Women who are college professors, corporate managers, doctors, artists and teachers all seem to apologize for not being able to produce a good looking image.
Then I wonder, is it all cultural, all societal? Or, maybe we come that way. Maybe even the day after everything is “equal” we will still want a photograph that depicts the best image that we hold in our minds. Is vanity so much part of us? I’m afraid that it is still too much part of me and I now view with some distress the many photographs that look so much like me. Being captured in that way is a bigger deal than it used to be, so now I am grateful for digital photography, freeing me from the time consuming chore of tearing up all the unpleasant photographs. Now with just a click of the computer key I can destroy most of them and keep the dwindling few that look like “me.”

(The portrait page of the website of photographs is  and is very worth looking at.)