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Plumparazzi: A Cautionary Tale of Photo Avoidance

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My son is already 15 years old and if you were to look at his life in photographs, you’d wonder if he had a mother at all. I would always, craftily, position myself behind the camera taking hundreds of shots of Carlos and my husband Doug. This has been a huge bone of contention between me and Doug. “You’re like, the invisible woman! Why don’t you let me take a picture of you and Carlos for a change?” I would smile and change the subject, only complying when he managed to pry the Canon PowerShot from my hands. Then I would shield my widening body with whoever I could pull in front of me or whatever object I could hide behind. Later, thanks to the wonders of digital photography, I would delete the images of myself, one by one, erasing myself from the event, from the family as if I was never there.

It is amazing how someone so big could be so adept at disappearing.

At home I had pretty much managed to erase them all, but last week I was searching through photos at work, flipping through images of last year’s VCFA event at the Bowery Poetry Club when I saw it. It was a photo of me, but it wasn’t. It couldn’t be, could it? I was standing on the stage in October of 2011, addressing 100+ of the College’s alums, faculty, students, and staff during a reception. I was wearing my sassy boots and had bought a new dress for the occasion. I remember feeling pretty good that night, but as I gaped at the photo my heart sank. I was HUGE! Had I really looked like that? How on Earth could I have gotten up in front of all those people looking like that? How could I bear to leave my house?

A colleague was passing by my office when she heard my gasp. She stopped to ask me what was wrong, and I closed in on the image. “I just…can’t believe I looked like that!”

She tried to cover it up, but she was surprised too. “Wow, yeah. But everyone takes a bad picture now and again, Ann! “

“I know, but really! I was huge!”

She smiled, “But doesn’t it feel good to look at that now? Think about how far you’ve come!” My colleague patted me on the shoulder for a job well done and continued on her way.

But I couldn’t stop looking at the photo of last year’s me. And I could tell you that it definitely did not feel good. But why?

For me the photo was a reminder of just how far I’d let myself go. Yes, it’s wonderful to measure how far I’ve come, but denial is very much a part of weight gain. If I had been facing up to how much I was eating or that my excuses for not exercising were lame, or that the dress I bought had become a generous size 20, I wouldn’t have dug myself in so deep. As I looked at the picture I found myself wishing someone had tied me down and duct-taped my mouth shut.

That day I realized that as a result of my past self-editing, when I come to the end of this journey in February 2013, I will have problems finding “before” pictures of myself. But even worse: I can’t go back and put myself into all those photographs of my son growing up. I suppose I could Photoshop myself in, but talk about pathetic.

If I had it to do again, I would want to be in the pictures of my kid’s childhood photos, no matter what my size. At the baseball game, the birthday party, even the beach. Some things matter way more than physical appearance, but really my invisibility wasn’t just about my weight. I was clearly in pain and I hated being reminded of that. My eyes were so weary and I looked so…old.

Even with the 47 pounds I’ve lost I’m still not completely comfortable with having
my photo taken. I still fight not to focus in on my faults first, or how far I have to go still. But I like my smile, and the jowls beneath my jawbone are gone. This past Halloween, for the first the first time in a long time, I handed my camera to someone and said, “Can you take a picture of me and Julia in our costumes?” Yes, this is an everyday occurrence for some people, but a miracle for me.

And most important, I’ve reappeared in the photographic history of my son’s life, and not just hiding my bulk behind him but standing next to him. Two years from now, don’t be surprised if you see me inserting myself between him and his prom date in their formal portraits.

“Carlos, who’s that old broad in every photo?”

“Oh, that’s just my Mom.”

Ain’t no stopping me now, gente.

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Jeff Rutledge

    Once again, your trainer is inspired by your writing…. Beautiful job! This needs to be published! You have a real gift  for being able to capture in words the challenges and triumphs of this journey!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thanks so much, Jeff! That means so much coming from someone in the field.

  • chris duca

    You manage to put into words what some of us in the same boat are feeling, great job!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thanks Chris! Here’s to not hiding! :)