Vanity, thy name is…?

I’d never tried it before. Honest! I thought it’d be just too embarrassing. Too endophytic, or something. But there you go -what’s a life worth if you don’t try something at least once, and damn the torpedoes? There are risks, of course, but I’m unlikely to make the cover of Vanity Fair or anything, and besides, I’m retired, eh? Nothing to lose.

So I went ahead and did it. Of course, I did it on a beach in New Zealand in all the glory of a dawn morning with a backdrop of fiery clouds presiding over a still-dark sea. Only the lugubrious metronome of waves disturbed the still morning air. Well, there were a few noisy gulls who suspected I might be foraging for sand-buried clams on their turf -sorry, sand– but I had no interest in rapine; I am not by nature a cannibal. Nor do I stoop to scavenging… But enough of that.

I wanted to do it where and while there were no curious and smirking eyes. No CCTVs to record whether or not I was enjoying it. Pleasure, after all, is intensely private -however embarrassing the act.

I’d dressed for the occasion: hat on a jaunty angle, hair just-so, and I’d already practiced a seductive glint to my eyes, accompanied by the barest hint of a smile -no sense pretending it hurt. Oh yes, and the ‘What’s Not To Love’ tee shirt I’d found in a little store the day before. You have to create a mood for something like this, I figured.

And then, right after le moment critique, as it were, I stood with my back to the wind, staring at my evanescent shadow in the aborning light for a moment before I dared to look at my first selfie…

I have to say it was a disappointment. I didn’t look at all like I’d practiced in the mirror. There was something askew -a je ne sais quoi that I couldn’t pinpoint at first. The backdrop was nice –great, actually. It’s hard to concentrate on the face when a Bay of Plenty beckons from over the shoulder, and white-tipped waves, frozen for all time in the background, smile far more convincingly. There was obviously more work to do.

But it was more than that. It had captured a me that wasn’t -a caricature of a me like you might see in a political cartoon. A me that, despite the romance of the geography and the seemingly spontaneity in its production, was definitely not post-able material -not unless I wanted to endure the scorn and facial bullying that can be so endemic in social media nowadays.

I can’t say that I was particularly disappointed, although I had hoped to foist it on some friends as a humbling antidote to their frivolous attempts to portray nirvana in the snow back home. But it was an antipodal nemesis; hubris is not tolerated, even on a New Zealand beach under the chiascurotic light of a dawning sky.

I did look at the photograph again when I got home, though, once I’d transferred it to my computer and could view it on a screen much larger than an Apple iPhone 6 can offer. I didn’t intend to look -I intended to bury it within the collection of pictures that accumulate like lint in a suitcase after a trip- but I couldn’t resist. It was my first -and only- selfie, after all -albeit an experiment in self-discovery, turned sour.

I revelled, once again, in the background I’d captured -it’s hard, if not impossible, to dissemble a dawn beach. The face, on the other hand… I tried to parse it -as well as a father could his only child, at any rate. One eye seemed a bit affected, to be sure, the lips perhaps overly pursed, and the hat definitely lacked the intended jaunt, but…

Then it hit me: the nose -it wasn’t mine. I checked the mirror just to be sure; I was right, of course. This one, the selfie nose, was probably a D cup -although I’ve never understood bra sizes, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, it was much larger than I thought proper for a face -okay, my face. So I buried the picture amongst all the rest of the photographic failures, like the attempt to capture the coffee stain on my pants from a sidewalk breakfast in Mount Maunganui, and the one of my lime-green ultra-budget rental car with the suitcases piled in its back seat in an ocean-side pullout.

It took months after I’d returned home to receive an ablution, though -exculpations seldom occur overnight. It appeared in the guise of an article in the Smithsonian Magazine:  It seems that noses are terribly susceptible to dysgrandization -something to do with the fact that a nose sticks out further from your face than lips and stuff do -and it’s leading to a lot of business for the plastic surgeons, the article notes. ‘A new study suggests that selfies taken too close can make your nose appear up to 30 percent larger than it is in reality.’

‘[…] an image taken at five feet, a standard portrait distance, results in essentially no difference in perceived [nasal] size,” the authors write. But images taken at 12 inches result in the nose appearing 30 percent larger for average males and 29 percent larger for average females. “If the camera point is closer to something that projects out, like your nose, it is going to make everything that is closer to that camera look bigger compared to the rest of the face,”’ according to Boris Paskhover, a plastic surgeon at Rutgers University Medical School.

Okay, lesson learned, I suppose: use a selfie stick if you aren’t concerned about whispered comparisons to Narcissus, or are sure you can handle the person in front who is so annoyed at your pretentious arrogance that he accidentally knocks the phone off the end. But perhaps all of us are improbable fictions no matter what we do.

To quote Shakespeare’s Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing: ‘Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent; for beauty is a witch against whose charms faith melteth in blood.’

Me? I just don’t like the 30% thing with the nose…




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