For me, not smiling for a picture is definitely not normal. But the real abnormality of the photo shoot was ME. I replied to a post looking for individuals with abnormal appearances for a magazine article. Due to lipedema my arms and legs are abnormally disproportional to the rest of my body. While most people try to hide or cover up the parts of their body that do not meet a certain societal level of acceptance, that is not an option for me so I choose to just be comfortable in my own skin, all 400lbs of it.
Trust me being comfortable in my own skin is much easier said than done. There is no physical comfort living with lipedema. Every inch of my arms and legs are sensitive, and the slightest touch results in bruising. In addition, the excess weight makes simple movements much more tiring. Imagine having to do your normal daily tasks with 5lb sacks of flour attached to each arm, and a toddler clutched to each leg? Then when you need to stop and rest, people think you’re just “being lazy.” Standing for any period of time is exhausting, sitting is a bit better but gravity still affects the pooling of lymph fluid in my legs causing painful swelling, so laying down must provide the only real relief, right? Not exactly, it’s hard to be comfortable laying down because the abnormal size and shape of my hips and legs makes finding a restful position difficult.
However, rarely do I complain, because the abnormality of lipedema has become my new normal. I have no control over the physical aspect of my disease. So I choose to make the most of what I can control, and that is the mental aspect. Which is the focus of the magazine article. Psychology Today is featuring a “story about the experiences of those with physical differences—and how, on both a societal and individual level, we can overcome negative or prejudiced responses.”
So back to the photo shoot. I realized that I had not had professional portraits taken since my high school senior pictures. I asked if there were any guidelines for what type of clothes to wear and was told nothing specific. So I did what probably few other females would do, I picked a nearly three year old dress out of my closet to wear. The dress looks nice on me and shows my arms and legs. The morning of the shoot I woke up, fixed my own hair and did my own make-up. I kept thinking how most people with bodies the size of mine hide from the camera, and when they are in a few pictures they delete any shot they think is unflattering. Here I was volunteering to have my pictures in a national magazine and I’m wearing an old dress and doing my own hair and make-up.
The photographer arrived, moved some living room furniture around and set up his equipment. I was ready for the my close up! Then came the shocker and most difficult part of the photo shoot…I was told not to smile. WHAT? Me. Not. Smile. That’s just soooo abnormal??? And it’s even harder not to smile when you’re trying to NOT SMILE. And of course the photographer and I struck up a conversation and well since I’m so amusing, I smile and laugh a lot during conversations. I will not know which poses were selected for until the article comes out in the November edition, but I know the real Sarah shines through as always. Although my normal persona is fun, happy Sarah, anyone who knows the real me knows my strong and confident side…and smile or no smile…I’m still Sarah.
*Update* See the final picture in My Story in Psychology Today