There is no doubt that losing almost 200 pounds is hard. However, I recently discovered something else equally hard: smiling naturally with cute hair, flattering make-up, and uncrumpled clothing in good lighting. I think I’ll take cheese sticks and cardio over headshots and light meters any day.
I’m writing a book about my weight-loss experience (in bookstores Spring 2008!) and I know the first two things people are going to do when they pick it up is 1) read the back to see how much weight I lost and 2) flip to my author photo to see exactly how thin I look. Normally, I don’t care that much about looking thin in photos. I prefer to look thin, of course, but I focus more on standing up straight, brushing any crumbs off of my shirt and gluing my eyes open so I don’t get caught mid-blink. However, since this is a book about weight-loss, I would be naïve not to admit that I have to look thin in my author photo. No one wants to read a weight-loss memoir written by a fat girl. The reverse is true too. I once picked the book Fat Girl: A True Story off the shelf at the bookstore and was disappointed that the author wasn’t very fat at all.
I could hypothetically chose not to have an author photo, but that wasn’t really an option either because 1) people would think I secretly regained the weight and was too ashamed to show my face and 2) I’ve spent almost a year writing this thing and almost three years losing all the weight, so you’re going to take a look at my pretty face.
So, I had an assignment: Find a flattering, high-resolution photo of myself smiling naturally in good lighting with a contrasting background. It is much easier to glare at a camera convincingly than to smile without looking like your faking it, but I had to be smiling because this is a funny book and no one wants to read a funny book by someone with glaring issues. I decided to have my picture taken professionally. I set up a photo sitting and even scheduled an appointment for makeup application because I don’t know an eyelash curler from a potato peeler. I thought it would be fun to dress up and look glamorous and have my picture taken. I was looking forward to it.
The day before the photo shoot I went insane.
I started to obsess over what I should wear. I wanted to show off my collarbones, so I needed to wear either my green or black shirt. However, we were shooting on a white background for my full-body shot, so I needed to avoid black or navy. That left the green shirt. All my pants were black except for a brown pair, but they had blue embroidery on the bottom that did not match the green. I had a flattering red and black patterned dress that showed my collarbones, but I didn’t think it would read well on the white. I hadn’t found a pair of jeans that fit my tush right yet, so I was left with my skirts or a dress. I could try buying something new, but what if I decided I hated it next week? I ended up taking a dozen test shots in my kitchen wearing different combinations of shoes, tights, skirts and tops. And jewelry. Should I wear jewelry? I never wear jewelry but a pendant might look pretty against the scoop neckline. Am I being dishonest if I accessorize?
Then I looked up tips online about how to look thinner in photos. Yes, there are whole entire articles just on this topic. If you look at lots of celebrity photos, you will find most starlets are experts at this. You can put one foot in front of the other and turn from the hips to make your silhouette slimmer. You can suck it in a little, but don’t suck it in too much or else you’ll look like you’re sucking it in. Wearing monochromatic colors is supposed to help too. You can push your chin up and out to make your neck fat look smaller. Neck fat, who knew?
I practiced smiling in the mirror.
I woke up early on a Saturday morning, styled my own hair, and got my make-up done. After that I headed down to the photo studio with a bag of extra clothes, just in case I changed my mind about what to wear. Then I sat in front of the background, looked at the photographer and froze. What was I supposed to do here? Smile? Okay, I’ll try to smile even though I feel really uncomfortable turned sideways on this stool, and oh I’d better remember to sit up straight, and don’t forget to stick my chin out! But smile like you’re enjoying it too. Oh no, are my upper arms pressed up against my body and making my arm fat look bigger? And does my hair look cute? It looked cute in the car but it does not look cute in those proofs. And why did it not occur to me that the corduroy mini-skirt would wrinkle in the car? Aaaaaaaaah!
Finally the shoot was over and I got my photos on a CD which I promptly took home and obsessed over on my computer for an hour. My smile was great in this one, but my eyes were half-closed. This one would be great, but my hair looks funny. I forgot to take off my watch! Moron, you specifically reminded yourself in the car to take off your watch. Why did I think I could style my own hair? I can’t even style my Barbie’s hair. The mini-skirt was a bad choice because it is not as slimming as a pair of jeans would be. Why didn’t I just go buy a pair of jeans instead of waiting for the sale next weekend?
At which point I turned off the computer and decided The. Madness. Must. End. This was what it was like to be one of those girls, those girls who obsessed over fashion magazines and never thought they were thin enough and complained about their flabby tummys that were as flat as Kansas.
It was AWFUL.
I feel so sorry for those girls who look in the mirror every day and obsess over their image like I had been obsessing the day before my photo shoot and for the hour afterwards. I hated putting importance on how thin I looked through a camera lens, because it’s not very important at all (unless you’re trying to sell a weight-loss memoir). It’s also a massive time suck. I spent hours upon hours scheduling appointments and picking out clothes and having foundation expertly applied. I have to give models proper respect because looking glamorous is hard work. I only went through it because I didn’t want there to be a nagging voice in my head a year from now saying, “Well, PastaQueen, you could have sold a bazillion copies of your book and be lying on a sandy beach in Tahiti right now instead of sitting in the gutter on a pile of cigarette butts, if only you didn’t look so FAT in your author photo.” I don’t regret doing it, but I never want to do it again. (I didn’t want to obsess over it for the next couple days afterwards either, but the madness had a lot of inertia and took several days to stop.) I thought having my picture taken would make me feel pretty, but I felt so much prettier before I started focusing on all my flaws. I’m the type of person who will go to the grocery store covered in cat hair and really doesn’t care. When I created a situation where I decided being thin and pretty mattered, it messed up my head. It’s so much better living a life where being thin and pretty is nice, but not all that important.
Ironically, I’m going to use another photo for the back of my book that was taken when I wasn’t freaking the f%$# out. It looks more natural and my hair looks pretty decent. The photographer did do an excellent job even though his model left something to be desired. We got a great shot of me in one leg of my fat pants. I love being the girl who can stand in one leg of her fat pants, even if I still have arm flab and neck fat and have absolutely no future in modeling.
(Note: I know someone will suggest that this should be my author photo, but I want my close-up, Mr. DeMille. I’m going with a headshot and you can see it when the book comes out.)