Why do women have such a hard time seeing themselves accurately? When I was young and as beautiful as I was ever likely to be, I felt convinced that I was fat and unattractive. Looking back at the pictures of my twenty, thirty, and forty-year-old self, I can’t believe how wrong I was. It’s called Body Dysmorphia Syndrome (BDS) and like so many women (and, increasingly, men), I wasted years not realising how totally fine I looked.
Now that I’m old enough to know better, I’m crazier than ever. Only this time around it’s Reverse Body Dysmorphia Syndrome. With RBDS, a crumbling middle-aged person such as myself looks in the mirror and sees a wonderfully sophisticated, coolly attractive, surprisingly youthful slim person. I have to admit it makes a nice change to consider myself irrationally attractive, but there is a fly in the ointment. It’s called photography.
These days, the rules about passport pictures take up two whole pages of the instruction booklet. No smiling. No glasses. No black and white. No high contrast to erase imperfections. No angling of the head AT ALL. In other words, no possibility of a good picture. Years ago, I went to that wonderful passport photographer up a flight of stairs on Oxford Street, a god among men, who somehow managed to make everyone look glamorous and serene, or in my case, as glamorous and serene as humanly possible without resorting to a portrait in oils.
But yesterday, that seemed too much like hard work. So I went to Snappy Snaps. The bored photographer took five pictures. The best of the five was so godawful that I recoiled with shock. Who was this horrible old fat person with a gigantic nose, thin lips, beadly little wrinkly eyes, hair sticking out in twenty-seven different directions, and the deadpan squint of a child molester?
Honestly, thought I. What was wrong with the woman’s camera???
Today I gave it another shot. At the Post Office. Straight after riding, which might have been a mistake — no earrings, hat head, and twelve seconds worth of makeup applied four hours earlier. But how unlucky can a person get? Yes, you guessed it, another faulty camera!!!
Outraged, I summoned my husband and thrust the offending pictures under his nose. “This doesn’t look anything like me, does it?” I demanded.
“Of course it doesn’t my darling,” said he. “It’s a vicious distortion of your transcendent radiant beauty.”
He’s a pro, my husband. But then, he’s had years of practice.