After reading Allison Tate’s essay on “getting in the picture,” Lisa Belkin took notice of her own absence from family photos. She shares why she and other mothers need to hop in front of the camera, regardless of what their hair looks like.
Allison Tate’s clarion-call-of-an-essay first appeared in my work inbox on a Saturday afternoon. I read it. I cried. Then I opened the closet where I cram thousands of my own family photos and started to search.
I guess that makes me the first of countless mothers to see themselves in her article, which was about not seeing ourselves in actual pictures.
I’m not exaggerating when I say there are thousands of snapshots in that closet. One day I will put them all in albums, really. (Hey, the babies in the photos are barely in college now, so I have time, right?)
Of the ones I do have, most are posed and at formal events like weddings, bar Mitzvahs…
Nearly all of them are of my children. Many of them include my husband. I can count on fingers and toes the number that include me with my boys. Of the ones I do have, most are posed and at formal events like weddings, bar Mitzvahs, graduations and the extended-family-goes-to-the-beach-all-dressed-in-khakis-and-blue-shirts vacation.
Of the few that show real life, there’s one at Thanksgiving showing Evan, then a toddler, reaching joyfully for the camera as I held on and radiated his joy. There’s one of me consoling him when he was shy at a birthday party, and a few of all of us riding horses together on a long ago vacation. They are rare. I used to hate them. I don’t anymore.
I am not in the picture for the same reasons that Allison Tate wasn’t, and that millions of women who responded to her post aren’t. In part it’s because I was behind the camera (though in an era of front facing iPhones, that’s no longer really an excuse.). In part, it was because I ebbed and flowed on my feelings about family photos in general. Mostly though, it was because I shunned the camera. My hair was a mess. I had no make-up on. I looked too tired and weighed too much.
But it wasn’t just me that was impacted by Allison’s post. Readers felt so moved that they sent us more than 1,800 photos of themselves “in the picture.” Her original essay has now become the most viral one this year on the Huffington Post and Allison has shared her message on Katie, network news programs, and to websites in a variety of languages that Allison doesn’t even speak.
I would ever not take a photo of my child because their hair was a mess?
In the two weeks since I first read Allison’s words, I think I understand as never before what motherhood does to too many women. It makes us disappear. We lose ourselves in a new identity that is rewarding, yes, but also all-consuming and overwhelming. We erase ourselves, as if we are unable to reconcile our old lives with our new ones, so we hide instead. Lord knows we critique ourselves. I would ever not take a photo of my child because their hair was a mess? Heck, that’s WHY we take their photos, to remember the messy times.
Allison’s words resonated because we all recognized our own absence. Not from our children’s lives – we know we are there, in spirit and in person, every moment of the day- but from their memories. The moments that will be sparked by photos decades from now. When we catch sight of our own parents holding us, there for us, at times we don’t remember, we feel embraced through the years. There aren’t enough of those photos, because our mothers shunned the camera the way we do. But we can change that.