Up The Valley: Photo finished

July 14, 2012

I am living out this column in real time, with many hopelessly unflattering vacation photos being snapped while I carouse in the South of France.  This is why I only take vacations every six years or so.  Here is today’s column in the Star

Regular readers of this column may be curious to learn the answers to certain questions about me, such as: “What’s the matter with that woman?” and “Is she nuts?”

The manner of my madness may be found in a scene from the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters.” A neurotic producer, played by Woody Allen, is told by his doctor that he is not, as he feared, in danger of imminent death by brain tumor. He bursts joyfully out of the hospital and literally bounces along the street, making it almost halfway down the block before he suddenly stops short, a new negative thought halting happiness in its tracks.

I am similarly prone to hitting the pause button on unbridled enthusiasm. It happened recently when I was told that I won some awards for writing. I was jubilant, thrilled, honored. Someone noticed — I’m not just scribbling in obscurity for a handful of readers who accidentally scan a few lines while using the newspaper to line the litterbox. My joy lasted for precisely as long as it took to learn that winning meant facing one of my greatest fears: having my picture taken.

Nothing curdles my blood like a camera, which adds 20 pounds to my figure and twice as many years to my kisser. Plus, I am quite simply the least photogenic human ever to roll off the assembly line. It was always thus. I remember chubby childhood photos, followed by the freakish Lost Years of braces and headgear. I made some headway in high school, but from prom onward things steadily declined, fluctuating from unflattering to disfigured, particularly when bathing suits were involved. I became the Garbo of my group, shunning the lens like a silent film star wishing her fans would remember only her celluloid-preserved glory days.

This photo-fright frequently nullifies what would otherwise be happy news. I am planning my first real vacation in many years, invited to a friend’s party on the French Riviera followed by a week at another friend’s house in Provence. My reaction to this glamorous opportunity? Jubilation, just up to the moment I remembered I needed a new passport photo.

Worried that I might procrastinate and miss the plane, I tarted myself up and rushed off to face the firing squad. The enthusiastic photographer assured me that my best foot was finally forward. When I revealed the results to a friend, her reaction was telling: “Don’t worry; no one will see it unless you get arrested or kidnapped by pirates.”

I could receive a phone call tomorrow from George Clooney offering to take me as his date to the Oscars so that we could have time together to discuss my visiting his villa in Lake Como (where I would be writing the screenplay for his latest movie), and my only thought would be whether I could possibly wear a bag over my head while walking down the red carpet.

I know that I am not alone in this. The world is divided between those with good camera karma and those without. For the photogenic, every day is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover shoot. Their hair is always brushed and their tummies are always tucked and their heads are thrown back as they laugh with exuberant confidence. The rest of us face a future filled with photos taken with our eyes closed or with five chins or with jiggling upper arm flaps and jowls we never knew we had.

Of course, history’s cruelest joke on us was the invention of the ubiquitous smartphone, which snaps digital photos without warning. No longer constrained by the cost of film processing, would-be photojournalists capture endless candid shots, instantly post them on the Internet, and store them unedited in the iClouds where they will no doubt survive the extinction of Planet Earth.

Worse still is that iPhone button I keep accidentally engaging that captures my own image. More than once I’ve been startled by the screen, wondering what scary she-devil is glaring back at me. Surely the geniuses in Cupertino can invent an attractiveness app or a lens that makes us all look thinner and younger? Forget Instagram; that would be worth a billion dollars.

Meanwhile, I’ve come to terms with having a driver’s license photo that looks like I’ve suffered a stroke, causing the right side of my face to be noticeably lower and duller than the left. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show it to you. Or perhaps you’ll see it on TV or in the newspapers and magazines in the event I’m ever arrested or kidnapped by pirates.


3 Responses to “Up The Valley: Photo finished”

  1. Julie Fraser Says:

    Did you get the comment I left a moment ago? It vanished from my screen when I entered my e-mail address. Do I have to type it all over again? It may have vanished from my mind.. . . . as well!
    J. Fraser

    • Laura Rafaty Says:

      Hi Julie! Yes, I was at the meeting, and the fact that I was unrecognizable speaks volumes about my profile photo and its resemblance to my current look. It was taken using one of those light umbrellas that literally washes away all of your imperfections. If only I could carry one around in real life!

  2. Julie Fraser Says:

    I said: I don’t see any extra chins here. Your hair even looks as if it was ‘DONE” – You know, brushed out in a fluff. If you don’t really look this way, it’s too bad. Were you at the St.H.Planning Com. 7/17th meeting? Could we be neighbors? J. Fraser

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