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The Vine: October 2, 2013

Submitted by on October 2, 2013 – 12:57 PM27 Comments


This has been kind of an ongoing thing, but it's starting to bother me more and more. First a bit of background.

I was diagnosed with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis in 2009. It started on my scalp and spread to my face. At the worst point, my entire forehead, nose and some parts of my cheeks were covered. I didn't even want to leave my apartment because people looked at me like I was a leper. I've had grown-ass adults ask me what's wrong with my face. I usually stammer some kind of explanation about an autoimmune disorder, when what I really want to do is cordially invite them to eat a bag of dicks.

My real problem, though, is my friends. I am not at all comfortable with having my picture taken. Despite several polite requests that they not take my picture (or at least ask me if it's okay beforehand), my friends still do it. Someone takes out a camera or a phone and starts taking group pictures, and when I try to move or outright ask that they not take my picture, I'm ignored. Usually flippantly, with some sort of remark like, "Oh, it's fine." Um, no it's not. I'm not comfortable with it, and I've said so several times. And what's worse is that they end up putting the pictures on Facebook, which I'm REALLY not okay with.

I mean, I've had someone tell me flat-out that they were just going to do it anyway when I asked not to have my picture taken. And it's usually in a group setting where we're in public and I end up feeling like an asshole for making a big deal out of it. They see it as no big deal, but to me it feels like a violation and like they're just dismissing me. I know saying I feel violated probably makes me sound like a huge drama queen, but I don't know how else to describe it. And now that (thankfully) the psoriasis on my face has started to clear some, they're even more forceful about it.

I know this is probably something small to be upset about, but it really bothers me that they seem to not care about how I feel at all.

Do I just suck it up and deal with it? And if not, how can I get the point across that I'm not comfortable being in pictures? Am I being an asshole here?

I really hope y'all can help me, because I'm running out of ways to say "no, thank you" without it sounding like "fuck off."

No Pictures, Please

Dear Pix,

You're not being an asshole, but you're causing yourself even more stress by reacting to it this way. That isn't to say that your reaction isn't understandable, or your right; it's both, you feel how you feel, and I don't get people insisting on other people getting into the photos when it's clear from body language (or…regular language) that they'd rather not. Like, that's almost never a coy bid for the photo-taker to beg…it's like calling attention to people's shyness out loud. Never mind the rudeness: what's the point of doing it?

…Anyway. It's upsetting, and that's legit. Also legit: your friends don't think your condition is as severe, or negative, or hideous and blighting as you do. They love you, and they don't notice it. You're just you, and they want you in the picture because you were there, with them, being you. The fact that these same friends can't remember/respect that you don't want to see your psoriasis under a hover tag on Facebook does give me pause, of course, and I don't disagree that it's a bit dismissive…but maybe you want to put that aside for a minute and think about the bigger picture here, to wit: every conversation you have to have with them, singly, again, about how you know they don't mean anything by it, but you just hate being photographed and you have to ask, again, that they not make a federal case out of the fact in front of everyone, or put you on Facebook without your permission; every time you see a smartphone going into aloft-snap position and freeze, preparing to "dig in your purse" or "look for something under the table" or "race-walk to the ladies'"; every time you go through your friends' feed and untag yourself and fume? That is time spent, and gone forever, thinking about the psoriasis, resenting it, defining yourself as The One With The Skin Condition, and reinforcing the idea that this is a terrible problem. And "this" can mean the psoriasis itself, or your aversion to photos — but either way, it's taking something from you emotionally, and at the end of the day, it's not worth it.

Listen: I'm not trying to blow sunshine up your ass about inner beauty, which I'm sure you have (as well as outer beauty). This isn't about that. This isn't about going along to get along, exactly, either. This is about deciding that caring about the issue to this extent is not a good use of your time. Bottom line, your friends don't see this is a big deal as far as your appearance, and they won't stop trying to include you in photos — so maybe it's time to decide for yourself, this is a part of social life, and I don't have to like it, but if I just do it, smile, cheese, snap, it's over in eight seconds. Resisting, reminding people that you hate it, seething that they don't care…again, I get it, and I would feel frustrated too. You're not being oversensitive, or a baby. But you have better things to think about and better ways to feel about yourself and your friendships.

I mean, what's the object here? To feel less shitty about this, no? So I think the best way to do that is to give your friends the benefit of the doubt that they do care about you and think you're "fine," and to acknowledge that, while you're going to spend a certain amount of time dealing with the psoriasis in ways that aren't positive (and what is with these people asking about it? I'm a big fan of the stare and the "Why would you ask me that?", but I think a "Mine's plaque psoriasis — what about you? Just ugly, then?" is not out of line in future, because fuck's sake), it's only going to get so much of your time and tears. Could you approach a friend after something like this happens and gently remind him/her, "You know, because of the psoriasis, I'd really rather not be in photos, so I appreciate your respect for my position on that"? Sure. Sometimes people forget. Other people are just jackasses, and it's time to spend more time with people who listen.

