About this time last year, I sat down and wrote a list of 37 things I would do to honor my great-grandmother Arizona Lewis.
Arizona and I were born on the same day in April, 103 years apart. She died on May 10, 1915, about two weeks after her 38th birthday. She left behind 10 children, and their lives were forever changed by the departure of their mother.
I believe her death has reached through the ages to even touch my life, through my father and his mother, Arizona's second-youngest child. But somewhere in this last year, my list of 37 things I would do 37 times in 365 days stopped being about Arizona, and it started being about me.
There were a lot of things on that list. A lot of things I didn't do. A lot of things I still plan to do. A lot of things I enjoyed doing. But one thing on that list changed and mutated, like a digital portrait of Dorian Grey, and 365 days after vowing to accomplish the task I am stepping out from under the darkness to survey the damage.
"No. 4. Take 37 selfies and put them somewhere my children can see them in 37 years."
Somehow, out of all 37 goals I set, this one really stuck in my brain.
I proposed this challenge to myself because I had read a story about how moms are disappearing from photos and I didn't want to be like that. I didn't want to feel compelled to change or filter my face to make it acceptable. I wanted to pave the way and show that social media doesn't need to be the place for perfection. I thought I could be an imperfect example of imperfection.
See? This lady has grey hair and wrinkles and very little makeup. But she is real, and there she is on Instagram, with all of the other adventurers, vacationers in Hawaii and trendy gals with gorgeous food from gourmet restaurants.
It started out fine.
I snapped random, inconsequential selfies of me standing in my bathroom, or lying in my bed, or standing next to my husband. I mused over what I would find at the end and thought it was an intriguing project. I felt I was dipping my toe into the wells of narcissism that swamp social media, but it was OK, I thought. Because I was doing it for a higher purpose — the imperfect model. To honor Arizona.
Then, a social media campaign popped up at work, and I started taking selfies for a competition. I, who had previously taken maybe 10 selfies a year, was posting pictures of myself every day. The campaign was to promote healthy living, so every day, I took pictures of myself hiking, biking, running and working out. Even I was getting tired of seeing my face, and I wondered if I seemed as conceited as I had judged others on Instagram to be, but it was OK, I thought. Because I was doing it for a higher purpose — I was the imperfect model.
Pretty soon, I became more and more judgmental, and I started criticizing my own photos. I didn't add filters or enhancements of any kind, but I also didn't like what I saw. As an imperfect example of imperfection, all I could see were my imperfections. Everything was a judgment.
"Ugh, look at that frizzy hair. Oh my clothes are so lame. My tummy is sticking out in that one. My arms look big. My face is splotchy. My legs are big. I'm not tan. I don't have the right shoes. Why don't I look as cute as everyone else?"
That's the dialogue I brought to my photos, until eventually, I gave up. No longer did I feel I was the one to pave the way for anything. I was defeated, critical and sad. In the last year, I posted 24 selfies on Instagram and 20 selfies on Facebook. I included photos other people took of me in my count because I was only holding the camera in true selfie style about half of the time.
Looking back through those photos today, I see a girl who has a great smile. I like her brown eyes and freckles in the sun. Her hair sometimes looks wild and free and she's a good, sturdy height. She isn't an example of imperfection — she is a natural beauty. Why couldn't I see that then?
My journey to honor Arizona might have taken a turn I didn't intend, but I'm glad l got where I am now. The land of judgment is not a happy place to be, and I intend to make a departure. How? Starting with item No. 23. "Skip social media for 37 days, consecutively" and item No. 15. "Make a list of 37 things for which I am grateful."