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Archive for May 9th, 2007

“If I were your career advisor,” one of my editors said, “I’d advise you to spend $25 at the neighborhood mall or quickie photo place to get a flattering head shot.” Those wise in the ways of editors will know that the technical term for such comments is a hint. And this one was as broad as the center of the continent when you’re flying, where for hundreds of miles there’s nothing but quarter section farms punctuated by small towns build around a football stadium or hockey rink.

Besides, armed with my keen grasp of the obvious, I’d been meaning to get a decent photo for months as a business expense. So, this week, I finally got some professional shots of me. Now, I’m trying to live with the results.

It isn’t easy. Like everyone else, I’m accustomed to seeing myself mainly in the mirror, which means that portraits always look wrong unless I flip left and right on them.

Nor can I ever hope to see an unrehearsed expression on my face. No matter how hard I try, in the micro-second before I look in the mirror, my guard goes up, and unconsciously I assume a demeanor that fits my sense of self. Like everyone else, I can never have first-hand knowledge of what I really look like. I suspect that I have two main expressions – friendly and grimly serious – but I have no direct way of knowing.

Another problem is that, like many middle-aged people, my self-image has evolved more slowly than I’ve aged. I may not think of myself as 16 any more, but probably my self-image is lagging behind reality by at least a decade.

But the strongest reason for my bemusement as I’ve sorted through this week’s photos is that making a selection forces me to focus on an aspect of me to which I generally don’t pay much attention. Quite simply, I don’t spent a lot of time thinking about my face. I long ago decided that, while I wasn’t a double for the elephant man, no one would ever pressure me to sign a modeling contract, either. Since reaching that conclusion, I’ve been generally content to concentrate on more important matters.

Anyway, I’d rather use an automatic razor and read rather than stare at myself in the mirror for any length of time, especially in the morning. So much as my self-image is based on physical traits rather than mental ones, it’s mostly concerned with being in good shape and having endurance – which is why I’m more testy and irritable whenever an injury keeps me from exercising.

For all these reasons, I’m hard to satisfy when choosing shots to represent me online. It had to be done – supplying a photo gives others a handle to grasp when contacting you, just as listing interests on a resume provides talking points in a job interview – but the process is painful, and tends to be destroy all sorts of stray illusions.

In the end, I chose three main photos: two smiling ones, and one in what I call a pundit pose:

Bruce Byfield

These are not not my entire range of expressions, but they’re the ones that I choose to present to people online.

Of course, part of me is tempted to run the images through a graphics editor to clean up the crow’s feet and the neck wrinkles. In fact, having been in contact a few months ago with someone who found cosmetic surgery a positive thing, I’m tempted to take the same step in order to bring my face into sync with my self-image.

But, in the end, that’s not my style. Others may incline differently, but if there’s a discrepancy between reality and my self-image, I’m more likely to think my self-image should change rather than my face.

Also, I’m more the type to defiantly parade the signs of aging than to deny them. Why turn my back on the experiences that those signs represent? They’ll only be back in a few years, no matter what I do.

Besides, after staring at my own face off and on for a day, I’m left feeling that it could be a lot worse. With this face, I’ll never be an authority figure, but I may be someone people will ask for help.

Yeah, I can live with that.

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