There's a photo of my son and I that I absolutely adore. It's a selfie of the two of us from the very first time he ever drove the Tomorrowland Speedway by himself at Disney World. His toddler-round face is lit up in a giant, infectious grin, and his joy is mirrored in my own smile. I love, love, love this photo. The only problem is that I look horrible in it.
My eyes are ringed with bags because we had flown in late the night before. I’m not wearing any makeup. My hair is a halo of frizz, and my skin shade is Elmer’s glue.
But the thing is, I didn't realize that I looked like a pile of living trash in the photo.
When I looked at my phone after getting off the ride, all I saw was this moment when my son and I were both giddy with happiness, and I fell in love with the image.
I assumed others would have the same reaction to the photo. I shared it everywhere. It wasn't until an editor at a site I write for tactfully replaced that photo with a different one as my feature image for a piece, and one of my friends offered to do some photo editing on it for me, that I realized the photo that made so happy grossed other people out.
I was utterly embarrassed, like when you think you look cute only to get home and find out you had spinach in your teeth all day. I immediately combed through all of my old Instagram and Facebook photos to made sure there weren’t any other pictures where I thought I was sharing cute moments while actually looking like the before for an anti-wrinkle commercial.
Sure enough, I found them — a photo of my son and me on the beach before the 4th of July fireworks, another of me and both kids on a farm, pictures from vacation where I’d sweated off my concealer. In so many of the pictures where I’m happiest, I don’t look my best.
I’d shared these pictures because of how I felt when they were taken, and because it’s almost impossible to get two four-year-olds to look at the camera at the same time, so when you manage to accomplish it, you celebrate.
But on second glance all I saw was that my forehead has the same vertical lines as my mother’s and how my broad smile gives me crow’s feet. Suddenly I thought I knew why so many of my friends have stopped showing their teeth in group photos.
Most women, from tweens to those of us who remember when iPhones first came out, have mastered holding the phone at the perfect upward angle to make our faces look slimmer. And many of us know what free apps work best to soften our laugh lines or slim our thighs.These photo hacks are great for fooling people we only know from the online world. But the people who see us in real life know that isn't what we look like all the time. Whenever I see a killer selfie of one of my best friends, I’ll tell her honestly that she looks fantastic in that photo, but I know when I meet with her for coffee tomorrow, the person in the mirror selfie isn’t the same one who will share a scone with me.
I’m guilty of it too.
I love action photos of my kids and me out and about, but I’m vain enough to flaunt the crap out of a good selfie when I manage to take one. I’ll change my profile pic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter right away. I’ll even try to come up with a reason to innocently “like” the status of my high-school ex just to make sure he sees it — because I’m petty like that.
Even though I love how I look in those picture-perfect selfies, I love the less than flawless photos too, and I’m not going to stop sharing them. I know that I might not look my best in all of them, but since when has that become the only criteria for sharing a photo? Sharing pictures shouldn't only be about showing off the fact that you nailed your eyeliner wing today. We should be proud to share moments of our real life moments too, even if they don't look perfect.