The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph


My dad recently posted some photos from our family’s time together at Easter. They are beautiful. They all show our smiling, happy faces, many surrounded by the lush and rich foliage from the nature conservatory we visited. I loved them all.

All except one. There was one I didn’t love. It was the one of my dad, my son, and me. Actually, it was the only one of me. And let me be clear, my dad and my son look great. But I look like a total bummer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Like, the intensive sleep deficit my husband and I were rocking, due to our choice to drive through the night to get to my family’s house. We got there in record time, without the requisite hourly stops made when my son is awake. We also got there at three in the morning, and two weeks later I think it is safe to say we haven’t fully made up the sleep gap.

Also, my family has this thing about using local and organic and natural (the real natural, not the natural stamped onto Cheetos so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being healthy) products. I am in favor of this completely. Except when it comes to shampoo. Natural shampoo is the equivalent of rubbing Aquaphor by the handfuls into my fine and oily-prone hair. So besides the bags under my eyes, my hair looks like an Italian mobster’s toupee.

But the biggest bummer of all, perhaps, is the fact that the picture is breathtakingly honest. That’s pretty much what I look like these days. Even without long distant late night drives and lotion shampoo, I generally have bags under my eyes and greasy, sloppy hair. This is what my life has become.

When I saw the picture I started down a shame spiral. How in the world had I become one of those women? You know the ones. They find a guy, settle down, and let themselves go. Also, everyone else looks put together in the photographs. Why couldn’t I at least have brushed my hair? Was that sweatshirt really necessary? Why so baggy and dirty? Is my face always so splotchy? Oy vey. You get the idea.

I started making resolutions about what I wouldn’t eat and what I would buy to make my hair shiny. I thought about the manicures and pedicures and hair cuts and wardrobes necessary to return me to my pre-baby, pre-“letting myself go” glory. I even wrote a full ending to this blog about taking care of myself and prioritizing mommy’s needs. Which I think is important.

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have been remembering the day. The day that the photo was taken.

That day, after months of waiting, I woke up in my parents’ house and got to have breakfast with my dad. I watched my son play with his cousins. I had lunch with my mom. My dad and I took the dogs to the dog park and met really enthusiastic dog owners. (Are there any other kind?)

Then we went to the conservatory and looked at the flowers. A hush fell over my son the moment his stroller entered the fern room. He was mesmerized by the plants, often close enough to rip off chunks and immediately eat them. We took the mandatory family photos by the fountain with the naked girl and my mom got her grandma/grandson snapshot. We breathed deep the rich, oxygenated air, filling up on the green we’ve been missing for the past six months.

We went home and twelve of us squeezed around a table growing too small in a kitchen growing too small to hold the abundance of new members, married and birthed in over the past three years. While eating bowls of lentil soup we laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Because that’s what my family does. Then we played games and laughed some more. And ate some more, of course, because that’s also what my family does.

All of this I accomplished with greasy hair and baggy, out of date clothes. All of this, with the food stains and the glasses that are askew from being grabbed by my curious son too many times. All of this with the fatigue that is my familiar blanket. All of this.

I want so badly to be the person who can do it all. I want to have the career. And I do. I want the perfect house. And I (mostly) do. I have the husband and the kid, the car and the memberships. But I want to do it all with nice nails, long hair that wasn’t poorly cut during a disastrous Groupon mistake. Oh, and clean, trendy clothes. Maybe even a little make-up.

And those are things that I feel like I could have if I just tried a little bit harder. If I just bought the right cream or took the time to blow dry my hair.

But remembering that day makes me feel foolish.

Could I spend more time on my hair? Of course. Will I ever? Probably not. Because frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn. Or at least, not enough of a damn. There’s just too many other things that I care about too much more than whether or not my hair is washed with Vaseline, or if it is washed with Aveda.

Hear me out, I’m still going to buy the Aveda shampoo, mind you, next time I go to the salon (which should be soon because honestly, the Groupon hair disaster is still haunting me). I still like to pretend that there will come a day when I will buy the magic soap that will transform my skin in a single use. Or the super shampoo that will erase the need for blow drying, styling, and productifying. (I told you, I don’t do those things. I don’t even know the appropriate words for them.)

But in case I never do, and because I know I won’t (at least for not any meaningful length of time), I have to remind myself that a picture is just a picture. Sure, it will scroll across the computer screen at my parents’ home forever and ever amen. But it is just a picture.

And I choose the moment and memory. Even with the greasy hair.


34 responses to “The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph

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  6. sophytasengsuwan

    Love this post and love you, too Rachel.


  7. This resonated with this stay at home, homeschooling mama that I am. I remember days of a career and high heels and business casual. I remember feeling like I mattered and had interesting things to say to intelligent adults. I sometimes get bogged down now in whether to shower or to take my six year old to the park. I cannot have an intelligent conversation unless it means a 20 minute dissertation on deep topics like legos, or cartoons.

