As part of our #BREAKFREE campaign, blogger Julie Kirk explains why she posts unflattering photos on Instagram to make a point
'You’re brave!' 'There’s no way you’d catch me doing that!'
Whenever I receive comments after sharing photos of myself online it makes me wonder just how bad I must look in them.
But I don't get offended or upset. Neither do I wish I’d deleted them before anyone could see them. Because I'm conducting a project - A 'Bad Portraits' project - and I have been for three years now: putting my 'unflattering' photos out there, into the bloggersphere.
Every January (when the blogging world is wall to wall with clean eating and fresh goals), I carry out my own ‘ego detox’ by sharing my imperfections and inviting others to do the same. (Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has. Yet.)
The idea came to me as I was browsing my photos thinking 'I’ve shared all my decent ones, I’ve got nothing my readers haven’t already seen'. And a devilish voice in my head suggested that, rather than life at its edited best, my readers would probably appreciate seeing a slice of life in all its dishevelled averageness.
Suddenly I knew that all the photos I’d previously ruled against ever sharing were precisely the ones that people would be eager to see. And so my Bad Portraits project was born, liberating a sizeable part of my self-image in the process.
Now when I discover I’m not looking my best in a photo I respond with an entirely different mindset. No longer is my first thought 'Oh come on! I was convinced I looked better than that!'. Now it’s a less judgmental, less diminishing 'Ach! OK then. Nobody panic. File that one under ‘Bad Portraits’ and come next January that’ll give someone a laugh'.
My one time disappointments have become ‘material’.
I'm not inviting blog readers to come and laugh at me; my number one rule for selecting which photos I share is 'Does it make me chuckle?'. If it doesn’t - if it makes me feel bad - then it stays hidden. My motive isn't about shaming - it's about reassurance. Because now when I fall between the gap of how I thought I looked, in my head, and how I actually appeared in a snapshot, it’s a comfort to have a safe, albeit humorous, place to land.
Bad Portraits is a refuge from the tyranny of perfection, offering a set of alternative responses to reality than just embarrassment or twinges of sadness. Naturally, I do still feel all of those emotions from time to time, but thinking of these ‘failed’ shots as part of a conversation with the online world - as a way to reach out to others - changes things.
It takes all that energy I might spend on feeling shame, failure, and awkwardness and recycles it into something more life-affirming.
In sharing my photos I aim to give other women permission to forgive themselves for not being cover girl perfect.
To be honest, I'm OK with it if all anyone did was browse my photos and revel in the schadenfreude by enjoying a giggle at my expense. But if someone saw my Bad Portraits then went on to laugh warmly at herself, knowing she’s not alone in not always appearing like she has it all together … ah, well …now that would be something else.
I haven't always been quite as confident with my online image. Bad Portraits is not something I could have created 10 years ago. But fortunately, as I approached 40, I found my self-consciousness withering away - leaving more space for humour and truth in the approach I took to presenting myself online.
In a digital world where re-taking a selfie 50 times until you find a favourite (which, of course I still do, I’m not a masochist!) costs nothing, and where even if you can’t achieve ‘perfection’ inside the camera there’s a filter or an app that can help with that afterward, I knew there would be an audience for my unedited out-takes.
And so, can I tempt you to #BREAKFREE from automatically hitting that delete button on a painful holiday shot?
Or the next time you’ve spent hours getting ready, finding the right light, the right angle (from above, oh my, always from above) and taking a glorious pre-going-out shot - only to find the next morning that a friend has tagged you in 16 terrible shots for all of Facebook to see - rather than unfriending and blocking her account, can I tempt you to save the images for your own retrospective of imperfection?
Will you consider joining me in saving some of the best of your worst? Will you preserve some of the funniest shots of yourself that, when you come to look back over your life in pictures, you’ll be glad you saved?
(Top tip: I find that naming each of my photos as if they were a deliberate modelling pose can definitely help take the sting out. Some of best modelling includes the signature looks: ‘You mean I'm in the same building as Benedict Cumberbatch?’ the ‘walking an invisible dog’, the ‘anxious guinea pig’ not forgetting the classic ‘tortoise in the throes of passion’).
What do you say? Are you in? Is your deleting finger at least a little further way from the button that it was before you read about my Bad Portraits? I hope so.
(A Good Portrait)