body image

On photos…

It’s been a week for thinking about photos. Christine kicked it off with her post about seeing her strength and power reflected in recent photos she’d had taken. See Through A Different Lens: Seeing My Power Now. It’s a great post and I love Christine’s expressions in these powerful photos.

And then two things in my newsfeed got me thinking about photos and the images we share of ourselves online.

I liked Bodyposipanda sharing their outtakes. That was the first thing.

And then second, I read feminist philosopher Kate Manne’s essay on being captured by photos and how uncomfortable the whole process makes her feel.

Here’s an excerpt,

“I had imagined myself breezing into the photo shoot (done outside for COVID safety reasons) and saying airily to the photographer, “Just make me look like myself.” In reality, I was shy and sheepish, and inquired as to whether he could photoshop out the chickenpox scar that haunts my left eyebrow.

The photographer himself was professional and courteous and made not one comment on my appearance—a baseline level of decency, to be sure, but one which I was grateful to him for meeting. The college News & Media Relations Manager I work with here was delightful and supportive as per usual.

And yet I was never comfortable. I was never at ease. It took 1.5 hours and afterward, I was exhausted. I came home and had Szechuan food delivered, and eschewed writing for the evening in favor of some good, bad television. It was just like in the old days, when I still lived in the world of Events, not of Zooms, which I unlike many others find much less sapping. Not having to be a body in public has saved me so much time and energy and willpower and has thus given me, ironically, the capacity and critical distance to write about it in a sustained way for the first time in my life. Strangely, it feels good to write about something that feels so terrible.”

All of this made me reflect on my recent photoshoot with a U of G School of Fine and Music alum, Trina Koster. Sarah and I needed new work headshots so we went together and had fun with that.

The top one is the one I’m using now. Bottom left was a warm up photo to get me to relax. And bottom right was a more staged theatrical one we did once we were having fun with the whole thing.

And then a friend on Facebook–thanks Ray!–had more fun with Game of Thrones mood photo, bottom right, by photoshopping a sword for me. Others suggested I also needed a regal white ruffle!

Love the sword!

My advice to women in professional roles where people routinely ask you for photos is to take control of the process. Find a photographer you like and trust. Tracy, Nat, and I all recommend Ruth of Ruthless Images. I had a very good experience with Trina here in Guelph too. Relax and fine someone who’ll make it fun for you.

A friend on Facebook said that he thought his attitude to professional headshot photoshoots is different because of his experience with selfies. In an age where we take our own photos a lot and we’re used to seeing our image online, he said he now finds having his photo taken fun.

How about you? What’s your experience of being photographed?

aging · beauty

#NoFilter isn’t really a thing: Selfies and self-image

I’m looking at new phones. I’m considering the Galaxy Note 20. And I’m reading reviews on the internet, as one does. I came across this criticism which piqued my interest.

“Sadly, the selfie camera’s penchant for smoothing faces even when I’ve turned off every possible filter is also predictable. I wish Samsung would get on board with Google’s call to eliminate these defaults for good because they’re potentially harmful to people’s self-image.” From the Verge review of the phone which otherwise mostly says nice things except it’s too pricey and you should wait.

I am the Selfie Queen and I don’t mind filters. But I like obvious filters that make it clear you’re using a filter.

Compare these two photos. You can move back and forth between the two photos using the bar in the middle.

No filter on the left, filter on the right but it’s obviously a filer. Also, there are flames!

So my worry, my objection isn’t to filters per se. It’s a worry about filters that are an improved normal, when you can’t tell if a filter is being used at all.

A few us here on the blog have been chatting about filters in Zoom meetings. The other day I was in one and I was pretty sure all the women were using the beauty face/improve my appearance option and all the men were not. We look all blurry and glowing. They look all craggy and serious. Not sure if this is better or worse than the women wearing make up and men not! Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

Here’s how it works:

Touch up my appearance

  1. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile picture then click Settings.
  2. Click the Video tab.
  3. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance.
  4. Use the slider to adjust the effect.

I tend not to use it because my main video-conferencing tool is Teams, which lacks “touch up my appearance.” I tried it on Zoom and then switched to a Teams meeting recently and thought I’d suddenly gotten ill, or old, or tired, or all three. Until I remembered.

All of this got me thinking about filters, what’s real and what’s not.

There’s no neutral of course since all representations involve choices. So the hashtag “nofilter” can never really be true but some filters are worse than others.

See Philosophical Reflections on Phootgraphy in the AGe of Instagram from Daniel Star writing on the blog Asthetics for Birds: “….(M)y point is that camera and smartphone manufacturers must make decisions about how colors and details will be represented: in effect, each manufacturer provides its own filter that affects, for a start, white balance, color saturation and contrast. Manufacturers must make aesthetically relevant decisions with respect to the interpretation of sensor outputs in digital cameras, the film constitution and development process with analog film, and many complex aspects of camera lens design. The color profiles that come with digital cameras and smartphones vary, and they are, to a large extent, the product of conscious, proprietary decisions made by different manufacturers, with viewers and consumers of various kinds in mind.”

So while #nofilter is never really true, I’d like to keep my wrinkles thanks.

I think I like playful, deliberate filters but not beauty “improving” filters that make it harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Silly filters!

Sam embraces her title as the “selfie queen” #feministselfie

I take a lot of selfies, enough so that a friend recently called me “the selfie queen.” My favourite selfie subgenre are the sporty selfies, see below.

Women are often criticized for taking selfies and posting them on social media. Selfies have been said to be narcissistic, self-centred, and a cry for help.

I think that those criticisms miss the mark and misunderstand the full range of motives for taking and posting selfies. For me it’s fun, yes, but it’s also about taking control of my image and being out there, not being hidden, and not being invisible.

I even started to write a paper defending the much derided selfie.

Here’s my title and abstract.

“Look at Me!”

Fighting invisibility: A defense of the midlife “selfie”


Women of my mother’s generation often have very few pictures of themselves. They might have owned personal cameras but they usually played the role of the photographer, documenting both significant life events and everyday activities, of their families. In midlife many women experience the phenomena of becoming invisible. Valued primarily for their looks, in societies that prize youth, older women seem to recede into the background. Judging by my Facebook newsfeed those days are over. While much of the media angst and anxiety about “selfies” concerns young women, usually teenagers, this paper looks at the other end of the spectrum, at the phenomena of the midlife selfie and the middle aged woman’s quest to be seen.

I’m not alone, a feminist defending the selfie. See Alison Reiheld’s “Unamused by My Erasure”: Feminist Selfies and the Politics of Representation.

In defense of the hashtag, #feministselfie, Alison writes, “When a beauty norm is tinged with ageism and promotes making oneself appear young, posting a picture of oneself as unabashedly oneself, comfortable at one’s own actual age and in one’s own actual experienced body, is a bold and subjectifying act of self-representation.”

“Even when we are not fat, but are conventionally sized, beauty norms demand a certain texture to our skin, a certain shape to trim bodies.  A competitive runner and model recently discussed her hesitation in posting images of herself modeling at New York Fashion Week with a nearly ideal body alongside images of herself a week later slouching with a stomach pouch and visible cellulite.

When a beauty norm is tinged with athletic idealism, posting a picture of oneself as unabashedly non-ideal, comfortable in one’s athletic and imperfect trim body, is a bold and subjectifying act of self-representation.”