Photo Sensitivity


Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Glamour Shots portrait photography studios were popular. You'd walk in as an ordinary person, and walk out as Yourself 2.0. In 1993, Rosebud, Gypsy, and I turned 30, so we chose the Houston Galleria shopping mall location as the venue for our rite of passage into a new decade.

I bought a new outfit for the occasion – a blouse and slacks combination made of rayon, in muted shades of sky blue, purple, and seafoam green. But it didn't matter what we wore to Glamour Shots; they provided plenty of jackets, blouses, and accessories for our afternoon of playing dress-up. I don't know how that Magic Man makeup artist and stylist did it, but he poofed my hair four times bigger than usual, something previously accomplished only by Houston's 200 percent humidity. But he did it without the frizz. Using theatrical makeup, he made my face flawless.

“Oh my gosh. I look like a portrait. Where can I buy this makeup, this side of heaven?”

“It’s not accessible to the public; it’s for theatrical use only,” he replied.

“Oh no,” I responded, my voice cracking and my bottom lip quivering. “Well, can you come to my house and make me look like this every day?”

He laughed, until he saw me get my checkbook out. The fear in his eyes made me respond, “Oh, okay. Never mind. I just won’t wash my face for a few weeks.”

He said something about that makeup not being very good for skin if used all the time, but I was only half listening. In my mind, I was posing for Vogue.

My girlfriends and I each chose three different ensembles for our photo shoots. From the waist up, we looked like movie stars; from the waist down, which wouldn’t show in the photos, we were regular people.

My first choice was a red boa. That was the whole ensemble. Of course, because these were G-rated photos, rather than too-scary-for-the-general-public-and-I’d-die-of-embarrassment photos, there was a piece of red material wrapped around me. But you can't tell that by looking at the photo. That was pretty risqué stuff for me.

Having a brother, and no sisters, I wasn’t even accustomed to other females seeing me without all my clothes on. In my 20s, I often spent time with my girlfriends Murphy, Darcy, and Eunice, three sisters. One morning, I went over to see them. Treating me as if I were the fourth sister, they began changing out of their pajamas in front of me. Like that was normal. Bras were off, and ya yas were flying to and fro. It was traumatic. I ran from the room as quickly as possible, with all of them dying laughing at the Girl Who Had No Sisters. I’ve always been more reserved than some of my peers, never being brave enough to don a bikini past the age of four. Of course, the window of opportunity to wear one slammed shut many years ago, when my thighs became intimately acquainted with each other, and my belly turned to jello. Good grief, I don’t want to see that – why would anyone else? I’ve got to respect myself the morning after swimming in public.

So, I made sure that Glamour Shots red cloth stayed put during my photo shoot.

In my second pose, I wore a royal blue jacket with rhinestones, and looked as if I might burst into a rendition of "Delta Dawn;" my accent has been compared to Tanya Tucker. My third selection of photo wear was a denim top with thin silver grommets across the neckline. I wished I could’ve taken it home; I’ve always been partial to denim.

The photographer was patient, and gave detailed instructions on how to tilt my head, how to position my chin, and exactly where to look. He made me laugh, made me feel gorgeous, and treated me like royalty.

When we finished our sessions, and all my imagined paparazzi faded out of view, we walked out into the mall. I waited for all heads to turn in our direction. Instead, egocentric shoppers went on their merry way, oblivious to our transformations. My girlfriends’ husbands, Captain and Sean, commented on how great we looked. But my boyfriend, Flash, did not.

"Where's Kim?" Flash asked when he saw Gypsy and Rosebud walking towards him. "Is she still in there?"

I walked over and stood nose to nose with him. A look of vague recognition flickered across his face.

"Oh wow, you look...different," he said. Then he quickly added, "Not better, just different."

Now, I’m a huge advocate for lying compliments in the midst of a budding romance. But when it’s that blatant, it insults my intelligence. With a layer of heavenly makeup on my face, and hair so big I’d block the view of three people sitting behind me in a movie theater, it was obvious to anyone who’d ever met me that I looked different than when I’d walked into Glamour Shots. With the money I’d paid, I’d better look different. “Different” is a double-edged sword, and Flash had just sliced off a sliver of my self-esteem. Touché.

As drool ran down his chin, I knew he was smitten by an image that would never be duplicated without professional help. Sure enough, the next time he went out with my deflated hair, he had no trouble recognizing me. And he’s never mistaken me for a supermodel. Very disappointing, indeed.

