How To Write Your Own Face

Everywhere I go, I am bombarded with “I” statements and close-ups taken at arm’s length. These days, it seems like everyone is taking pictures of themselves and writing memoirs, large and small, from tweets to status updates to blog posts to self-published tomes. We used to wait politely for someone to ask us how we were but now, we announce every detail as though life was an open microphone. In the last ten years, new technologies have allowed us to see ourselves from the outside and project an intimate view of ourselves out into the world and we can’t seem to get enough.

I have a “friend” on Facebook who takes a picture of herself every day. For years she has posted a daily self portrait, usually taken in her bathroom in the morning just after she’s showered and applied her make-up and sometimes in her car, presumably on her way to work and hopefully before she’s actually on the road. This is a girl I haven’t seen since sixth grade but, after years of seeing these posts (Liza with a flower in her hair; Liza wearing a new blouse that shows a bit of cleavage from this angle; sleepy Liza who didn’t have time to shower this morning accompanied by a long string of comments reassuring her that she looks great anyway) she has become familiar to me. I don’t remember much about Liza but her face has become an old friend, a comforting touchstone, and a part of my daily ritual.

Another “friend,” a writer whom I’ve never met, writes lengthy status updates at least six times a day on average. She also has an alter-ego (to whom she refers as her agent) who goes by the same name with the first and last letters transposed, who posts nearly as often. This writer always writes things that are witty and fresh. Plus, she engages in lengthy repartee with many other writers online and, as a result, my feed is dominated by her writing. Truth be told, I have never read any of her books and, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure she has been published. Nevertheless, she will always be a clever, funny, and Famous Writer in my mind.

There is a part of me that feels shocked and mildly embarrassed by these egocentricities. That part of me wants to lean close to you, point at her and whisper, “My god, can you believe the self-absorption!?” That part of me wants you to agree so we can roll our eyes and smirk a little and decide that she deserves our pity. But while I’m being honest, I must admit that part of me is a vestigial puritan, stuck like a fly in the sticky psychic residue leftover from junior high school, the ugliest, tightest, churchiest aspect of my personality.

Thank god there’s another part of me, a bigger part, that feels admiration and a touch of awe when I see a woman who isn’t afraid of being seen. The older I get, the more I suspect that the source of a woman’s visibility is her ability to see herself.

In other words, it’s time to grow up and it’s time for us to take charge of our own publicity.

For years, I waited for someone to notice, someone to ask me to dance.  I have waited for submissions to be accepted and literary recognition.  I waited for compliments, validation, and thanks. In conversations, I’d ask a lot of questions and wait patiently for my turn, which didn’t always come. If asked what I did for a living, I’d explain about my kids and the teaching or the bookstore but I didn’t call myself a writer– to do so felt self-aggrandizing and possibly untrue. After a wedding or a vacation of some other photo opportunity, I’d pore over the pictures hoping that this time, the camera had magically captured my good side.

What the hell am I waiting for?

HELLO, WORLD. THIS IS WHAT A WRITER LOOKS LIKE.

Step #1: Make Your Own Picture.

  1. Charge up the digital camera and put on your best shirt.
  2. Take a picture of yourself and then really look at it. Think like an artist: How is the background, angle, composition, light? Think like a writer: What is the story? What is the mood? What’s interesting? What do you want to say?  
  3. Move to another spot. Adjust the depth and angle. Turn on a light. Try a different character. Will you be a smiler or a serious type, a dreamer or a doer? Look right into the lens like you’re looking at an old, dear friend. Gaze up at the light, try a profile. Think thoughts.
  4. Hide the parts you want hidden. Make it as real as you want it to be. Experiment with putting  feelings on your face. Can you make your soul shoot out of your eyeballs? Can you tell a story without moving your mouth? 
  5. Keep taking pictures. Keep looking at the pictures and evaluating. This is just part of the editing process. Nobody else is here, no one is looking, it doesn’t matter what they think. Take a million pictures. Do not stop until you have one you like.
  6. Go to http://pixlr.com/o-matic/, upload your photo, and play with the effects.  
  7. Put the photo somewhere where you can see it and remember.

What are you waiting for?

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About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

46 comments

  1. Aia

    Chère Anna,

    Once again, and quite simply stated, I love you! You are brilliant, gorgeous, funny, honest, daring, courageous, expressive and I wish I could write like you!

    Bisous,
    Aia

  2. I hate photos of myself and hardly any exist :-) so yes while I think you are beautiful I do get why you like to keep your face to yourself

  3. Huh. How is it that you managed to find the collection of random thoughts and fears that I had hidden between the wall and the back of the file cabinet inside my head? This is stunning. And so are you!

  4. Brava! Also, beauty. xo

  5. Terrific post! Just yesterday I posted a small photo of me and got back a note, nice to see you Carla. Nice to see you Anna :) Clever post I read it over and over trying to read it all and look at you at the same time which maybe is more real than a digital picture on-line.

  6. That slideshow of portraits with quotes is brilliant

  7. “Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?”–Pablo Picasso

    Brilliant.
    When we write truly, we paint all three of these, and there is nowhere to hide, and that is how it should be.
    Keep writing truly, Anna.

  8. you have personality, character and an original outlook so you don’t need to post daily photos, but these certainly grab the eye

  9. You are so beautiful! I am always so impressed with a woman who can show her face and really own her identity. My publisher keeps asking me to post a photo of myself on my website but I can’t seem to work up the nerve. Maybe your courage will inspire me.