But if you continue to see this as a big deal, you have to…deal with it, and you have to enforce it as a big deal, and I just think that, net, it's not worth it. When it's picture time, get behind someone's shoulder, or have a vogue move you do that only shows your eyes, something that lets you laugh a little and have control over it while also rolling with it more…because I think control is partly what this is about, and I empathize, but hiding that hard is just going to wear your ass out.

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  • Pam says:

    Offer to take the picture! Win-win, maybe?

  • Halo says:

    I don't disagree with this advice, but I do feel more strongly about the Facebook issue. It is incomprehensible to me that people wouldn't respect a friend's request not to post photos of them on social media. I have friends who don't have FB and/or don't want their photos posted and it's a non-issue with me and other friends. Anybody who dismisses that is a total asshole, in my opinion. Once, a friend asked me to take down a picture in which she felt her face looked crazy (I hadn't noticed) and I said "hey, sorry!" and removed it. OF COURSE.

    However, I want to just throw this out: my mother's mother had a withered leg from polio as a child and some other self-esteem issues and refused to be in snapshots. Then she died when my mom was a freshman in college, so we only have 5 or 6 pictures of her as an adult, and most of them she's partially obscured. It might sound dramatic, but this is heartbreaking for my mom. People love you and in the distant future when you're gone they will want mementos, regardless of how you feel about your looks.

  • anon says:

    I get this, question and answer, too well. Been recently dealing with friends who don't listen when I talk, and unintentionally disrespect me in small but repeated ways. I know I have every right to feel hurt and it's almost impossible to shrug it off. But, as Sars says, net: it's not worth obsessing over. I feel how I feel, they act how they act, I've got things to do so I move on.

  • Otter says:

    I think you can look at this as a two-part thing:

    Thing 1 -your friends want you in their pictures: Speaking from my own place of not liking to have my own picture taken (partly self-esteem, partly relation who made his picture-taking of family activities the center of said family activities for a number of years), I sympathise. But as Sars says, your friends love you and want pictures of you. Hard as it is, try to let your friends get some pictures that include you. I find it helps a lot if I don't have to look at said pictures.

    Thing 2 – Posting/sharing pictures on FB or other social media without your permission: I'm with Halo, this is massively dickish, IMO. Whack them over the heads with a great big clue-by-four, repeatedly. If there's a usual suspect that does it repeatedly, they don't get to take pictures that include you, and tell them why in small, simple words.

  • ferretrick says:

    Sars is dead on here. I don't have a skin condition, but I do not like being in photographs. Faking a smile is not something I do well and, I'm sure this is my own lack of patience magnifying the situation, but does it seem like 90% of the camera loving people have no idea how to operate their fucking camera? And so, stand there, continue the fake smile you were struggling with in the first place until your cheeks explode while they fumble and the sun sets in the West and then oh, wait that didn't come out, the flash went off, the flash DIDN'T go off, do the whole thing again, and I AM GOING TO GRAB THAT POS OUT OF YOUR HANDS AND BEAT YOU TO DEATH WITH IT ARGH.

    Sorry, anyway…as a camera hating person married to a normally sweet, wonderful man who turns into the Camera Loving Fiend From Hell…just give in. You aren't being an asshole; the camera people are the obnoxious ones forcing you to do something you don't want to do and refusing to show manners and respect and violating your personal space. BUT, it's one of those things where it's just not worth it, and standing on principle or making a big deal of it makes it worse than just dealing with it. Camera people will NEVER understand your position; they will NEVER back down, it will NEVER not cause more drama than to just suck it up and take the picture.

    And…having had to put together a few photo montages recently, there may come an occasion where you are glad to have the picture even if you think it's hideous. Friendships change; people drift away; people die, and maybe someday you will be glad you sucked it up and smiled with Great Aunt Dorothy for a few seconds and now you have that image forever. And nothing sucks more than your friends reminiscing or sharing photos of events you were at, but you aren't in any of the pictures. It will make you feel erased, trust me.

    I hate having my picture taken as much as anyone, but I've learned to accept it, and it's just a hell of a lot less aggravation.

    OH, and you should definitely tell complete strangers who ask about your condition to eat a bag of dicks. WTF?

  • (One of many) Jen(s) says:

    I don't disagree with Sars, necessarily, but I would take a moment to…take stock of the friendships, I guess? I'm not saying DTMFA, but…I don't know. If a friend had repeatedly told me they don't want something to happen, I would not do that thing. And yes it's small, but it does make me wonder about other things. For example, I have a friend who never remembers I don't like one type of food and whenever it's offered to me (usually by her) and I say I don't eat that, she always reacts with a "Whatever, I can't remember what you eat and don't." And no, it's not her job to. But…literally everyone else can. And, no surprise, this is also a friend who can't be bothered to show up on time, sends emails inviting you to last-minute plans, and various other things that are all small, but also all disrespectful. And it paints a picture, ya know?

    All of which is to say, I don't think you should make this a Big Deal. If this is the only thing your friends do that is annoying, then they are lovely people and whatever you can do to make peace with this one thing, I think you should do. But maybe this bothers you so much because it reminds you of other things and this is more of a straw that broke the camel's back situation.

