My daughter-in-law loves to take photos. There are millions of them of her and the grandkids, my son. Of course, we all have a camera in our pockets now and pictures are kept in a cloud, not in a dusty box under the bed.

It’s amazing to see how much their little family has changed – from just the two of them, my son and her, in their new flat, on their first holiday, to the beautiful family they are now. It will be something so lovely to look back on.

I did not like having my photo taken. I still struggle now, but back then I really didn’t like having my photo taken.

This was in the olden days when you picked up little plastic wallets from the front of the supermarket and then posted off your film, only half remembering what was on it. You had no way to tell whether any of the pics would be any good – how many would be just of your elbow as you’d put the camera back in your bag, or were wonky or overexposed.  And of course, you needed to have a camera – not a cheap thing. In my life, photos were for the special occasions, the birthdays, the parties, maybe a trip to the beach.

I am in none of the photos. If an alien landed tomorrow and looked in my photo box she would barely know I exist. Sometimes I am there squirming at the back, sometimes there is a glimpse of an arm as I dashed out of view but there are very few of me with my family. Easier to be the one hiding behind the camera.

At the time I thought I was too fat. (oh, how I wish I could go back to being that size again!) At the time I thought I looked a mess, tired with babies, hair up, no make-up, jeans a bit grubby with sticky hand prints. Later, fatter still, I really worried I was too fat, pouring over pictures critically picking at the size of my arms or the curve of my belly. I could not see the smiling faces. I could not see the memories being made. I just saw me. Fat. My flaws there for all to see.

Maybe I am just exceptionally vain, certainly, I was very self-critical but I’m not sure that is exceptional as a woman.

It breaks my heart now, to not see me in the pictures. Not to see me in the record of my children’s life. Looking back at the few pictures of me, the ones caught off guard, relaxed under the camera’s critical eye, I look perfectly lovely. Not thin, not fat, mostly happy. Just an ordinary woman.

I wish I could go back and tell that ordinary woman that it didn’t matter. That she looked just fine, that she would miss herself, miss seeing herself in the story of her life, the story of her kids.

I can’t of course, go back in time, so I’m telling you instead.

You look amazing, with your beautiful family. You don’t look fat, and your hair looks fine. Mostly you look happy.  So, smile, don’t hide in the picture, one day this will be a beautiful memory. 

This was originally published in Lemon-Aid.

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