I'm asking these questions because I wonder if I'm the only woman-of-a-certain-age who gets a jolt from the unbiased view through a camera lens. The response I felt on encountering my own image in newsprint last week deserves a rank on the Richter scale. It came as I got a first look at the promotional ad announcing my new writing project--a Sunday column called "Not the Retiring Type" set to debut April 20 in The Register-Guard.
At 71, I figured I was exactly the right age to author a column on active aging--the good, the bad, and the ugly. I didn't expect to begin with the "ugly." A week before, I'd positioned myself on a stool in the newspaper's photo studio and posed for a photo to be used with my upcoming columns. When I opened the paper and encountered the results, I blanched. I mean, it wasn't just a poor photo, it was something worse. When did this happen? This weary smile and tired eyes? What lens could do this to me?
The lens, I fear, is my own eyes! I never see that newspaper face in the bathroom mirror. She isn't the image that appears when I brush my hair, apply mascara, or check my look before heading out the door. Painfully, I'm recognizing just how skilled I've become at mental air-brushing and photo-shopping to soften lines, brighten eyes, and assess the outcome as "not bad."
The irony of this hasn't escaped me. As I set out to write about the pleasures and perils of aging, I'm balking at my own aging face. Not the face I see, but the face in the photo. Do we all confront this dissonance, at each and every age, between how we see ourselves and how we are seen? I'm a bit embarrassed but also intrigued by the conflict I've uncovered in myself--the me who feels ready to be 71 and the me that doesn't want that age to show.
Truth is, this jolt is precisely what I was seeking when I decided to tackle a new writing assignment. I wanted to shake up a life that had gotten a bit too quiet and too routine. How was I to know that the topic I tackled would hurl me straight into my own ageism! That's probably something worth further exploration by a writer-of-a-certain-age who is decidedly "Not the Retiring Type." (Meanwhile, I'm having a photo retake!)