Camera Shy

“Judge a tree from its fruit, not from its leaves.”

– Eurpides, Greek Playwright

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I no longer have a projector to watch the films.”

I had been asking my cousin, Martha, about an old Super 8 movie she and her husband had shot at our family farm when I was a kid. I remembered being about 12 at the time. Martha was sure she still had the old film but explained there were dozens of films stored away in her attic, but without a projector, she had no way of isolating the specific film in question.

“Why don’t you send them all to me,” I suggested, “And I’ll convert them to DVD.”

I had no idea how I would do it, but it sounded like a fair trade. Martha agreed, and within a few weeks, a cardboard box chock full of old movies arrived on my doorstep. I sat down and watched all the films, including the one in question – shot in our old dairy barn.

It was a delight to see the old footage and all the relatives now gone. It was amusing to see myself mugging for the camera. It was then I noticed something interesting. While I was happy to be in front of the lens – obviously relishing the attention – most people looked uncomfortable. Others put their hands up to hide their faces or tried desperately to blend into the background.

It was then I noticed something else. Most of the children in the films were happy to be on camera – especially the girls. Each was laughing, playing and generally enjoying the experience. In one scene, a little girl smiled broadly and giggled uncontrollably as she tried to blow out the candles on her birthday cake while a puppy (perhaps a birthday gift) licked her face.

And as many of the films featured the same characters – shot over a 10-to-15-year period – I could watch these children (the girls in particular) become less and less comfortable in front of the camera. While many of the men seemed to grow slightly uncomfortable – smiling nervously and looking away – most women tried to hide their faces with their hands. Some blushed and looked away, while others became angry, got up and walked out of the scene. Something happened between childhood and adulthood to make them camera-shy.     

Camera-shyness refers to anyone unwilling to be photographed. According to research that I’ve read on the topic, it’s also common for people who are camera shy to fear public speaking and performing in front of an audience, especially if it requires taking pictures.

Why do many women, in particular, shy away from the camera while children can’t get enough attention? When I brought out the video camera, I remember my own daughters (when young) being giddy with excitement. After being recorded, they couldn’t wait to watch the playback on the TV. Later, when my daughters were teenagers and, later still, young women, they wanted nothing to do with having their pictures taken. Today, having developed healthy self-esteem, they’re comfortable again with having me snap a shot or two.

A successful advertising campaign was built around the question: when did you stop thinking you were beautiful? Creators of the campaign suggested that self-esteem diminishes with age as a belief is born that they are no longer attractive and worthy.

The discovery of self is an ongoing process. We are constantly reassessing how we feel about ourselves as individuals. Understandably, that assessment includes contrasting ourselves with accepted social norms concerning appearance. There are many examples of what is considered beautiful from which to draw such comparisons in our modern world.

Disfavour about our appearance speaks to a deeper need for love, acceptance and approval. If we don’t feel worthy and deserving – if we can’t find something beautiful about ourselves – then our self-esteem will plummet, and a downward spiral of self-disdain may result.  

It’s an easy trap to fall into – focusing only on perceived inadequacies and failings. I’m too tall, I’m too short, I’m too skinny, I’m too heavy. And the sad truth is, the more we focus on these perceived inadequacies, the more we find them and the less satisfied we become. We begin to think of ourselves as deeply flawed individuals. We don’t want to capture our image in a picture or on video because we see it as a tangible confirmation of our imperfection.

If you want to shift this way of thinking, my advice is simple: celebrate what you like about yourself instead of focusing on what you don’t. And yes, that is easier said than done. Start by recognizing and minimizing negative self-talk. Then, listen carefully to what it is you say to yourself.

Decide to cherish yourself. Toss the glamour magazines aside. Discard the unhealthy and unhappy comparisons. Instead, learn to love your beautiful aspects. Remember that beauty is more than physicality. Beauty is also attitude. The better your self-esteem, the more able you’ll recognize the beauty in others and the unique beauty that dwells within you.

Finding beauty in each aspect of yourself is what confident self-love is all about. I had a friend once who was overly critical about her appearance. She incessantly criticized her weight, her build, her complexion. She compared herself unfavourably to her sister. However, this friend had the most remarkable blue eyes and one day, after listening to her self-criticize, I told her to look in the mirror – at those exquisite blue eyes – and see the beauty that dwelt there. Over time, she learned to appreciate not only her eyes but every beautiful aspect of herself.

If you’re camera-shy, reflect on the point in life when you became your own worst critic. Then, starting today, choose to be your beautiful self and share that beauty with the world.

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