Posing and grinning for family photos or an impromptu quick snap can be stressful. I don’t think I ever learned how to smile for the camera. I went through a period in my childhood where I enjoyed having my photo taken, but looking back, I wasn’t really smiling those times. What I did was mimic what I thought I was supposed to do for snapshots by pulling up the corners of my mouth into a faux smile and allowing however much teeth I was supposed to be showing. I remember a couple of times I had my photo taken by a family member and they’d say, “Smile bigger” or “smile more”. I would be puzzled and confused because in my mind, I was smiling and I couldn’t understand why other people thought I wasn’t.
I did not do a lot of smiling during my teen years for pictures. I got more self-conscious about how I looked if I smiled and allowed my teeth to show. I settled for simply pulling the corners of my mouth up slightly, maybe halfway. It’s the kind of nervous and halfhearted almost smile I give strangers when I’m nervous. That’s the smile I gave an employee at Home Depot today when my mom and I were headed for the self-checkout line and the lady asked us if we needed help. I must have paused for at least two beats, completely frozen in my smile, before I answered.
There was a time I grew to hate having my picture taken. One year, my mom’s brother was visiting. He loved photographing everything. We were sitting on the train platform and he offered to take a photo of me. The sight of the camera lens gave me a shiver of discomfort. I hated how the lens looked like a giant eye glaring into my soul and hated my own perception of being both exposed and seen by whoever was taking the photo of me. I said no repeatedly to the photo, no matter how many suggestions my uncle made to me. Finally, I put my hand up to block the camera from being pointed at me. I was that desperate to not have my photo taken. My uncle said, “Why are you so shy?” I guess it was easy for him to label me that way based on my behavior, but I don’t think he would think I’m “just shy” if he knew how I really felt about cameras then and the kind of fear I felt from simply having a camera on me.
Nowadays I can have my photo taken, but I feel very awkward all the time. Many times I know my smile is not genuine, although I can fake a good smile better on some occasions than I used to. I’m still mildly bothered when my photo is being taken and those around me are looking at me as the photo is being taken. I’m not talking about random strangers who are passing by, but for example, if my cousin and I are having a photo taken and everyone else who is with us is observing us.
Today I had an impromptu photo in an empty baseball field. I really had no idea what pose to sit in or what to do with my hands once I was in a certain pose. I felt nervous about holding a pose and smiling convincingly at the same time.
It also doesn’t help that I often think I look ugly in photos. I’m not a makeup gal because I never bothered learning how to apply even the basics like eyeliner or foundation. I wash my hair almost every day but never style it because I’m lazy. I sometimes do wonder if I could learn how to use a hair straightener at least. It’s very easy to find information online and teach myself how to do stuff. I’ve done it before by using YouTube to learn cross stitch embroidery tricks and how to give myself an amateurish haircut.
During one of the lunar year celebration days in February, my brother took a photo of my mom and I. I tried to grin and bear it because I didn’t completely hate the situation. I actually felt a bit excited because my mom lent me one of her long sleeved qipao style shirts so we could have matching outfits for the photo. This was also the first time in a long time that I’ve played dress-up like this for the lunar new year. Usually, the typical thing I do is wear something red because that color is considered lucky. Anyway, what happened was my brother was about to take the photo and then paused to say, “Could you not look so scared?” That comment kinda killed self-esteem in the moment but I tried to regain my composure for the sake of the photo. Hopefully it worked?