Picture falls short of a thousand words

Amy Napier recently changed the image of herself that accompanies her “Coffee Break” column. I cut out both photos and placed them side-by-side. The new photo is decidedly more flattering: Amy with a Mona Lisa smile peeking out from under the jaunty brim of a cap. She looks self-possessed and moving forward with her life, hence the cabbie’s cap. Beep beep.

Next I looked at the photo of me that appears with my column, wondering, “Who is THAT woman?!” What does my photo say about me? That I swung by the Homer Index on my way to work and posed with wet hair in my trusty brown warm-up jacket just to check that task off my “to do” list?

That’s how it went down. No primping, posing, or pre-supposing: A generic mug shot to fulfill the columnist passport photo requirement. Showing considerable restraint, I refrained from telling the photographer to keep snapping photos until he captured something that looked more attractive and less like me. But that’s what I was thinking.

Unfortunately, my photo looks exactly like me. It must. People I don’t know approach me in out-of-town contexts and are able to positively identify me from my column photo. So I might as well accept that the most notable thing about my looks is that they are “recognizable.” At least that’s something. Could be worse.

What’s my V.Q. (vanity quotient)? You be the judge. When I recently had an essay accepted for national publication, I submitted my work I.D. badge photo as the accompanying headshot. Really. And only because the Secretary of State office would not release my driver’s license photo. Such matters don’t matter to the sub-beautiful.

That reminds me of another unattractive admission: Two decades ago, I wrote a story about an extremely homely woman who had received some special honor. Her homeliness was not a factor in the story, just an unfortunate fact of life. I snapped a photograph of her receiving the award. Soon after they appeared in print, she sent me a complaint letter.

“Many people have commented on the unflattering photo you took of me,” she said. “I am disappointed because you are good photographer, capable of taking better pictures. In fact, I admired your work up ‘til now.”

I wasn’t sure what to say because there was nothing technically wrong with the photograph . . . . other than its subject. The real issue she missed was that I was actually too good of a photographer because I had accurately captured her face on film. Don’t you hate when that happens?!

I took the high road with my response. “I’m sorry your friends have chosen to focus on an unfortunate likeness of you rather than the uniqueness of your achievement.” Further, I said I’d heard only positive comments about her talent. To myself, I vowed never to   criticize a photographer for taking a photo that made the mistake of looking like me. Hence my serviceable newspaper column picture.

Since I’m grousing over my looks, you might wonder what I’d rather look like. I have no specific person in mind. But just for a day, it might be fun to be either a dark, exotic beauty or a tall, busty blonde.

Could I be trusted with extreme attractiveness? I doubt it. I would probably abuse the privilege to command attention, to court favors, and to intimidate the less attractive. We’ve all observed how the bold and the beautiful harm with charm. What a selfish pleasure it would be to cash in on looks instead of borrowing against brains and brawn.

More realistically, I would settle for having a face to which I could apply make-up to enhance, rather than approaching grooming like a road commission crew on pothole duty. I would prefer eyes that aren’t allergy-red, a set of women’s ears, whiter teeth, and a tiny, upturned nose, even though it would look ridiculous on my large face.

But alas, those features are not mine this lifetime. So I guess I’ll return my attention to cultivating an engaging personality and a positive outlook, the kind people are genuinely glad to encounter . . . . once they look past the looks.

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