Friday, February 26, 2016

Zoolander, Tyra Banks and my Mother

           The alarming number of photographs required in my new job was unanticipated.  I have been Assistant Director of the VA Long Beach Healthcare System for thirteen months and I have had my photo taken in a variety of settings for a variety of reasons at least two to three times per week, not to mention posters and the facility Christmas card.  When we have our quarterly Employee Town Hall with their associated awards, I will stand with the other members of the executive leadership team and have photos taken with the three Employees of the Quarter and the 10-15 employees who are being recognized for 25-40 years of service.

                Most people fear being caught in a bad outfit or not looking their best in a photograph.  I do not share their concerns as I am properly dressed and color-coordinated even while slumbering.  I am also not afraid of the camera stealing my soul, which many of my Native American ancestors believed.  I am 1/32nd Cherokee, Iroquois, Blackfoot, something, according to The Dad.

                What I am concerned about is my smile.  Growing up, I always smiled happily in photographs and had no issues with the outcomes.  However, as my third grade class photo shows, I was not prepared for picture day due to no fault of my own.  It is evidence I was an active child as I was a sweaty mess because my teachers thought it wise to have class photos taken after recess, because, you know, that makes the most sense.  Insert smirk here.

  You would have thought I would have simply not participated in the running and associated sweating, but I didn’t become pre-occupied with my wardrobe and general appearance until sixth grade.  Third grade was a time spent wanting to be like The Dad, I assume.  Otherwise, how do you explain the western wear in the colors of the desert or the fact I voluntarily chose to dress as Buck Owens for Halloween?

As I got older, I tried to pretend to be caught off-guard while laughing as it seemed the closest to natural for my smile, but it somehow came off more psychotic than happy-go-lucky.  My mother told me to smile with my eyes (smizing as Tyra Banks would say).  I tried it but I looked more like someone in need of a restroom than someone pleasantly contemplating the future.  And, as a child, I was the future if George Benson and Whitney Houston are to be believed.  That’s a lot of pressure on a pudgy face, people, especially one with eyes as small as mine.

Thus I conceived my “pleasant face”, a look conquered by my freshman year in high school, shown here with the tie that caused quite the ruckus when I arrived on Picture Day wearing it. 

The look worked for many, many years but now I am in Long Beach and our photographer demands “teeth” through cajoling and/or demanding depending.  I attempt to comply but after seven or eight photo ops where there are five or six photos per op, my face starts to hurt like a runner-up in a beauty pageant who simply wants to leave the stage and eat her candy bar.  I thought about putting Vaseline on my teeth (an old beauty pageant trick) but it makes your tongue numb…or so I’ve heard.

So I am left with a photo legacy that is, at best, a mixed bag.  Sometimes I look great, often I look appropriate.  There are the times I look odd and on the rare occasion there is one where I have a decidedly pained expression. 

And although I have attempted a smile in the photo studio setting, the one thing I do appreciate is no matter the quality of my smile, I don’t think I look my age (45) and for this I am thankful; tiny eyes, ruddy cheeks and all.

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