For years after we married, the photo of that brazen homewrecker wearing a red boa hung on the wall of our bedroom. I'd walk in to find Flash staring at it with a faraway look in his eyes. Then, he’d ask me, "Who is she, again? A friend of yours? Is she married?"

"Flash, come to bed. You’ve been leering at that for two hours."

“I’ll be there in a minute,” he’d lie.

Finally, I'd fall asleep during his vigil. When I’d wake the next morning, there he was slumbering, with the picture sticking out from under his pillow. I tried to accept the harsh reality that my Flash was seeing someone else. Every evening, I said goodnight to the other woman, and reminded Flash that she was only two-dimensional. But eventually, three-dimensional me couldn’t take the stiff competition. In the midst of yet another rearranging our bedroom to make room for a bigger desk for Flash, the Hottie Photo was put away. In a secret place. Never to tempt my husband again.

Years went by, and I never spoke of her again.

But recently, I realized how long it’s been since we’ve had a professional picture made of us, either as a couple or as a family. I hardly see professional family portraits anymore; everyone takes their own pictures with their phones. And just as cell phones have multiplied our photo ops by thousands, they have also brought my potential for horrid photos of myself to an all-time high. Like my mother, I am the Most Unphotogenic Human on Earth; we were tied for the title. When one of us would snap a picture of Mom that was acceptable for viewing by the outside world, a surprised, “Hey, this one looks good,” exclaimed by all present, would resound throughout the house. It was cause for celebration. Candid photos captured her bad side, as they do mine; most of the time, we’d be caught with our mouths wide open and our eyes half shut. Overly sensitive to photos of myself, I’ve spent much of my life with my hand in front of my face; capturing Kodak moments of my teenage years was particularly difficult. Now, in the evolution of technology, times are even grimmer for those of us whom the camera does not love; cell phone selfies are the devil.

“Flash, hold the phone above us, so I have only one chin,” I often direct.

He raises his hand to the heavens.

“Well, not that high. My neck looks fat.”

He lowers his arm a bit.

“Now I’ve got turkey neck.”

He decides to move the phone a little to the side of us.

“Now I can see my crow’s feet,” I explain.

“Is there any level at which you don’t resemble a feathered creature?” he asks, insensitively.

“Yes, right here,” I instruct as I move his phone to the perfect spot.

But then one of us has our eyes closed, or he says he looks like Peter Sellers as a Chinese detective in Neil Simon’s Murder by Death. Or I look scared. Or his hand is tired of holding up the phone for 20 minutes as we try to capture one good picture of ourselves. I’ve tried to take the selfies instead of Flash, but my eyes are always off kilter. Fifteen people have tried to explain to me where to look when I take a selfie, so that my eyes look normal. I’ve tried it, with no success. It’s the Crazy Eye Phenomenon. After one too many comments of “I didn’t know you had a glass eye,” I gave up. From then on, Flash or random strangers passing by us were our official photographers. When we get home after a fun day out, we review pictures.

“Don’t put that on Facebook,” I warned Flash last week, as we viewed several photos that included me.

“Why? I thought you liked that one.”

“I thought it was okay. But I look too big,” I explained.

“You look great.”

“No, I look old and bloated.”

“The camera adds 10 pounds,” he tried to assure me.

“And wrinkles? Does it add wrinkles too?”

Occasionally, I approve a photo. Our marriage works better now that we preview photos before he posts them on social media. There’s nothing worse than an unauthorized picture of yourself popping up for all the world to see, then wishing you could turn back time or crush your husband’s cell phone with a sledgehammer.

So, it’s time to hire a professional. We need a beautiful portrait of our family, the senior citizen version for me and Flash. My turkey neck will be airbrushed, and my flying squirrel arms will be edited to look like I’m a weightlifting queen. All crows feet will be filled in, and Flash’s beady eyes will be enlarged, preventing him from exclaiming, yet again, “Oh my gosh. I look awful. Do I really look like that?”

Of course, just in case all that effort isn’t enough to make us look twentysomething again, we’ll include Cowboy in all our photos; no cutesy couple portraits for us. In our struggle to own a decent photo of ourselves, he’s our saving grace; he deflects from our awkwardness, and brings his joyful beauty to every picture. We have no idea from whom he inherited his photogenic qualities. It remains a mystery.