The singer Lorde recently made headlines for posting “actual” pictures of herself, acne scars and all, when the media ran digitally-altered pictures showing her with a perfect creamy perfection. Her photos were accompanied by a healthy message: “Remember, flaws are ok.”
I kept repeating that mantra as I suffered through a photo shoot recently for my next novel. It didn’t work. The minute the photographer sent me the proofs, I said, “Um, isn’t there a way you can, you know, tweak these?”
Shame on me, I know. But hell. If my author photo is going to grace Amazon pages, web sites, and press materials from my publisher, do I really want to look like Homer Simpson after a thirty-year binge of beer and chips?
I didn’t even want a new author photo. I’m the one in my family who always holds the camera and is therefore never in family pictures. There’s a reason for that: I’m camera-shy. Or maybe even camera-phobic.
Besides, I was pleased as punch with the publicity shot I already had–the one you see on my web site now. This photo was taken by my daughter’s friend, a woman in her twenties who wasn’t afraid to smooth and liquify and do whatever else was necessary to make me look like I must have as a bride the first time around, before raising a blended family of five children, moving four times, weathering health and financial crises, and writing books around the clock—a practice that means I’m hunched in front of the computer for seven hours at a time. Not exactly a recipe for aging gracefully.
However, I hate picking up subsequent books by authors through the years and seeing the same photo over and over. I’m disappointed—I want to see how other people change over time.
When this photographer sent me the unretouched photos, I was—I admit it—shocked by the lines in my face. But that was only because it was MY face. If this were someone else’s face—some other author’s or actor’s—I would love these photographs as art, as portraits of someone who looks intelligent and compelling. Someone who has taken risks, loved, lost, and lived a full life.
Yes, that’s the adjective I’ll hang my hat on: “compelling.” I am not getting wrinkles. I’m gaining character in my face. Those laugh lines were meant to be there. So were the furrows between my eyebrows. After all, you can’t write novels without thinking hard for hours, weeks, months at a stretch about these other worlds you’re creating. Do I want to look expressionless, smoothed by Photoshop or Botox? I do not.
Well, that’s a lie. Part of me really does want to look that way. I want to be as wise as I am now while still having the breasts and skin and knees of a twentysomething. I want to have my family and my husband and my house and my garden, my whole writer’s life—but I want to have the energy I had at thirty.
I miss my youth. But, if I had to choose between author photos of a young woman who has yet to live, and these pictures of a writer who has children and friends and a husband she adores, and work she is so impassioned about that she wants to sit at the computer for hours at a time, then I will choose the pictures of that woman. I want to look like what I am: a writer who has lived and learned, and is living and learning, still, full steam ahead.
I emailed the photographer back. “I’d still like you to tweak those photos a little,” I said, “but just a little. I still want to look like me.”