Updated: May 21, 2019
I never used to smile in photos. Ever. I could have been having the time of my life, but as soon as someone asked for a picture, I would become very aware of how my face looked, I would tilt my chin, suck my cheeks in, partially open my mouth so it didn't look like I was doing a duck face, and I would raise my eyebrows to make my eyes look bigger. Just writing down these instructions and rules that I gave myself when it came to photos exhausts me. I could have just smiled.
I know why I didn't smile, I had a gruesome picture of how I looked when I smiled; my lower lip would lower, and reveal a huge double chin, my two front teeth which stick out because of years from sucking my thumb would be so noticeable, I could compare myself to a rabbit, my cheeks stretching out combined with my dimples and my high cheek bones forced the skin on my face to bunch in to two fatty circles underneath my eyes, just to the sides of my nose, I often compared my cheeks to that of a Guinea Pig, hoarding food. When I smiled, genuinely, my eyes closed, and my eyebrows lowered, making my face seem disproportionate, and my forehead dimples would show. I hated my smile.
School photo day was the worst, I spent hours practicing in the mirror beforehand, and I can honestly say I haven't liked one of my school photos since the age of 5.
All of these photos were taken in my first year at university, and they are some of the best days and nights I've ever had. I was having the time of my life, but you can't tell. Not a day goes by I wish I could go back to these times, smile in these photos, tell myself that one day you will look back on these nights and remember the good memories, but only be able to live through them with an unhappy face.
I was tortured by my own smile. I never understood what my mum meant when she said 'I want a photo of you smiling your real smile'. I thought these slight smirks were my real smile, and I thought it so much that I believed it.
But body positivity is difficult, but it is just that. It's 'positivity'. You cannot be a person who genuinely wants to love themselves, but can't accept one of the best things about themselves. This is not just about me, it doesn't matter who I am with, who I meet, or who I see as a stranger on the internet or in the street, if they are smiling it is, without doubt, the first thing I notice/anyone would notice.
Learning to love my smile was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome, I had spent years hiding it, I wasn't going to suddenly put it on display for all to see.
I can't tell you how I did it, when exactly I started to smile in photos, but thats what I do now, as soon as someone takes a photo with me or for me, the first thing I do is smile. I smile from ear to ear, and I laugh. These are the mementos I want to look back on.
These may not be the best photos in the world, but I will tell you what - I love them.
What has become really obvious for me now that I have embraced the widest smiles in photos, is when I am taking photos of my friends. I am always intrigued to watch how they change their faces from before the camera to when the photos are being taken, and it upsets me when I watch my friends having a great time, and seeing their faces change to become more 'photogenic' or whatever the insecurity there might be. I challenge you to watch this, if you are at a party or you are out with friends, or even out in public and you watch a group of people getting their photos taken, watch how they change from genuine smiles, to the smiles we subconsciously want the camera to see. Now I have embraced my own smile I notice this everywhere I go.
(Whenever I take photos I always shout at my friends "CHEESE" until they do actually cheese. They know I love them.)
Using my smile as an armour (both good and bad)
This is something I am guilty of, but I don't necessarily see it as a bad thing. It wasn't actually until two weeks ago that I got thinking about how much I do laugh and smile now to cover up my insecurities. I am a body positive person, but that doesn't mean I am not insecure about a lot of the other things in my life, primarily my ability to achieve at things I care about.
I have a fear of failure that I haven't ever addressed. I certainly hadn't even consciously noticed it until my very loving dance teacher called me out on it 2 weeks ago. He told me straight "you can laugh and smile all you want, but I can see that you are so scared you won't achieve what you want that you just keep mumbling through, and I won't let that happen.
You can't spend your life just mumbling through. You are laughing because you know if you laugh it off no one will see how sorry you are that you failed yourself. You have to make the decision whether to keep mumbling and laughing, or work hard and smile because you achieved."
What he said scared me, but it did make me realise that I have been just mumbling through life, and although I have achieved quite a lot and I am very privileged to have done so, I don't think I have given my full 100% a lot of the time. Because of this I hide behind a smile.
There are worse things I could hide behind, and I truly believe in 'fake it till you make it'. So the moral of my blog post today (day 5! Woo! Almost at the end of this week!) is that even if you don't like your smile, do it anyway. Make your smile your armour. Because me hiding behind my smile is a whole other problem, but at least I am smiling.
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