You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile: Lessons from a Photo Shoot

Last month I was sitting in school when I received a text message from a friend of mine. “Would you be interested in being on NBC?” it read. My heart immediately began to race. “Of course!” I responded. I was in the middle of a program for school and frantically whispered to my friend sitting in front of me, telling him the news.

After a series of cryptic text messages I finally received a call asking whether or not I could come down to 30 Rockefeller Center as soon as possible for a short interview that would be part of a story relating to Eating Disorders and the media. Uh, yeah. Immediately this started playing through my mind.

I was excited and thrilled at the opportunity. I told a few friends and a professor about it and everyone immediately asked: what are you going to wear? I also called my mother as I approached the famous doors of Rockefeller Center and she asked me: What are you wearing? Do you have any makeup on?

Fast-forward to mid-March when my photo and quote were featured in Glamour magazine, and my photo and guest blog also appeared on their site. I was invited to Glamour for a photo shoot in December, as part of a story featuring “women in recovery” – for a spread on eating disorders. The questions I received after I told some select friends and family about Glamour were: What did you wear? Did they do your makeup? Do you have photos?

I get why these questions were asked. We all present a part of ourselves when we show ourselves to others. Appearances are a part of life; there isn’t really a way to completely avoid them. Yet, we can work to battle the constant focus that exists as a result of the greater culture.

When I agreed to be photographed for Glamour magazine one might argue that I was giving in to the greater values dictated by the culture of looks and standards. After all, I sat in a makeup chair and had my face painted and hair curled expertly. In reality, one of the first things I asked when arriving on set was, “This isn’t going to be photo-shopped, correct?” We live in a society when Photo-shop and airbrush are rampant among ads and industries, convincing men and women that they ought to look a certain way when in reality the people they see in advertisements don’t actually like that at all. We are encouraged to wake up each morning and rather than think about the best person we can be, instead to think of the best way to look.

As a kid, I recall waking up and thinking about what cereal I’d eat and whether or not I had gym class, quickly reviewing some homework and packing up my backpack. Somewhere in the teenage years the morning becomes about outfits, hair, and makeup – though this is not the case for everyone. When I sat down in the makeup artist’s chair at Glamour he asked me what types of makeup I use, what shades, what’s my makeup routine? I stared blankly back into his eyes in the mirror. “Sorry, what? Makeup routine? Maybe some eyeliner and lip balm?” I don’t often wear makeup and when I do, I’m prone to wiping it off after a few hours.

This is not to say that I roll out of bed and emerge into the world looking unkempt. Rather, I have learned that my confidence takes me much further than any makeup routine. Makeup can be fun, styling one’s hair can feel great! And yet, it has become overvalued and almost seems “necessary” for some people when they leave the house in order not to feel embarrassed or ashamed. The day it becomes a crutch for confidence is the day to take a step back and evaluate. And this doesn’t just apply to women…though men are less prone to makeup they can still go to great lengths regarding appearance and should not be dismissed.

When I was asked what I was wearing to my unexpected NBC interview I laughed. “I’m wearing what I put on this morning… the story will speak for itself.” At Glamour I was given what to wear and my makeup and hair were done for me. And yet I do not hold pride in the curls in my hair or shades around my eyes in the picture; it is the quote below my photo that makes feel good. It is the story that I wrote about overcoming my Anorexia, and the title “Recovered Woman” that makes me feel proud and confident.

Numerous friends have called me after seeing the Glamour piece and told me how nice I look. And yet, it is not these compliments that make me smile. It is hearing how happy I look in the photo, how I am beaming and alive. I was once in such a state that I refused to be in any photos; I was living in the shadows, waking up each morning to spend long minutes scrutinizing my appearance. Now when I look in the mirror I see a confident woman with much to offer. It is my pride in my work, interests, relationships, and personal history that gives me a strut in my step, not any shade of lipstick.

About the Author
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in the fields of eating disorders, self-esteem, and mental health. Temimah writes and publicly speaking on these subjects and is also an adjunct professor in NYC teaching on the subject of the treatment of eating disorders. For information or inquiries please see her website.
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