My sister has a profile picture of her posing dramatically on a pier at a beach. My cousin frequently reverts to a photo taken nearly 10 years ago on her honeymoon where she is standing in the ocean in a flattering swimsuit. Several of my friends on social media have profile pictures not of themselves but of their children. Another cousin doesn’t bother with a photo of himself at all but uses one of his car, his pride and joy.
It’s not news that profile pictures on social media might have some authenticity issues. We’re not necessarily looking to portray our real, mundane selves but some version of them that emphasises a facet of our personalities that we particularly want people to see when they look at us. I’m good-looking. I’m arty. I’m a dreamer. I’m a proud parent. I’m witty and I’m funny. I’m above all this social media crap.
Me? Like here on WordPress at the time I’m writing this, I have a photo of myself that I took nearly 12 months ago, standing in the butterfly garden at Changi Airport in Singapore. I’d flown out of Tokyo two days before, enjoyed a stopover, and was waiting for my flight home to Australia for Christmas.
I chose it for several reasons. It’s a flattering shot and I’m wearing an outfit I especially like. The greenery behind me is lovely. More than that, though, if I am being brutally honest, there were things I wanted that photo to say. I’m pretty. I’m outdoorsy, with enough money to go to new places but not superficial about it. I’m an expat traveller type, enjoying the world and its quirks. I’m happy.
The truth, of course, is a lot more complicated than that, and it was especially so at the time I took the photo. I didn’t have that much money, and that was a source of stress. It was actually my sole trip out of Japan for 2014 and, Singapore being one of the more expensive cities in the world, I’d had to budget things pretty tightly at the expense of my enjoyment of the city. I also was tired and sick, having likely picked up a virus just before I left Japan. It had appeared with vengeance the day before and only a combination of ibuprofen and sheer stubbornness had let me manage to keep trudging around the city.
It wasn’t just ibuprofen I was on, though. By December last year, I was in the thick of fertility treatments and in a less than wonderful place emotionally. I was taking Duphaston, a progesterone pill, twice a day to try and bring on a period. It made me dizzy, not unbearably so but enough to be unpleasant, When Duphaston’s goal was achieved just after Christmas, I would try yet another round of Clomid and the dark places it took me, even though it probably wouldn’t work. A few days before I’d flown out, my gynecologist had me take a fasting blood sugar test. Metformin was on the horizon and as I prowled around Singapore, I was also confronting the possibility of diabetes, if not now then in the not so distant future.
I wasn’t a happy expat traveller type at all but I badly needed to convey that I was when I took that photo, though, at least as much for myself as for anyone else. I was confronting the possibility back then that there never would be a baby, that there would never be anything more than this and I had to somehow make this be enough.I needed to remind myself that I had something, at least.
You don’t see any of the real story when you glance at my profile photo, though, no more than you do with anyone else, and it’s a pity. The story of why we took that photo, why we posted it on our profile, is so much more human and real than that one little image can convey. The storyteller in me loves that so many words are needed to explain something. The rest of me feels a little wistful, thinking of how much can get lost and how easily. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, but they might not be the words that are intended and they certainly are not necessarily the most important ones.