Saturday, May 31, 2014

Making Faces

As a person with an INFJ personality profile, I have always been a sensitive creature.

I remember in Dakar, when I was six, my sister's friend, Sandra Ghaffari, had invited us both to her birthday party. We played many games.  And during one such game, the birthday girl gave each participant a folded piece of paper where she had written down her 'secret' thoughts about that person.

When it came to my turn to receive a note, I unfolded it in anticipation, only to be mortified. While my sister had the honor of reading, "You are my best friend", or something of that nature, I received the incredibly cruel, "You are a rotten banana".

Don't laugh. In French, it translates to, "Banane pourrie!"

My poor little ego was battered. All along, I had thought that Sandra had invited me to her birthday party because she liked me. How wrong I was! It seemed, that in her eyes, I had only tagged along as the annoying little sister. I remember leaving the circle, deeply hurt, and crying in my corner. I later confided in my sister that Sandra had been mean to me.

From then on, Sandra Ghaffari became my number one enemy. Oh, yes! As an INFJ, I certainly have a blacklist. (It did not help that I was possessive of my sister - you probably guessed that.)

And yes, Sandra Ghaffari was the girl's real name. Oops. You know what they say about writers? Don't piss them off. Ha!

But seriously, there have been moments in my life where rejection, or the perception of being rejected, has been incredibly painful. I think I wrote of it in a couple of blog posts, including this one, and of course, this one.

Tying into rejection, is the problem of perception. And ultimately, of image.

Like many women, image has been a problem for me.  From the time I wore braces for almost three years, to the long period where I developed anorexia, image has baffled and tormented me with the question of, 

How to be physically who I am inside? 

I know, now, that to be physically who-you-are-inside is impossible. It doesn't matter what you try, you will fail.

Image, I now see as either hard work, supreme art, physical effort, or incidental - but never a true representative of a person. At this point in my life, I play with artifice, because I enjoy it and because I am fortunate to be able to afford it. I love clothes, costume and beauty in all forms, just as I am fully conscious of their limits. For example, I would much rather read someone's words to learn of who they are, than look at them. In the same manner, I would rather someone read me to get to know who I am.

This is something that most people do not understand - that what I write, is very much closer to who I am than the visible ever will be. The visible is completely fabricated.

I learnt something about myself recently. I was not even reading a self-help book or anything too deep. I learnt of it through one of those model contest shows.

No kidding.

I forgot the name of the show. I'm not loyal to television in general and I tend to skim lightly through shows at random. Anyway, one of the modeling contestants was receiving feedback about her photo shoot. The judge observed her photos for a moment, and then he asked if she had at all been bullied or put down often during her childhood. She confirmed that she had. At this, the judge, who also happened to be a male model, explained that he could read this through the attitude she carried with her in each photo. In other words, her attitude was a defense reaction to the intruding eye of the camera.

His words really resonated with me. I began to understand, why, it is in fact rare, for me to even smile naturally in a photo shoot. There is always the default attitude, that tendency to hide behind a mask and to play the role of someone else - someone stronger, elusive or aloof - and to not let anyone in. I think this attitude is also part of my very private (and sensitive) personality.

Many would agree that a camera is a contraption that has the potential of making its subject feel vulnerable. It is why so many people run away from the camera. They hate the camera's intrusion and its false 'revelation'. They understand, deep inside, that one's image is limiting and that cameras can enforce a narrative that one might not want. And so, when the lens is on you, judging you, which really, is akin to any social situation where one might end up feeling small or inadequate, it carries with it an element of choice - do you allow it to make you feel vulnerable, or do you remain out of reach so that nothing can harm you. I think that is essentially the difference between a direct, warm smile to the camera and an attitude.

As an author who understands the need to market and to have an online presence, together with photos, the prospect of vulnerability and criticism becomes very real. At the same time, there comes the opportunity to create a narrative or to play with artful imagery - a wonderful process that mirrors writing.

To slip in and out of a role and create a character - I love that thrill.


  1. What a great post Laura! It's as if your read my mind and psyche! So many of us have felt the same way growing up. As if we're imposters, and not who we really are. It is a universal malady with girls and women. One we need to fight back. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for reading, Lilian. :)
    I have had similar responses, with a number of friends saying that they could relate. One of them was an INFP, too.

    I agree, girls are particularly susceptible to impostor syndrome!