I was recently looking at a picture of my grandmother in her younger days, noticing how old and blurry it was, when a thought struck me—I wonder what she would think of living in the present time with so many photographs? I began to wonder what life was like for her generation, with so few photo opportunities. Was her life richer because of it or would she say she missed out? Honestly, the more I thought about this question, the more I felt like she would say her life was better without it. I began to wonder… Are we harming ourselves taking so many photos?
When I think about my grandmother, I think about the things that brought her joy. She loved to go to her family’s lake house, she played cards with my grandfather and friends on the weekends, and she hosted great big meals for her extended family. How would it be different if she knew there would likely be a photograph to go with it? Would she worry more about what her hair looked like? Would she not want to wear a certain swimsuit at the lake in case she was photographed? Would she wonder if her outfit looked cute on camera? Would she think about the angle and posing just the right way? I just can’t picture her getting into that headspace or wanting to.
It seems every social activity nowadays includes being camera-ready. Almost always somebody wants to grab a photo. Have you experienced going to dinner with friends, having lots of laughs, great conversation, and then someone snaps a picture of the group? The next day, the friend texts you the picture or even worse posts it on social media and tags you. You take one look at the picture and hate how you look. Now your very fun dinner with friends has taken a total nose dive.
Instead of thinking about the great conversations you had, or the awesome bottle of wine and tasty new food you tried, you begin to think…”Huh, I thought I looked cute in that top when I left the house, clearly, I was wrong.” or “Ugh…I definitely need to lose a few pounds.” When we see a picture that we are personally in, what is the first thing we do? We look directly at ourselves to see how we look. According to various studies, on average about 80% of our thoughts are negative. If we use this statistic, that means most of the time, we end up not liking what we see in the photograph. We find fault in it. Our skin isn’t flawless, our smile is ugly, our shoulders are too broad, our teeth are too yellow, our nose is too big, and the list goes on and on.
What are we doing to ourselves? Back in my grandmother’s day, they were just living life. They were lucky to have a few pictures here and there, but they were not inundated with picture after picture of themselves to scrutinize and judge. We spend so much time looking at images of ourselves, it becomes very easy to be self-conscious about the way we look.
Another issue with taking so many pictures is how it affects our enjoyment and memory of experiences. Back in June of 2018, I gave up posting on Facebook. At that point, I had been posting on FB for about 10 years and was quite used to it. One of the first things I noticed, after giving it up, was how much more present I was in almost all social activities I attended. I no longer felt like I had to get a photo so that I could post it on Facebook. When I was at a concert, party, or with friends at dinner, I was relieved to not feel the need to take a picture. I could just be present, build memories, and enjoy the people and surroundings right in front of me. I recently came across an article that talks about how if we really want to remember a moment of time, we will remember it better if we DON’T TAKE A PICTURE OF IT. Here is a link to that article if you are interested. I think it is fascinating. https://bit.ly/2yLY8GI
When you begin to think about the amount of time we spend taking photos, looking at photos, editing photos, deleting photos, adding photos to social media, and texting photos, one can’t help wonder about the attention we give to our photos and to our outer appearance. Does it all seem a tad narcissistic? What if we invested some of that energy into soul building activities like listening to music with a dear friend, being present in the moment with our kids, taking a walk in nature, volunteering for a cause that we are passionate about, reading a book, or praying to our God. These types of activities fill us up. Just because we can take a picture with our phone at any moment doesn’t mean we should or have to. We can choose differently sometimes.
At 48 years old, I am beginning to see that life will come to an end, probably sooner than I would like. Do I want photos to look back on and reminisce? Absolutely! But do I need 1,000’s of them? Probably not. Do I want to model to my kids that photos are special and have their place? I most certainly do. Do I want them to learn that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside? Of course. I think with a little thought on the subject and pulling back just a bit on photo taking, we all might be a little happier and live a more meaningful life. What are your thoughts on the subject? I would love to hear!