"I’m a fat girl and used to hate being in family photographs"

A woman posing for the cameras.
A woman posing for the cameras.

For more than a decade I’ve always hated being in family photographs. 

Whether it was posing for photos or whether a relative snuck up on me to take snaps that they’d eventually post on social media without my permission (those are always the worst, aren’t they?), I was always plagued by the notion that I’d never be good enough to be in a photo.

I think it’s fair to say that we all struggle with our self-image in one way or another. 

Many people are so quick to accuse young people of being vain for taking so many selfies, but what they don’t realise is that conceit is the last thing that’s on our minds. 

We post the best pictures because we believe that providing the best version of ourselves means that we reduce our chances of negative feedback, because no one likes being told they’re hideous. 

READ MORE: Candice Swanepoel fights back after being body shamed online 

We also live in a world where the concept of beauty is a social construct that has rooted within too many of us, a deep belief that the only version of beauty that is acceptable is being model-thin. 

Beauty shouldn’t have one definition. No one should feel bad for being curvy, or for being fat, in the same way that no one should hate someone for being skinny. And before you suggest that someone loses weight in order to feel better about themselves, I’d like to remind you that happiness and self-confidence aren’t always attached to how you look.

Just ask Lena Dunham. And Noxolo Mchunu.

I’m not going to lie – I still struggle with this on a regular basis, but for the first time, over this weekend something changed.

I come from the kind of close-knit family where it’s not just about how much time you spend together, but also about how many of these moments you document. I mean, my relatives really love taking photographs.

At a wedding – best believe you have to drop whatever you’re doing and get in line. At a reunion with family members you haven’t seen for ages? Immediately stop sipping your tea because photos are about to happen. You get the drill.

The problem for me is that in these photos, almost all of them are staged. We had to stand a certain way, smile on command and make deliberate eye contact with the camera.

I don’t do well with planning, because my “posed” face and body language always feels very unnatural to me. And because I’m unable to relax, I also become conscious of every single flaw I have – including the fact that I don’t fit the 'proper' body mould.

READ MORE:These women are ‘fat and fit’ – and they love it

As a result the photos of me usually end up showing me in my awkward glory – stiff posture, uncomfortable in my body and looking and feeling like a blob. Never mind the idea that the camera in general adds a few extra pounds – these photos have never once made me feel good about myself.

Until this past weekend.

I went away with some family members to Franschhoek for the weekend to attend the Bastille Day Festival. 

I’m not entirely sure what it is – maybe I unconsciously decided just to relax and focus on enjoying external stimulation and enjoyment the entire weekend would bring, but I forgot to feel self-conscious.

The joy of being in another part of our world – one I don’t get around to as often as I’d like, had me focusing so much on the beauty I was surrounded by that for once I didn’t focus so much on my critical inner monologue, but instead found happiness in simply being with my family, enjoying good conversation and playing tourist in my own country.

And it’s at these moments that my mom, aunt and cousin decided to snap photos of me – and the results in these photos showed me looking like a person who wasn’t weighed down by the need to look good for the camera.

Oh, it’s far from perfect. But the photo pictured below finally had me convinced that hey, maybe I don’t quite ruin photos. And that, for me is a victory.

(Side note: Not quite brave enough to post more pics yet, but I'm getting there)

I think learning to feel good about myself in photos will probably be an on-going journey for me – after all, I have so many issues relating to my self-esteem that I still need to deal with, but finding that one photo I like is such a good start.

The truth is, it’s not easy to feel good about yourself in a world that constantly tells you that the only way to even remotely be photogenic is to conform to the standards that society defines. 

I’ve reached out to some folk on social media who shared their stories about their struggles with being in photographs – and it turns out that many folk feel similarly:

READ MORE: 'I love my scars': women share their stories

Carmen says that it took a long time for her to even start taking selfies of herself:

I always struggled with the way I look in pictures. I still sometimes cringe now. I'm bigger and taller than most people so I was always the awkward fat girl who looked like they didn't belong in the picture. It got so bad that I didn't even take selfies for a long time because I was convinced that i was too fat and ugly to be in any pictures even if I took them myself. Then something changed. I slowly started accepting myself and realising that not every picture is going to be flattering, but that doesn't mean I have to be awkward about it or ashamed of it. It takes steps to be truly self aware and realise that your body and your face are beautiful even when you're the fat girl in the family photo.

Cathryn struggles the most when she views pics of herself with her daughter.

I have always looked awkward in photos; the only ones I like of myself were on my wedding day - 20kgs lighter than I am right now, and after hours of hair and make-up. 

I struggle most when I see photos of me with my kid; I don't like how I look but she doesn't care, and won't care as she grows older. 

I wish I had more photos of me with my mum when I was younger but she also shied away from photos for this reason, and that has stuck with me into motherhood.

*Kekeletso confesses that her profile pic is years old and that she refuses to post any pics of her on FB for this very reason:

In response to your post: It's become progressively worse for me. Laughing off how I look to losing my sense of humour about it. I now refuse to post any pics of myself on FB & my current profile pic is years old. Not that it's a decent excuse but I am a mother of two & I look like a 3rd world polyester dishcloth that gets picked up with a thumb & index finger (pinky in the air). It's very hard to look at myself, so much so that my partner no longer posts any. It's not the lesson I want my kids to adopt or adapt so I am trying to be easier on myself. See so many mom's out there looking hot & I'm like...HOW?? Maybe I'm just too self involved & need to get over it.

*Not her real name

Paige regrets not being in photos of some of the best memories in her life.

I was an exchange student in the U.S, and spent a year in a high school there. It was the best time. 

I shied away from photos so much for all the reasons you mention, so much so that when the high school year book came out at the end of the year, there wasn't ONE picture of me in the whole thing. 

Not one. 

I may as well have not been there, in terms of these memories. I regret that now. Also, I wasn't as fat and unattractive as I thought I was. But then isn't that always the case? 

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