Can We Just Get Back to Smiling Normally for Pictures?

Posted on June 12, 2017

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Is personal dignity in photographs mortally wounded?  First it was the weird fake gang-like hand signs (or signs that have crass sexual meanings); then it was the ridiculous kissy-face expression which has spawned numerous references to “whores of the Internet,” or “duckfaces.”  It seems that this pose is widely mocked and reviled, but that hasn’t stopped anyone yet.

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Oh, but wait, the way to stop it might just be to replace it with something else.  Thank goodness Miley Cyrus came along with that tongue hanging out for practically every photo.  We hardly know what she looks like without it.   And now Olympic Gold Medalists are doing it, too.  That’s Olympic Gold Medalist Sage Kotsenburg, below right, posing in 2014 (Photo credit:  David J. Phillip, AP).  Okay, it’s snowboarding, but… it’s also the Olympics.  Way to be a sports ambassador for the US, duuuude.

Can we just stop?  Whatever happened to just smiling for the camera?  What happened to that last shred of personal dignity that we used to have?  Why the burning desire to immortalize ourselves looking like morons? Any of these poses immediately lower one’s apparent IQ by a good 60 points or so.  They’re not attractive, sexy, or cute.

I just have this mental image of people at the turn of the 22nd century digging through the few old photos they might still have of their grandparents or great-grandparents in the bloom of their youth, and thinking:  Is there not ONE photo of a young Gran without that stupid lip-pucker?  Not ONE of my granddad without that nasty hand gesture (how I wish I had never discovered its meaning!), or his tongue sticking out?

Ms. Cyrus has said that she started sticking her tongue out for pictures because she felt embarrassed and didn’t know what else to do.  That seems to indicate some kind of discomfort with oneself, a self-imposed pressure to put on a show, to do something other than just being oneself in the moment.  Is everyone feeling that way lately?

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Today’s young folks might think this picture on the right – taken over 60 years ago – is boring, but I take the long view.  Here’s a young woman with a nice smile, in a casual pose sitting on a fence in a European village.  Nothing crass or undignified, nothing to embarrass herself or her progeny, nothing that is a big mystery now or will be a big mystery to people 50 years or 200 years from now.  She looks comfortable just being there, just enjoying the moment.  However long this image survives, her smile and pose will still be reasonably appealing and understandable to people of the future.

What they will never say is:  “What the hell is she doing?  What’s wrong with her?”

You know, the funny thing is, – it’s not just a matter of youth. The young woman on the fence is about the same age as the silly kids in the photos at the top of the article. But in her prime in the 1950s, she was already fully “launched,” living on her own thousands of miles from her parents, working abroad, and had just gotten married.

You may have guessed by now this was my adoptive mother, who died when I was just six. I am very glad to have photos like this one to remember her by, rather than the leering, sneering, tongue-wagging, silly and vulgar things at the top of the article.  What would I have thought of her then?

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