A Week of Self-portraits
For my intro to drawing class I was assigned to sketch a self-portrait. I decided to challenge myself further and do a self-portrait a day. The process of peering into a mirror to create a likeness on paper was revelatory and taught me the following lessons.
You Will Get Better
We’ve all been told to keep trying because you will improve. But for some reason with drawing, math, and many other disciplines I’ve told myself that I’m not capable of getting better, or, at least, not better enough to toil for hours. I was not giving myself the chance. I had decided long ago that I’m not a natural and that it wasn’t worth the effort. The generous standard I gave to others I didn’t give myself because I thought I knew everything about me. When, in fact, I was probably the least qualified to judge since I am my most biased and prejudiced critic. So, I embarked on this challenge and every day I would scrutinize the face on the mirror and labored to replicate the lights and darks, the lines and shapes that make up the sum of my reflection. And, each day I would put up my self-portrait on the wall and see… someone else. At first, it was amusing. My family and I would laugh together at the growing family of Katherine’s that resembled her but were not quite her. By Day Five, I was no longer amused. I was in disbelief that my most carefully drawn self-portrait looked like a Vietnamese grandmother. Then, it happened on Day Six. All of a sudden, as if by quantum leap, all the miscalculations of my previous attempts were explained to me. It was like a puzzle that at first was inscrutable, but with persistence started to reveal its patterns in a way that opened itself up to be solved. It was revelatory to put it mildly, and I was finally able to capture ME, at least, on paper.
Your Mind Will Betray You
This next lesson is hard to explain so bear with me. I wrote earlier that I would put up my self-portrait on the wall and see someone else. Well, I can assure you I did my very best to draw my likeness. However, it was as if my mind was playing tricks on me at every turn. What my eyes saw on the mirror was not what I thought I looked like in my head and that created strife. Try as I might, I drew what I thought I looked like despite the fact that the image diverged from the reflection on the mirror. Now, because I was doing a portrait a day, a clear pattern started to emerge in terms of how I was drawing myself. A pattern which I wasn’t able to “see” until the sixth day, and they are as follows: My eyes are not as large, my cheeks are not as high, my face isn’t as small, and my neck isn’t as long as I thought they are. I was shocked upon this realization. How long had I been living with this false image of myself? Then, I questioned one step further as to why and the answer was pretty clear. We are bombarded with images of people who’s facial proportions proscribe to the golden ratio every day. We can’t escape these images and, unfortunately, in my case I had internalized them to the extent that I drew someone else!
Being Pretty is a Trap
What girl doesn’t want to be considered pretty at any point in her life? It’s what you say to little girls because they ARE pretty. ALL of them. But, when we start to expect grown women to be pretty and even fawn over them for their prettiness then we are fucked. We know all this intellectually, but the allure of being pretty is so powerful that it gets most of us in the end with its tentacled suckers! I am myself a victim as illuminated by the self-portrait exercise. I find myself looking in the mirror checking that I’m still pretty. And if in that instant I like the way I look then I jauntily walk away to do my business, but, if I don’t then, well, I will continue to stand in front of the mirror as if the reflection will change itself. As if I can negotiate a different outcome. Demand an answer for why I don’t look pretty today! I have a friend who has to downplay her prettiness because she says that it attracts the wrong kind of attention. She has to hide behind glasses like Clark Kent to get through her day. She can only dole out so much pretty at one time less her super hero identity be revealed. WTF? She is just as trapped as me. Any labeling is a trap if you buy into it. Smart, funny, handsome, stupid, and definitely, hot. Can you imagine what it must be like to be labeled “hot”? I think “normal” should be the new label.