    But then I remember those first two years of trying to be all things to all people. Hiding in the bathroom at work to pump, crying on my way home because I was 2 hours late because of work stuff and would get very little time with my boy. Yes, my days now are filled with monotony, and sometimes I am in my jammies until I realize it is lunchtime. My husband gets home from work and I feel guilty because the house is piled with “school” stuff that did not yet get put away. But my days are also filled with learning new things right along side my boy every day. I get to spend most of my waking hours with him and that is a blessing that I no longer take for granted. I am very aware of the parents who would love to have this luxury.

    I actually went out with hubs the other day and contemplated putting make-up on, and could not even find it. *sigh* So I definitely get it. And here is what I know. My son is not going to remember that sometimes I forgot to get dressed until noon, or that my hair was always in a ponytail. He will remember me digging in the garden with him, reading to him, playing games with him. He will maybe one day have some recognition that parents make sacrifices, but probably not until he is a parent himself. I used to avoid the camera for the exact things that you pointed out. What I know now, is that is sort of a selfish move. He is going to want pictures of his mama, and my vanity should not rob him of that.

    Thanks for sharing your own struggle. It is not out of the ordinary. We make choices about how to spend our time, and we don’t have time for everything.


    • I’ve been thinking a lot lately about just that–how we have to make choices and we can’t choose everything. My mother in law always says that very few choices are permanent, and if something isn’t working, then change it. The amazing realization is that even when things are really hard, or my picture is really bad, things really are working. Even in the struggle.

      Thanks for the comment!


  8. thejourneyisthelife

    Reblogged this on the journey is the life and commented:
    I’ve recently had these thoughts about myself, what I’m I going to choose?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rach, you nailed it yet again. Struck right thru to my reality. Sometimes I think I wish I could look awesome and not mushy all over and still have my kiddos behave perfectly and have the exact amount of love and attention they need/desire. But apparently I’m (shocker!) not Superwoman and this is otherwise impossible. Sunday, oh I hope someday, I’ll lose those pounds and be a little happier. But I’m gonna try to be content in the meantime. I’m gonna try. 🙂 love you, girl!


    • Love you, too! Looking forward to laughing and crying about it all with you in person. If it makes you feel better, you’ve always seemed to me to be one of the moms who manages to stay looking beautiful. 🙂


  10. I wrote a similar blog after vacationing in Croatia while pregnant with Jas. I think the most liberating thing that motherhood brings is the unconditional love and admiration our babies give us. We just need to stop and see ourselves through their eyes for a moment.


    • This is so true. The complete adoration in my son’s eyes when he looks at me really does make it worth it (even if that sounds cliche.) 🙂


  11. Sharon Dickman

    Thank you Rachel. Your face is adorable and your heart is beautiful! I am a 52 yr old perfectionist who has missed out on a lot of precious times because I was consumed with me and my looks! I am finally learning to live in the moments…time goes WAY to fast and then you look back and scratch your head wondering ” why the hell did I obsess with the superficial temporal things such as vanity, and miss out on the deep heart felt conversations? No one even cared if my hair and make up were done, or if my jeans ironed or house was immaculate!” I wish I could go back and change things, but I am thankful that God is in the business of redeeming everything! Love and hugs!


    • Thank you so much for this. I think it is amazing that women from completely different places can have these moments of connection. I so appreciate your honesty and encouragement. I still obsess over little things. But I’m working on being present in the moment. And yes, more than anything, am so thankful that God is in the business of redemption. Thank you for the hugs and love! Back at you. 🙂


  12. The thing about pictures is they really can’t capture what is mysterious and ineffable and that spirit/soul kind of stuff that makes people truly beautiful. And yes I am talking about you. Glad you know what a full and beautiful and rich life you have…your perspective is so healthy.


    • I keep thinking of the Ani D. line in one of her songs that says, “And it took me some time to realize I don’t take good pictures because I have the kind of beauty that moves.” Here’s to that kind of beauty. And here’s to knowing beautiful people like you.


  13. Simply put: you and this piece are perfect, beautiful and amazing. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love you Rachel.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I agree with Doug…I mean “anonymous”. 🙂 You’re amazing Raye. And your writing makes me laugh in pure enjoyment.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Loved this. Thanks for your honesty and your beautiful outlook on life.


  17. If it gives you any comfort I think you are still in the scary stages of parenthood and working, and while it will never be easy it will change and things that you thought were never manageable will again become so and you will worry about things you never knew possible. It changes, gets better, harder and easier all at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does give me comfort. Also, that has proven to be true so far–that things generally get easier, making way for new hard things. 🙂 Thanks for always being supportive of me and helping me anticipate the good things to come.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Exquisite, Rachel, you and this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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