Can I Ask My Family To Stop Taking Photos Of Me?

I hate the way I look in photos, and I'm tired of feeling like the sore thumb

Q: My fiancé’s family loves to take photos, all the time. They take photos of everyone at breakfast, at family reunions, at dinner. There is no stop to the endless barrage of cameras. They love to take candid shots of the family. This irritates to me to no end. I feel like I’m the sore thumb of his extended family. They are all fit, active people. I weigh at least fifty to a hundred pounds more than all of his female relations. No sooner do they take the photos are they up on Facebook, Google Drive, and sent out to other relatives. They are nice people, and I love them dearly. But I hate seeing pictures of myself. I don’t want to sift through dozens of Facebook photos of my wedding and de-tag myself. I have spent years being depressed about how I look, especially in comparison to my own fit, active family where I am also the heaviest person by a wide margin. Is there a polite way to ask them to put down the cameras during our wedding?

—Anonymous

A: At the wedding? Sure. Loads of folks who came before you have let guests know that cameras and phones aren’t invited. It can be mildly controversial (if you’re not posting to social media, did it even happen?) but well within your rights as a host to request that everyone cut it with the amateur photography for a few hours. You can put a short note at the bottom of your program along with putting up an “unplugged wedding” sign, but I’d also start to spread the word now, passing it on by word of mouth and putting it on your wedding website if you have one.

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But you have to know that this doesn’t solve your real problem, right? Your wedding is one day that you have a bit of control over. But there’s no way to stop the photos indefinitely.

I completely understand that immediate cringe when a photo pops up on Facebook. What I try (and usually fail) to remember is that the people who love me, also love my face. Not because of the way it looks, not in spite of how it looks. But because it’s mine. When they see that face, they see me. And they love seeing me.

I know, that doesn’t fit with the social narrative we’re given. Our looks are only good or bad, valuable or not, and that completely depends on how they rate on a very specific, very impossible attractiveness scale. (Thanks, patriarchy.) But when my loved ones see photos of me smiling, they aren’t immediately struck by how many extra chins I’m sporting, or whatever perceived flaws jump out at me. They’re flooded with affection, with happy memories, with good feelings. Same for you. Photos of you inspire happiness.

I know, I know. It doesn’t inspire your happiness, which I get is your point. Even still, avoiding the photos won’t solve that. If anything, it’s going to do the opposite, because hiding your face reinforces the idea that you need to be ashamed of how you look. A friend recently phrased it to me as, “getting used to seeing the way I look.” You know, right now. And that sums it up so succinctly for me. Your body and appearance may change in the future. But this is how you look today, and that’s worth documenting. APW’s own Maddie had this to add:

I remember the first time I laser focused on a flaw in a photo. For my senior portrait in high school, I had my mom take photos of me on a tire swing with a flower in my hair. It probably captured my energy beautifully, but when the proofs came back, all I could see were my fat arms. That moment was the start of nearly a decade of hating myself in photos. I understand what it feels like to be the biggest person in a group photo. I know what it’s like to look at yourself and realize you’re fifty pounds heavier than the person next to you. But I’ve also learned a few things:

  1. Photos are not facts. I spent four years as a wedding photographer, taking thousands upon thousands of photos of strangers each year. And what I can tell you from looking at a gallery of five thousand images is that what you see in photos is not an accurate representation of life. Lighting, angles, equipment—it’s all at play. And photos can look so different from millisecond to millisecond. (For what it’s worth, families are notoriously bad at taking flattering photos, for all the reasons Liz mentioned above.) So it’s helped me to remember that a photo does not represent who I am any more than my eyelash represents my face. Photos are not facts. Repeat ad nauseum.
  2. The photos are not the problem. As Liz said, avoiding photos is just avoiding whatever is happening inside your brain when you think about your body. Looking at a photo is clearly setting off a series of triggers that makes you feel like crap, and you’ve told yourself if you can just avoid the trigger, you can avoid feeling like crap. But that isn’t actually dealing with the issue. And it’s going to keep haunting you until you address the feelings you’re having about your body. It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s not. But speaking as someone who has dealt with her own demons around this issue, it is so worth addressing the underlying issues for the freedom that comes with it. (And spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with changing your body. I am much more comfortable with photos of myself fifty pounds heavier than I was when I was thinner.)
  3. You do not deserve to be erased. I don’t want to get all morbid here (except, I will), but I think it’s easy to forget why we’re all taking photos to begin with. It’s a way to immortalize people that we love, in a world that doesn’t guarantee any amount of time to anyone. Taking yourself out of photos erases you from your own history and the history of the people who love you. And listen, I get that our culture is on photo overload right now, and that some of your annoyance is stemming from that. We don’t need eight thousand photos of minutiae. And sometimes taking photos gets in the way of authentically experiencing life. I’m here for challenging all of that. But most of what I’m hearing you say isn’t about that. Most if it sounds like you are literally trying to remove yourself from the picture. And I think it’s worth it to you to challenge that behavior. Because it says to the world that you aren’t important enough to be remembered. And you are.

Maddie said it so articulately: photos aren’t an accurate reflection of who you are, but they do allow you to be treasured by the people who love you. Seeing photos of yourself and accepting that they’re a reflection of you (an imperfect one! I still maintain that I look way better in person!), will only help you grow more comfortable seeing yourself. I can’t say you won’t see a photo and immediately zero in on all of your worst insecurities (hello, every woman I know). But it will get easier to match the imagined self in your head to what you see on the screen. Yep, that’s you! And you, right now, as you are, deserve to be documented—especially in all of your most radiant, joyful moments.

—Liz Moorhead

(P.S. But of course, super unflattering photos that should never see the light of day ALSO exist, which is why I have my Facebook set so that I need to approve any photo that I’m tagged in. Because why would my aunt share that photo. Why.)

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