As I was thumbing through old elementary school pictures, I realized something I never had before: not until the past two or so years had I learned to smile. Now, I know that this sounds utterly ridiculous; after all, smiling is an in-born trait.
I remember being in elementary, and most especially middle school, on picture day, trying to doll myself up, trying to dazzle! I had a haughty attitude, but underneath this conceited façade, I was terribly self-conscious. I was a touch overweight; I had large caterpillarish eyebrows that I wanted so badly to wax and a million other imperfections which chipped away at my confidence daily. So what did I do? How did I deal with this complex? It’s simple: Bonnebell lip gloss, lots of it and the sparklier the better. Take that, low self-esteem! But try as I did (oh, so hard) I never could measure up to my own standards when those fateful envelopes were delivered, or any other time, really. I was never satisfied with my looks or myself as a whole, and it really showed. My portraits always had me looking drugged, always with a lazy eye, and always with a forced smile. I never did understand why it happened, this total facial misrepresentation. I mean I practiced smiling in line. I had it down pat, or so I thought.
Junior High came and went, and maybe it was the eyebrow wax, or maybe just a confidence boost that comes with turning teenage, but I began to be more comfortable in my own skin, and the more comfortable I became, the better the school pictures began to look. Curious. Also, I began developing myself as my own person, and I started realizing who I was and what I liked, what I believed in. Sometime or another, I had started taking pictures for myself, not for the photographer or for the student body. I had become real. No more false persona or haughty personality or forced smile, or even (dare I say it?) Bonnebell lip gloss. I don’t smile to impress anymore; it’s just who I am.
I believe that learning how to smile, really smile—not for the camera—is a critical step in one’s life, right up there with learning to drive or learning the alphabet. I believe I took that critical step when I forgot the camera, forgot trying to impress others, and said goodbye to Bonnebell.
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