    • That’s not my real face. That’s my Girl In the Hat face. *wink* And I really, really wish you would tell me why your publisher wants you to post a photo. I am desperate for a reality check.

      • I did work up the nerve, so thanks for that. I think publishers believe an author photo helps the reader form a connection to the writer’s work, that it makes the writer feel more accessible. They’re probably right about that.

  10. I agree with everything, except for one small point. We who put ourselves all over the internet are not in everyone’s face. People have to make a genuine effort to see our exhibitionism. So far, I would say the percentage of people who use the internet – or even frequent wordpressers for that matter – who have ever heard of me, for example, is microscopic to the vanishing point. Perspective, my dear!

  11. Oh my god, you just terrified me. I loved the post up until I got to the list and then panic hit. Nope,can’t do it, ugly no matter what…well, your words about no one to see are kind of reassuring. I’ve wondered at the lack of inhibition, the self confidence, of my younger friends who have no problem exposing themselves on social media. I was never that way and probably never will be. I wonder how much the freedom to be natural and unafraid comes from the younger ones growing up with that world exposure,with the internet and all the techno toys. Compared to us, writing letters (and not including photos). Your posts always make me think but this is the first one that made me nervous.

    • It is terrifying, isn’t it? I think the days of dignified and quiet faceless notoriety are over. I think a new think is coming, and I’m trying to rise to the occasion. And like I said somewhere up there, when I say it takes 500 shots to get a good one, I’m not exaggerating.

  12. Todd

    I met you five times in 50 years.
    First you were Little Annie, some squirt kid up the street that I barely acknowledged.
    Second you were a beautiful teenage girl standing in my line at the grocery store. You didn’t want to wear a helmet… you held your breath in the tunnel and I slowed down… you made me drive you home in the middle of the dinner… I knew you had a world of ideas brewing behind that exterior so calm… a world that carousing, hard-drinking lout couldn’t enter… I never apologized to you for that absurd car chase with the cops– was too embarrassed to call you again… I could have killed you that day. I’m sorry.
    The third time I met you was when I saw you in the pages of a magazine. It seemed so surreal… I wrote a paper in college about how reality and imagination had collided that day. Lost the paper with all the others when they auctioned the storage container.
    The fourth time I met you was that sad day in Olema. You seemed to have barely changed in all those years. Still amazingly beautiful to look at, still calm, still brewing.
    The fifth time was the best. I found your blog, stole into that secret world, hid and read, lurked and discovered. It was like unearthing a glimmering treasure buried in your back yard. That girl I never knew was an artist with a voice of unfathomable brilliance. It took a while but I’m glad I finally found you. Thanks for sharing your mind.

    Tomorrow is the Dipsea and I’ll run by your mom’s old house again. This town is a strange kaleidoscope of old memories and new discoveries. Every year I come back, turn the eyepiece and something else is revealed.

  13. What a marvelously brave endeavor! And you followed through, carried it out with stupendous results. I’m stuck with my over half-century camera phobia. I have actually sort of tried to do what you recommend, to get a few decent head shots for business purposes. It is unbelievable how bad they are. I’ve tried a million angles, I’ve tried different outfits and accentuated make-up but I just can’t get it to work. I figure this must be why I write. I don’t NEED to be seen to write. Right? My camera phobia runs so deep that I can’t even bring myself to point the lens at other people. I would love to be able to do portraits, particularly when traveling. But, I feel as if I’m asking people to strip by asking them for a photo. I project my own dislike of the lens onto my subjects.

    And your FB friend with all her selfies? Good grief. I have a FB friend who does the equivalent with her emotional states….which fluctuate so wildly they give me a headache. Three days of lectures on how to live in the moment and love yourself and then all of a sudden she’s off with a sword ready to stab the world for its many transgressions against her and hers. Whew. TMI!

  14. meow! you look so dashing in that hat

  15. i have to say my only concern now when i take a photo of me, or if someone else does is “How round is your head?” and hopefully in a good photo the angle cheats the camera. and i look like a moonface

  16. Brave and beautiful. I so understand the waiting…
    ‘The older I get, the more I suspect that the source of a woman’s visibility is her ability to see herself.’ That’s interesting, Anna. This is a terrific post. I adore your portraits, and you! : )

    • Maybe I meant show herself, not see herself, although the two are connected. I hope it’s not true but I suspect it is. I just noticed that this post about my face has been shared 33 times on Facebook. That’s a record for me. Nothing I’ve ever written without my face as been shared so much. WTF.

  17. It took me a long time to work up to social media. And showing my face. Not sure I’ll ever be at ease with it, but maybe I’m starting to care less… Love this post and your pics. I see the crow lady shining through ;)

  18. I love how you reach in and grab our guts and make us look at them. Brilliant!

  19. This is wonderful. Thank you so much. I love your slideshow at the end.

  20. I read this in the nick of time! I’m up @ 5am because of fear cramps because today I’ll start promoting my just accepted for publication first poetry book… Reading this means I don’t have to sneak out on my kids to run down the block and get more pepto… I just needed someone else to say it…to say this promotion stuff is ok…just do it…so, yeah, thanks! I’m logging onto FB now…and breathing …I’m not sure I was fully breathing all night!

  21. This is a great way to explain the concepts of life through a diffrent perspective of a writer and personal appearance, I’m very drawn into this thank you for sharing good work… :)

  22. I adore both your writing style and your pictures *.* You have a unique and effective way of expressing thoughts and ideas.
    -coming from a camera shy person

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