Rethinking beauty standards through 
family photos image


Rethinking beauty standards through 
family photos

1 January 1970

Last summer, we did a summer trip to Austria, stayed by a beautiful clear lake, surrounded by mountains, meadows, and forest. On this day, we had rented a pedal boat to go across the lake. Our child had never been on a pedal boat before – so it was an exciting and special experience.

Written by Jana Heinicke

The boat we got was bright red and called “Mausi.” Someone had written the name in big white letters on the red paint. We found it amusing. Overall, we had a really good time. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling, and a light summer breeze was blowing. As I watched my husband play with our child against this picturesque backdrop I took a bunch of photos of them. And of course, I hoped that my husband would take pictures of me and our child too. Not just posed ones, but those that arise spontaneously. The special, genuine ones, where a story is truly unfolding. The ones that bring memories to life.

As time passed without him taking out his camera, I kept thinking to myself: “Don’t you see how enchanting this moment is? The light is perfect, the colors are vivid – I’m in my new bikini and, for the first time since our child was born, feeling comfortable in my body – even beautiful.” Yes, the whole moment was almost too good to be true. But my husband didn’t take any photos.

"The moment full of joy and lightness, which was what I wanted to capture, was now gone anyway. "

After a while, I got annoyed – and brought it up: “Why don’t you take in -the-moment photos of me?” I asked. But what I saw as a casual expectation was, for my husband, a chore. So the mood shifted. And I got even more annoyed because the moment full of joy and lightness, which was what I wanted to capture, was now gone anyway.

When we were on our way back, my husband finally took a photo of me and our kid. It was a candid shot that I didn’t expect – and when my husband saw the photo on his phone’s display, he laughed out loud. I felt insecure and asked why he was laughing, but he just said, “You’ll see.” We docked at the pier and went ashore, and a little later, while sitting in a café, I looked at the photos on his phone – and started crying in anger. “Are you trying to humiliate me?” I asked, “why did you have to take the picture from that angle?” All I saw in the picture was my double chin and my belly rolls, which my husband had photographed from a slanted angle, and then laughed at. I felt miserable. And so, we argued.

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“I see you every day,” said my husband once we both calmed down a bit, “and it might be hard for you to believe, but I don’t pay attention to your so-called beauty ideals. I laughed because the scene was so unique, because you both looked so cool, because the mountains were in the background – and above all, because someone actually thought to name their pedal boat ‘Mausi.’ I thought you wanted me to capture the moment. If you want a perfect staging of yourself for social media, you have to say so.”

"Deep down, I didn’t just want a photo that captured the magic of the moment, but I also wanted to look good in it."

But I didn’t say anything more – because that hit home. Even though it was hard to admit, he was right: Deep down, I didn’t just want a photo that captured the magic of the moment, but I also wanted to look good in it. I wanted my photo to be from the right angle, with the perfect light and background – so I could post the picture on Instagram later. And it suddenly made me sad that I saw the world through such an unrealistic filter. How could I – instead of seeing our cool little kiddo, our genuine smiles and the vacation feeling – only see my own belly rolls?

What kind of toxic conditioning had I acquired through my job and presence on social media? In these apps, everyone constantly talks about self-love and self-acceptance, about mindfulness and being in the moment – yet only normatively, beautiful protagonists in ideal light and perfect angles are seen.

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That evening, I sat on the balcony of our vacation apartment for a long time, thinking about our argument, but also about my self-image and the way I present myself on social media. And eventually, I thought: “To hell with authenticity, self-love, and mindfulness on Instagram, if there’s no room for a vacation shot with double chins and belly rolls among all the glossy, perfectly staged pictures.” So I posted the photo. And surprise: No one but me saw the fat rolls. Everyone was delighted by such a beautiful vacation picture.

PS: My husband now regularly takes pictures of our child and me. He bought an old analog camera, develops the photos himself, and scans them. He enjoys that way more than snapping photos with his phone. So, there’s a tip for you if you want your partner to capture in-the-moment photos without you always reminding him!