im still here

This Year, I'm Finally Getting In The Family Photos

No more hiding.

Written by Holly Garcia
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

When I was a kid, circa the late 90s and early 2000s, I hated even the idea of having my picture taken. I was never super slim and felt perpetually awkward, so except for the annual school picture and mandatory after-school activity shoot, I did my best to avoid it altogether. Nearly three decades later, I can’t say things have changed. Really, I loathe it. I’d even say that full-body pictures are the bane of my existence.

Don’t get me wrong, photography has come leaps and bounds. Red-eye is a thing of the past. Selfies and smartphone tech and filters have been a Godsend. But you know where I don't have that control? In family photos, both candid and posed.

So at every school event and every family gathering — of which there are so many during the holidays — I find myself between a rock and a hard place. Like so many moms, I snap many adorable, endearing photos of my kiddos, my family, and all things holly-jolly while trying hard to keep myself out of frame. But this year, that changes.

When I was a kid, I remember how often my mom would take me or one of my siblings and place us squarely in front of her. Even though she didn’t always say it out loud, this simple act spoke volumes. She didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin. She tried to hide herself, and honestly, I totally get it.

In a world where women are expected to look picture perfect (whether the camera is on or not) having a body that doesn’t fit a very specific aesthetic makes things like taking pictures painful.

These days, on the one hand, the option to edit pictures is limitless, but at the same time, the pictures are more omnipresent than ever. Do I want to take an unflattering Christmas card photo that will bring me to tears? Not really. Do I want to focus on the fine lines of my forehead instead of my girls in the holiday spirit? Definitely not. Do I want to memorialize my double chin for all eternity (when it already plagues me anytime I look in the mirror)? Oh, hell no.

I know, I know, I sound super dramatic, but these worries and frustrations have deep roots in decades-long struggles with a negative body image and a bit of body dysmorphia. Despite that, this year, I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone and into the frame. Because even though I really, truly don’t want to be in these pictures, I want even less for my girls to take away an unspoken message.

It’s taken a long, long time to rewrite the inner dialogue that says I should be ashamed and that I should put off pictures until I lose at least 20 more pounds. (Let’s be very honest, I have no idea when that’ll happen, or if it even will). So how do we get there?

I wanted some practical advice from an expert, so I reached out to Amy DeBlase, LMHC, LPC, PMH-C, a licensed mental health counselor. “If picture time means anxiety time, remember first and foremost that beating ourselves up is not going to help the situation. Instead, try to focus on self-compassion and acknowledge our discomfort,” she said.

To me, that felt counterintuitive; I’d felt like struggling to participate in the holly-jolliness somehow made me a bad mom. But it turns out I was taking the wrong approach. I need to face my feelings and be kind to myself about them… which turns out to be easier when you give yourself grace, instead of cramming those feelings into the deepest, darkest corner of your heart. DeBlase also gave me an important reminder: “Our words and actions will likely be mimicked by and internalized by our kiddos,” she said, adding that it’s an opportunity to be mindful of how we talk about our bodies. Plus, getting in those photos is actually a chance to model doing something that makes me uncomfortable. And that’s a valuable, lifelong skill.

Out of all the work I’ve done to change the relationship with my body, having compassion for myself and ditching the negative self-talk has been the hardest. What helps me stay the course — even when I physically cringe seeing myself photographed in my full-body glory — is knowing how easy it could be to help my girls have a better relationship with their bodies than I do. That’s why this year, I’m joining the family photos, perceived flaws and all.

Maybe I should preach less about body acceptance and spend more time putting it into practice. After all, I’m pretty sure years from now, when we look at these pictures, my kids will spend a lot less time thinking about what my body looked like than they do remembering the memories we made.

Holly Garcia writes about parenting, mental health, and all the lifestyle things. She hails from the Midwest, where she’s raising her daughters and drinking copious amounts of coffee.