Dear Lily June,
Somewhere out there is a photo of me.
I hate to be blunt, but I don’t believe in sugar-coating the truth with you, kiddo: I am not dressed in this photo. At the time it was taken, I couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, and if memory serves, I had all the seductive posing skills then of a praying mantis.
And yet, still, there it is: somewhere out there is a photo of me.
One arm is probably draped strategically under my cleavage, attempting to make myself look slightly less like the misogynistic cliché of a “carpenter’s dream” I was called in my day (meaning: flat as a board, easy to nail), and the other arm is probably crossed over my torso (to hide what I thought was fat at the time) to end up timidly propped near my… (how do I describe this to you? figuratively as my “sacred space”? playfully as my “feminine wiles”? clinically as my “genitalia”?) …womanhood.
Somewhere out there is this photo of me, but I’m one of the lucky ones. In the 90’s, our technology still hadn’t progressed that far beyond Polaroid cameras (if you wanted a nudie) and scanners. My first boyfriend, the one who took the photo, has probably long since disposed of the artifact, and it may lie mouldering in a landfill to this day, my shy nipples exposed to no more than the elements and time.
This is not the world you live in, kid.
If, one day, there is a photo of you, there are a million different ways and places it could relocate. Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and those are just the ones your dinosaur of a mother can name.
Hell, when you were still in my belly in January of 2015, I posted this status update with your photo:
Even now, I worry about the number of pictures I’ve put on this blog of you, exposing your adorable face to those who might look at such images for all the wrong reasons. I believe already that I’ve reached a limit, that unless it’s a special occasion or I have your permission, I’m going to severely cut back on the number of times I advertise your smile with images instead of descriptions.
And yet, somewhere out there is a photo of me. I can’t get it back, which means so much more than the image itself. It means I can’t get back my privacy.
I have no idea where it went, where it could be. Somewhere out there is a photo of me.
I could say there were reasons the picture was taken.
I liked a boy, was fairly certain I was love-struck swooning, and we were playful with our imaginations. There were hormones making the decisions for me, I wasn’t thinking beyond the moment, couldn’t imagine a time when a strong breeze might catch that little square of plastic film and roll it into a crowded street. These are all excuses.
I never imagined there might someday be ways to preserve it forever, to duplicate it, disseminate it, spread it from phone to phone, iPad to iPad, computer screen to computer screen. Maybe I should have guessed, but I didn’t.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, where an artist named Andy Warhol was born who mass-produced images of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe and said,
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
He couldn’t have any idea how much truth came of his prediction.
I could say there were reasons my picture was taken.
A boy liked me, had a grin that was fairly convincing, and he was interested in his power over me. He wasn’t using his brain for the thinking, he wasn’t considering what he was asking me to bestow, he didn’t take it seriously enough to consider we might not be together forever and what would he do with it then, huh? At the time, it didn’t matter.
It was my body. It was his photo.
In some ways, you live in a microscope. I can’t imagine how much more invasive life could become for your generation, but the trends I’ve seen throughout my lifetime don’t look likely to go away. Every pimple and scar you have might someday be on display.
I want you to know that your body is your own, that it’s yours to freely give to whomsoever you choose out of love or devotion or pleasure. But the souvenirs it leaves in the world, including those who might snap a pic of you and send it until it can reproduce and reproduce? I want to say, as your mother, Be careful how many, if any, you give away of those.
In some ways you live in a microscope. And you can’t predict who might stare down through the lens into your thighs, your torso, your chest. It could be your future employer, a current teacher, your own mother and father. Things have a way of getting bigger and badder before they get better; someone could say to us, “Did you see that the image being passed around of your daughter?”
I love you from your head to your toes, the small of your back to the curve of your fingers, and I wouldn’t want to see you that way because I know I won’t be the person for whom the snapshot was intended.
And yet, my dear, if this should happen to you, if you make a minute’s mistake that ends in regret that lasts far longer, if you should feel as if the whole world has seen each inch of your skin, do me this favor: Don’t look away.
You will have no reason to be ashamed. Your body is your own, and you can choose to cover it or give its curves away. I cannot force you to do what I believe in; I can only tell you how I have lived, and you can learn from my experience or leave it.
But if you choose to ignore me, know that you may have to relive it in ways even I wasn’t forced to, and so be firm and bold and strong and fearless in your convictions that if your gift is regifted and others should see you that way, you can still walk away with your chin lifted.
If you can’t do this, when you step up to the precipice naked, instead let the moment be the moment. Don’t let a lens catch you that way and preserve it.
In some ways, you live in a microscope. If a photo is taken of you, be able to say there were reasons it was taken, reasons that you can live with. Always.
And don’t go away haunted as I’m tempted to feel, even in my old-fashioned, out-of-touch way.
Somewhere out there is a photo of me. If I were in front of the camera today, I might make an entirely different decision. That is my truth, Lily June. And I have to own it.
- By Johan Hansson from Gävle, Sweden – Agfa Isolette V, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40577061