A narcissistic photo of me
It may come as a surprise considering I am a fashion blogger, but there was a time when I hated having photos taken of myself. As a toddler, I had a camera constantly pointed at me thanks to my dad but around the age of 4 or 5, the frequency of these impromptu shoots dwindled, and by the time I was 7 or so, they eventually ceased altogether. During my teenage years I was convinced that I was ugly and had a singularly hideous face. I only remember three photos of me from then, just one of which is extant now. All three had been taken by my parents – two on vacation and one for no particular reason. I’m uncomfortable in all of them, and positively grumpy in one (I hadn’t learned to pull the disgruntled, yet wistful pout yet) but in all three, I had been posing.
Me at 14
It makes sense now, in hindsight, because having photos taken of me would eventually become one of my favourite pastimes. But back then, photos were a rare and unwelcome thing. I told myself I “wasn’t photogenic” and avoided the lens. Everytime I faced it, once in about 2 years, I tried to look my best and hope it turned out good…and it never failed to disappoint. So things stood.
2004, the results from my first camera phone
When I was 17, I got my first phone. It was a Nokia 7850, the first camera phone ever to be launched. That phone changed everything. The digital format meant that I could take as many photos as I liked and not wait (and pay money) to see how they turned out. For the first time, I could control the photos being taken of me, fine tuning it till I got it just right. Immediately I embarked on taking selfshot after selfshot – in mental hospital, and then out of it, with makeup and without, in bed, with friends, in the middle of the night, and with purple contacts and face paint on. I was at a point in my life when I finally felt satisfied with my looks – my anorexia had resulted in dramatic weightloss and I was happy with my appearance for the first time since I hit puberty 7 years before. I took selfies like a woman possessed, uploaded them on newly fledgling social networking sites, and felt good about myself. I felt pretty, I felt like a real girl. I continued flooding my computer with a barrage of self shots, which became self portraits as I went to Uni, upgraded my camera and started learning photography. I came to tell myself that maybe my face with makeup on wasn’t so bad after all.
One thing stood constant in all these photos though. They were all of my face. There was not one single photo of my body.
My first OOTD for Fatshionista
My anorexia had abated by the time I started Uni, and I was gaining weight steadily. Whenever I turned the lens towards myself, I would try and forget that anything existed below my neck and focused on pouting and looking wistful, my patented posing technique till this day. If anytime I took a full body shot, they were “reference” photos of my naked body before going on yet another diet. My first proper full body shot dates back to 2008. It was my first OOTD for Fatshionista, and my awkwardness and apprehension practically floods out of that photo. I am dressed in a hideous satin shirt with a wide gold belt, slouching and looking terribly sick. I WAS terribly sick that day, I remember: those photos were taken right before I went to my shrink.
Loving the lens was a long process and sometimes an uncomfortable one. The first few times I took full body shots, I would take care to pose so as to look the thinnest I could. Even then, I was horrified by how big I looked. I was a size 14 and just coming to grips with the fact that this is what a size 14 looked like. Looking back on those photos, I practically look thin. Or at the very least, average. But taking photos of my body did something unprecedented: for the first time, I saw myself as I was and not just a floating head. I could see a whole person emerging in front of my eyes – someone who wasn’t perfect by any means but someone who was real.
I learned all the tricks of looking good in front of the camera. I learned to pose, to do the kind of makeup that photographs well. I learned about lighting and what outfits translated well into the photographic medium. I started buying clothes and everytime a parcel would arrive, I would rush to open it and pull on the contents and coordinate an outfit, wake up my then girlfriend, Arijita from her weed induced stupor, and pose. My phone camera roll became filled with hundreds of photos of me trying out outfits and poses and slowly I started becoming enamoured of the way I looked. It was around this time that I started taking nude photos which were not “befores”. I remember the first shoot I did with Arijita. We were getting high and I got up and told her that I was going to just walk around, and asked her to click away. 15 minutes later I started going through the collection of 20 or so photos. I will never forget that experience.
