mature woman smilingDon’t you wish you had more pictures of yourself from when you were younger?

Then why are you deleting all those pictures of yourself now? You’re as young now as you’re ever going to be, so get your hand off the button. One day you’ll look back and think, “Why didn’t I know I looked that good?”

But there’s no rewind on a camera.

I’ve seen a lot of old friends this summer and we’ve all been delighted by looking at pictures from 20, 30, even 40 years ago. We’ve also been taking pictures of ourselves now, using our cellphones, and then, with gasps of horror, swiping the screen clean.

I’m grateful we weren’t able to erase our images as quickly back then.

If we’d been able to get rid of photographs as soon as the camera captured an image on film, there would be almost no record of our earlier lives — and the existing record would be mostly false.

Going to Fotomat was like going on a pilgrimage. The little film cartridges were offerings, which, in all humility and unknowingness, you’d drop off at the weird little hut. You’d sing “Someday my prints will come” just like Snow White because you’d be eager to see what kind of verdict the gods of processing would return.

Most of my favorite pictures now are ones I hated then.

One picture I didn’t keep but wish I had was of my 15-year-old self holding a zither I bought at a thrift shop. Yes, a zither. I wanted to look like a medieval poetess. Instead I look like a kid from Long Island wearing a cheap flowered peasant dress holding a stringed wooden instrument she couldn’t play. I wish I had a photograph of that because nobody believes I owned a zither. I can barely believe it myself.
At some point in college, I decided the square photograph was too nerdy to exist. I threw it away. And I feel acutely my disrespect for myself in that act of destruction.

“If only I looked as good now as I thought I looked bad back then!” is pretty much the lament. There’s a Doppler effect with photographs whereby the further away you get in time from them, the more attractive you look in them.

You know what would be great? To have pictures where people are not in their signature pose. It’d be great to see photographs where you’re not turned slightly to the left, with your hand on your hip and one leg out in front. Keep a picture of yourself where you’re goofing around. Keep a picture of yourself at a cookout where you’ve just splashed mustard and relish onto an old T-shirt and you’re grinning like a fool because that was a great day.

It’ll serve the purpose photographs were meant to have: capturing a moment, putting it in a frame and helping bring it all back.

Maybe that’s part of the problem: We are all trying to prove something with pictures. We try to prove we’re happy; we’re trying to prove we look good; we’re trying to prove we are in interesting places where we’re doing interesting things. But maybe life is not one big application form where impressive photographs act as a way of listing our accomplishments.

Pictures need to be returned to their rightful position as a way to help us remember what things were like, not as a way to construct a world as we wish it were. The perfect lives pictured on Facebook seem to indicate that the only way to connect the dots in some folks lives is to say, “Wow, I wish that were ME!”

Yet we know better. Lines between dots connect to form many patterns. It’s like the constellations: We’re supposed to be able to see the Seven Sisters or Orion’s Belt but there are endless variations eluding our vision. Galaxies might be exploding, but we won’t see evidence of it for years.

So do me a favor: Stop thinking you’re not cute enough to be in the photograph, or that you are too old or that you don’t want people to see you the way you are now. The way you are now is why we love you now.

Gina Barreca can be reached through her website at

Keep Those Photos, You’ll Never Look Better was last modified: by

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