You can get lost in the landscape of the face. Daily, I marvel at the point of my daughter’s chin, like a goose’s head soaring through the sky. I trace that slightly protruding upper lip with a puff of soft rose petals. In conversations, I’m amazed at the way my husband’s eyebrows line up, then flatten out like Misa on a scale. I see these familiar landmarks and I think, I know this place. I love this place.
But what about my face, the landscape that continually comes to my mind? Why can’t I stick to it?
Over the past year, there are only four photos on my phone Just I. Most mothers understand The little tragedy of being watched, was rarely observed. Even though my husband has gotten better at taking pictures of me, I still find myself running away from the lens more often, and ducking if I’m not willing to pose. Delete non-traditional images. Sometimes, as I scroll through albums stripped of my face, I wonder if parts of me are lost in time. In 10 years, 20, what will I remember about the woman I am in this moment?
The mirror is deceptive. I see myself, but I can’t keep the image in my mind. It fades as soon as I walk away, and I have a hard time remembering what I look like. How others see me. Do we all feel alienated from our faces? Or is this a phenomenon of middle age, where some details are blurry, like a foggy window? When I talk about wanting more pictures of myself – because I do – what I really want is more evidence of my existence in the world. I just really want to be seen.
In high school, before the era of digital phones, we all carried disposable film cameras around. We’d whip them up in history lessons, in messy back kitchens at after-school jobs. We’d spend our money developing images of ourselves to pass on to friends and fans, as if we were little celebrities. It was the age of beautiful immersion.
I remember how my friend and I had a photo session in a rose garden. We wore acid-washed low-rise jeans and hoodies. We stood in the gazebos and among the banyan trees, looking off. Back then, we were nimble and energetic, ready to start our lives but totally unprepared for the homesickness we encounter in college, the men who break our hearts, the anonymity of cold cities.
That day, I showed my daughter one of the rose garden pictures. Most of the details were blown out in the glare of the sun’s rays – we were terrible photographers – but some things remain quite crisp. Everyone could see that we were deeply in love with ourselves. Fascinated by our bodies, fascinated by our newly purchased mall clothes. We were very alert to the way we moved in the world, with determination, if not sober. I wondered what it would be like to love myself in an unrestrained, unapologetic way.
The word “selfie” can seem precious. It rings with a certain sense of irony, hinting at narcissism. But I love how intimate it feels. Something between you and me, a closure of the psychological distance between the brain and the body. Selfies are low risk in a way that selfies aren’t. They suggest candor, even though we all take selfies.
I started taking them myself. I even bought a tripod for this.
At some point during the day, I step away from my desk and sit somewhere comfortable. Often, in my reading chair by the window, blue as a bay on a summer’s day. Other times, I fall into bed, makeup-free and exhausted. No matter what I’m wearing or how I’m feeling, I take the picture. I promise to keep it, even if I don’t like the way I look. Day by day, I become my own private historian.
This interruption from my routine always bothers me. I live most of my life in my mind – in thinking plot, tick off your mental to-do list — so going back to the body, however temporary, feels uncomfortable. I find myself asking, What right do I have to have in front of a camera? To dedicate album space to myself? It does not escape me that, on some level, I am asking permission to exist.
I study my selfies at night and see something about the old teenager — me, the young woman who spoke with such aplomb and yet had so much to learn. The landscape of my face became more familiar. There are double wrinkles below my nose that remind me of a straight-trunked elm. Cheeks hugging the contours of my face—more puffy than they used to be, but still bearing the faint capillary veins that run down like rivers on a map. The dark eyes (“eyes of the devil”, as one of her colleagues once called them) watch everything very vigilantly.
I hope to continue taking daily selfies for at least a year. Three hundred and sixty-five photos of me in every season—among a snow-covered yard, sweating by the pool with a thousand kids splashing around in the background, dressed for the holidays and dressed up for a lazy Sunday morning. It gives me great pleasure to think I have this record to go back to. Will there be more wrinkles? (Yes.) Am I going to change my hairdo? (Maybe.) Will I somehow rest to feel comfortable in front of the lens I’ve spent so much of my life avoiding? (I hope.) The selfie album feels, at this point in my life, like a triumph.
Once upon a time, I would have been embarrassed to pay so much attention to my face. Now, that concern is how I will find my way home. For just a few moments, as I study myself intently, I also hug everyone else The ones with the past That winds in this evolving landscape. We are here, we are together, and we will be known.
Thao Tai She is a writer and editor in Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter. her first novel, Banyan Moon, comes out in June. Thao has also written about Cup of Jo absent parentsAnd maternal patternsAnd physical affection. You can subscribe to her newsletter here.
note 12 readers share what they love about their lookAnd moms in the photo.
(Illustration by Alessandra Ulanoff for a cup of joe.)