“At least for me it had been a revelation to see Travis, since it’s always a revelation to see images of your parents younger than you are now. Suddenly all the surety and authority you’ve accorded them falls away, and these glimpses of outsize icons as ordinary lost people with no road map, no special access to the truth or justice or to anything, really – well, such epiphanies are tender and sweet and frightening all at the same time.”
“Confronting a photograph of oneself is always a fraught business, for one’s own image doesn’t merely evoke the trivial fretting of “I had no idea my nose was so big”. This sounds idiotic, but every time I encounter a picture of myself I am shocked to have been seen. I do not, under ordinary circumstances, feel seen. When I walk down the street, my experience is of looking. Manifest to myself in the ethereal privacy of my head, I grow alarmed when presented with evidence of my public body. This is quite a different matter from whatever dissatisfaction I may harbor over the heft of my ass. It is more a matter of having an ass, any ass, that other people can ogle, criticize or grasp, and being staggered that to others this formation, whatever its shape, has something to do with me. Every once in a while I can connect a droll set of my facial muscles with the real, in-head experience of finding something funny and keeping the source of this amusement to myself. But in the main, I fail utterly to recognize myself, the me of me, in my photographs. I do not identify with the cropped, once naturally blond head of hair with a tendency to frizz; when I have again neglected to color the roots for three solid months, the camera chastises, but I know that walking around with gray down the center part feels exactly the same as when the gray is covered. I’m not convinced that my elemental self even has hair. I do not identify with my short fingers; my relationship to my hands is to what they do, and digital stubbiness has never impaired their competent folding of buttermilk biscuit dough. I do not feel like someone with a neck lately on the thick side, with its implications of low sophistication and loutishness; I grew up in LA, for heaven’s sake. About all I truly recognize in my photos is my clothes – and I will greet the image of a quilted jacket from 1989 with the joy of meeting a long-lost friend. The fact that my clothing has been visually available to other people, I do not find upsetting. The body is another matter. It is mine; I have found it useful; but it is an avatar.
Given that most people presumably contend with just this rattling disconnect between who they are to themselves and what they are to others, it’s perplexing why we’re still roundly obsessed with appearance. Having verified on our own accounts the feeble link between the who and the what, you’d think that from the age of three we’d have learned to look straight through the avatar as we do through a pane of glass.”
Lionel Shriver – Big Brother