I finally bit the bullet this week and scheduled a time for new headshots, replacing the very old and out of date ones I’ve been using for longer than I care to mention. A friend who is a great photographer had been suggesting he shoot me for years, and I kept putting it off – until I got a haircut, until my haircut grew out, until I lost weight, until my skin cleared up, until I had the right clothes.
Ideally, we want our headshot to say it all. part of the reason I’ve been so reluctant to give up my trusty headshot is that I love how it captured my personality. When you’re “just another soprano” you need to take every opportunity to express that you’re fun, easy to work with, amusing, etc. The stress of getting a new publicity photo is to find one that does some of the work of being charming for you.
And of course, it has to be beautiful.
There is an ancient orthodox Jewish blessing – not without it’s detractors – which states “I thank you, Lord, for not making me a woman”. Ignoring the exegetical arguments about it, I will admit that I have prayed its sister-prayer – O Lord, why have you made me a woman? -in my rawest moments of frustration with the complexity of a woman’s life. We are all, in our way, consumed by being beautiful.
What does it mean? What does it gain us? When we are beautiful people are attracted to us. We have companionship and power at our disposal. People think more highly of us, either as particularly blessed or as so able to control our world that we can mold ourselves. And like all vain pursuits we can never be satisfied. There is always someone to whom our beauty is not suitable. We push ourselves toward an unattainable goal – why? I am not content to say “because US Weekly told me to”.
Even when we shed the shallow goal of 21st century American beauty, we are supposed to pursue “inner beauty” always trying to attract with something. When, in the Pentateuch, women are described as beautiful, it always goes hand-in-hand with virtue. So now not only do I have to blow out my hair in the morning, I have to be virtuous too?
This is so difficult to write about. I walked away from the computer and sat down with my legal pad and purple fountain pen in hopes that I could find more truth that way. I’m beginning to suspect that the truth is that women will never be free from the desire to be beautiful, even if we disagree over how that beauty is made manifest. We want to be admired, special, intriguing, wanted – and for better or worse, being attractive is how you get those things.
After four hours of running around my friend’s house experimenting with backdrops and colors and lighting, of panicking about wrinkles and make-up and looking old, of being assured that we could photoshop the crap out of these pictures, of hair-floofing by the much-more-glamorous friend I had asked to come with me because of my own issues with looking put together (the subject of another post, or series of posts, or memoir); after all this my patient photographer and his gifted wife and I all sat at the kitchen table for sandwiches and beer.
Everyone was exhausted from the day, and we slouched, took comfort in the length of our friendship, and didn’t quite mind our manners. As we waited for panini to come off the press we shared stories. It just so happened we were discussing good news, not bad, and we shared advice and laughter and a bag of chips (of which, admittedly, I ate most).
My heart was bursting with gratitude for a world in which people care about me and allow me to care about them, for people who are patient with me when I am stubborn or tense – about feelings or commitments or relaxing in front of the camera. I loved my friends so deeply at that moment, and I felt beautiful.
Gallery above: The fruits of our labors, unedited. Photos by J. Justin Bates