A photo from a shoot with an ex to feel better about my body
I wanted to cry. I couldn’t recognise myself, the way I thought I looked. I was dismayed by the sight of my fat rolls, my bad skin, the cellulite, the place where my hip bulged out, my double humped belly. This wasn’t me. How could this be me? I wanted to be a model by then, and this was not a model’s body. The mirror had lied. It was the body of a plain, ugly girl who had dreams beyond her abilities.
For the next week, I looked at those photos every day. Several times a day. And somewhere down the line, something changed. I started seeing things that I liked. I loved how powerful my back looked, like it was meant to carry children. I loved my waist, my sturdy, strong, and yet soft thighs, I loved the sheer length of my legs. I looked at those photos and I saw in myself a beauty I had never seen before. I didn’t look like a model, nor could I ever be one but there was something about it, an attractiveness that shouldn’t have been there, and one which I couldn’t explain. Later on, I realised that that was the beginning of falling in love with myself.
2010 was the year I turned into an utter narcissist. I broke up with Arijita and started hanging out with Sreejita (Solo of the story I wrote here recently), smoking copious amounts of weed, swimming under the blazing summer sun, and taking photos of ourselves. She is a compulsive narcissist, and in her company, her blatant love of her looks rubbed off on me. An excerpt from my journal then reads:
2010, narcissism with Sreejita
“Things start seeming possible. Going on the narcissistic trips with her, telling each other that we are utterly hot kittehs, and taking self obsessed pictures of ourselves – in a way this is saving my life. I feel beautiful. And it’s like, there’s no difference in the degrees of hotness of the size 10 girl and the size 16. And that’s fucking incredible. She’s skinny and super pretty and I DON’T FEEL LIKE I’M ANY LESS. That just blows my mind. Both of us in our tanks and shorts, wearing makeup and taking narcissistic pics of ourselves – there is no difference between us then. We’re just two hot girls celebrating exactly that. And it’s so fucking liberating. Not feeling like the second best. Feeling at par. Feeling… redeemed.”
Learning to smile for the camera
I had never seen myself like this before. I was in love with my face, my body, all of me, from head to toe. I taught myself how to smile in photos, something I had never done because I was convinced I looked weird. I marvelled at my swim toned and tanned body. It was glorious. At the end of the month, convinced that I was the hottest creature ever to exist, I packed my bags and flew to the UK.
Narcissism saved my life then and it saves my life everyday I indulge in it now. It is something that is usually looked down upon – to be so in love with yourself, even if it is just one part of you. But this is what keeps me going when there is nothing else that makes sense. This is why I blog my outfits – because I need to see those photos of myself looking like that, and prove to myself that I too can look like that. That this is me as well, and not just the person I see everyday in the mirror with her blotchy skin and saggy boobs. Being imbued with self love is a form of self care for me. It’s mental self care. Seeing those photos is essential for me; without them, I fall into funks about body image I can never get out of. Narcissism gets a bad rep because we are expected to constantly look away from our own selves. That is complete bullshit. Being a narcissist doesn’t make me any worse as a person or any less capable of caring about others. It is a primary part of self-care for me, just as writing here is, or taking a shower, or painting my nails.
From hating everything about myself, I have come to love my face and be okay with my body, my feelings about the latter edging towards love on good body days. Looking at my body, clothed or naked and seeing a hot woman look back at me in the photo is the best kind of high. I recognize her, and then I recognize myself in her, and I feel a surge of confidence. Taking those self-obsessed photos lets me do this, it gives me the confidence to go on during drab days at work, and when I get slut shamed on public transport. I don’t blog for anyone else, to be honest and am continually surprised and pleased when people tell me they like my outfits or my writing or that I look beautiful. That in itself is a different high but the reason I really do this is to present myself to me the way I want to be seen.
Today, minimal makeup, no editing
My skin is the only thing about me that I can’t come to terms with even now, but today I put on minimal makeup and took some selfies and looked at them before editing. I realised that I thought I looked fine, I thought I actually looked pretty. And it was a nice feeling that tipped the balance a little bit more in favour of not feeling so bad about my skin. When someone I sent the unedited photo to called me a goddess, it made me blush. I felt giggly and happy, and at peace with myself.