“Please don’t photograph my belly, it’s covered in stretch marks.” A young mum looked at me with big, lovely eyes as she pulled her t-shirt down. I had not noticed the stretch marks, to me they were barely visible. I photographed her holding her newborn son and chatted away as I clicked the shutter. In between “takes” I carried on photographing her as she changed her son into another little outfit, she was unaware of me for a moment. As expected, the best shots were the ones when she wasn’t thinking about the camera, her stretch marks or her hair. She put them on Facebook later that day and a stream of compliments came in. The photographs showed a confident, relaxed person but both she and I knew how daunting and challenging she had found the experience.
The thing about photographs or video clips is that it doesn’t capture the before and the after or the outtakes. We don’t see the trial and error of a photographer’s session. Out of two hundred photographs, only twenty will make the grade. Why? Because we all want to be seen in our best light, from our best side. A relative of mine will always stand on the right of a group photo – every time – because she says it’s her best side. (And for the record, her whole face is lovely from any angle!)
Social media allows us to be spectators in many people’s lives. We know when someone is on holiday in the Drakensberg or starting a new job. We see the photograph of the new house being built in a lovely estate or the new car with a big red bow on the bonnet. We share in the joy of a new baby’s birth, engagements and weddings. Social media shows us the best of the days of our lives. Without meaning to, we are unconsciously comparing our lives to others. We wonder why/how “they” get to look like they do or have what they have. (Enter green-eyed monster stage left.)
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.” 1 Samuel 16:7
As Christians we are expected to follow Christ, to be more like Him, to follow His lead. That expectation is big enough and difficult enough on its own, so why do we add our own skin deep expectations of ourselves? We are all familiar with the phrases: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”, “Beauty is only skin deep.”, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The list goes on and yet we always seem to fall victim to wanting other people’s looks and things.
The mum who I photographed never once pointed out a blemish on her child because, in her eyes, he was perfect. The strawberry kiss birthmark was part of his perfection, not something to edit out. I pointed out to her that God sees her imperfections in the way that she saw her son’s – as a part of her being gloriously and wonderfully made. None of us is perfect. That’s the point. Life is messy and difficult, littered with ‘should have’ and ‘could have’, seasoned with dashed dreams and disappointments. The good news is that each of those less-than-perfect moments is opportunities for us to look at our hearts and grow. To re-focus and re-frame what is really important. What we see in other people’s lives is their picture-perfect moments and we should celebrate and be happy for them. Jealousy and envy have no place in our lives, they are unwelcome guests that need to be shown the door (exit stage right). Our lives are not measured by material things or even physical beauty, our lives are measured by the significant moments where we were faced with a choice and we chose to love God more than ourselves, where we chose to make Him centre stage. And if you find that you are struggling to capture the image you want then re-focus and try again. God loves you. He made you. He has plans for you. So grab your camera and focus on that.