The first time I felt myself take a step in the aging process was in my mid-twenties. I was doing laundry and thought to myself “gee, my whites look a little dingy.” (yes, that actually made me feel old. Today I would just file that under feeling like an “adult,” but at the time adult = old.)
In my thirties I was doing my makeup one morning and thought “gee, I sure wear more makeup than I did before… and it’s all got the word ‘correcting’ written on the package.” Now, in my early forties, I’m finding that I add more salt to all my food, I’m holding books further away from my face, and I’m enjoying watching the news. Also my back hurts.
The milestones that make us feel a little older can look different every year, except for one: having our photo taken. As a portrait studio, our biggest competitor is a younger photo of yourself. No one seems to want to replace their LinkedIn photo taken before all those new wrinkles formed because the new photo will… wait for it… show all the new wrinkles.
Why do we cringe when we see ourselves age in photos?
When we know we’re about to see a picture of ourselves, there’s this little part of our brain (let’s call it the “nostalgia gland”) that expects to see that one awesome photo of us that was taken when we were like 16 and couldn’t take a bad photo if we tried. When we see any photo of us taken today, our “nostalgia gland” interprets it as a picture of one of our grandparents wearing our clothes.
This causes a very specific type of disappointment rivaled only by waiting in line for an hour for your food and then realizing they got your order wrong and put cheese on your sandwich, and you’re lactose intolerant.
So of course we’re going to avoid the camera as much as we can if every time it takes our photo it makes us feel old. My grandaunt was a big believer in the theory that “if photos don’t exist of you as an old person, then you’re always a young person, right?” Here she is as a pre-teen in the 1930’s, finding her angles and looking fab (on the right):
And then when family members complained they didn’t have any post-WWII photos of her because she hid from the camera so much, she finally consented to one final photo at 86:
She lived for 97 years, we only have a handful of photos of her, and they were all taken decades apart from each other. I would love to have more photos of her at every stage in her life if I could.
But I also get it. My “nostalgia gland” is pretty active too, and every time I say “cheese” for the camera I’m expecting to recreate this gem from when I was a wee lass:
But instead I end up feeling that specific disappointment, aka “cheese intolerance,” that gets stronger every year I avoid the camera.
So what can we do to look younger in photos?
There are two things we recommend during our photo sessions at the Organic Headshots studio whenever we watch someone see their photo on the big monitor and get that “cheese intolerance” grimace:
- Adjust what we can’t live with.
- Live with what we can.
Adjusting the photo
The camera is an eye. And it can be utilized to see more of what we want it to see, and less of what we don’t. Here’s an example: this first photo was taken of me with lighting and posing that was making me look a little older than I felt, and older than the polite people in the room at the time said they perceived me:
And then here’s a photo taken only a few minutes later:
Looking younger in a photo isn’t always about massive retouching. In fact, when we obliterate all of the lines off our face, we’re not returning it to that younger face we had a decade or so ago. We’re just making it look like our insecure selves took the reigns with Photoshop and created a mask for us to hide behind.
“Adjusting” the photo means creating a photo that we feel represents our youthful self as we are today. It’s about lighting, lens, clothing, and posing choices that add to the perception and attitude of youthfulness, or at the very least, don’t go the opposite direction and make us look or feel older than we are. And of course, some strategic retouching that softens the things we notice in a photo but not in person isn’t cheating.
Accepting the photo
After the photo is taken, we have to live with it. Even if we delete a bad photo of us before anyone else in the world sees it, WE still saw it. I can still vividly envision a photo taken of me about 15 years ago on a beach that I hated soooo much that I immediately deleted it. It literally exists nowhere but in my mind now, and man, is my mind hanging onto that thing as proof that I am an old, hideous, reptilian cryptid that shouldn’t be allowed out of the remote cave I just crawled out of.
We can’t change the fact that cameras are everywhere, and it’s a lot harder to hide from cameras now than my grandaunt could. So we need to instead change our attitude about photos of ourselves.
We’ve all heard the cliché: even a bad photo of you will be a good photo to someone who loves you after you’re gone. But it’s true. So start practicing being that person who loves you as you are and celebrating the slow decay of your body and face, because every day above ground is a good day, right?
Or put it this way (because it’s much less morbid): someone is clearly telling you that you need to look young in your photos because you’re cringing at the ones where you look old. Is that someone yourself? And is that something that’s helpful to tell yourself?