  • Dinah says:

    In my circle of friends, there are several women who invariably say "oh no I don't want to be in the picture I look terrible" or something to that effect, when what they're really looking for is someone to say that they look fine. They'd be hurt if someone actually excluded them from the photo.

    Could your friends be thinking that you're simply playing out this trope? If you do decide to approach your friends about this again, maybe explicitly adding that you're not fishing for reassurance but that this is truly what you want would help.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    And, no surprise, this is also a friend who can't be bothered to show up on time, sends emails inviting you to last-minute plans, and various other things that are all small, but also all disrespectful. And it paints a picture, ya know?

    "OMG sor-reeee, there's meat in the chil-eeeeeee!" I mean, that's fine, but it's been over a decade. (My point is I think we both know the same person, because all of this self-absorbed stuff happens regularly. It does paint a picture, that's true; the one it painted for me was "you now have permission not to pay very close attention your own self.)

  • attica says:

    For a little perspective, I'd do a mental inventory. If some people in my circle were willing to not shoot me or untag shots already gotten, I'd reevaluate the ones that do object/ignore, reclassify them somewhere on the Asshole spectrum, and proceed limiting my time with them.

    If nobody in my circle paid me heed when I objected to being photographed, well, they're either all assholes, or…I am.

    I've been in this boat, and come up with the 'oh, crap, it's me!' realization. Not a happy one, but at least it's a starting place for figuring out how best to proceed. Maybe it's recalibrating your response (as Sars suggests), or finding a new crowd.

  • Angharad says:

    I didn't really see this covered in your letter, so let me ask: How frequently are you and your friends getting together with the cameras out? If you're only seeing these people a few times a year, I'd personally just suck it up. That's really more of a "making a memory" deal, where it's about the fact that you were there. But if you're seeing them every week and it's just an "out with the girls on Saturday" thing, I'd only give in once in awhile. You don't need 'memories' from every week of your life. Either way, though, posting that to social media isn't okay and needs to be addressed.

  • Maria says:

    It sucks to deal with a physical problem that is not under your control. I feel like the stress of that makes people look for what they can control, and in this case it's photos and friends who take them. Maybe you are out with people and able to forget about the issues of the day and your skin, and then a camera is a trigger to be upset about that again.

    I guess it's your right not to have any pictures taken of you, but your pictures is being taken all the time and you don't even know it. Waiting in line at the bank, the gas station, really all kinds of places. But you don't give anybody a hard time over that. Is it Facebook itself that you don't want to be on? Or just that it's so-called friends who aren't listening to you?

    I guess I feel like if you can be out in public, what is really the difference? I am overweight and just saw pics of myself at a wedding and was sad for how I look right now. Who knows if I will gain, lose, or stay the same. It's not been working out so well for me. But I have to say, everybody in the pic with me was smiling and glad I was there, and it was still an irreplaceable day of my life, and I'm glad I went (even though it does cross my mind to stay home and stay away from cameras).

    I wish we all looked like what we wanted to, all the time. It would make life a lot easier.

    You've gotten a lot of great advice here, and whatever you want to do is okay with me. I just wanted to offer support for being unhappy about what the images look like to you.

  • Marchelle says:

    I do not like having my picture taken. It's not because I'm concerned about how photogenic I am/am not. It has nothing to do with vanity and everything to do with matters of privacy and not knowing where these pictures will end up. I have twice had jobs where a photographer came around to take my picture for their website, and, as it was not a condition of my employment, I politely refused. In a world where privacy is getting harder and harder to maintain, I feel I have every right to have as much control over the dissemination of my image as I can.

    Do I get flak from people for this? Yes, of course. Do I care? No, I don't. My standard response has become to respond with a serious face, when asked why I don't want my picture taken, that I'm in the Witness Protection Program. It's surprisingly effective, as most people will laugh because they think I'm joking, but won't push it further because.. well, what if it isn't? When people get pushy, I just ask them why it's so important to them, and more importantly, why it's so important to them that they disregard my clear wishes on the matter. You can be calm but firm without being a dick about it, in my opinion, but it takes practice.

  • heatherkay says:

    After a couple of very unflattering snaps got posted on my wall (note to self — POSTURE!), I turned on the privacy setting that requires me to approve the photo tagging. So, still annoying that you have to say, yet again, "No! I don't want a picture taken!", but at least you don't have to see it again.

  • kandijay says:

    I also have psoriasis and a rather severe case of rosacea, so I definitely feel you on not wanting to get your picture taken. I've actually avoided friends who love to take pictures because they aren't at all sensitive to my feelings about this. I find I'm happier when I'm with my friends who, yes, love me and don't see my conditions, but also respect my feelings.

    And as for total strangers asking what's wrong with your face, yes, that totally happens. All the time. I used to smile nervously and answer politely, but as the years have gone by, I've found a blank, icy stare works better. I have yet to tell someone where to shove it, but catch me on the wrong day and it just might happen.

  • Cora says:

    I keep going back to what Otter said, distinguishing between having a photo of you as a keepsake, versus posting to Facebook without your permission. Like a lot of people here, I don't understand why a friend can't respect your request not to be plastered on the internet. Maybe that distinction needs to be made to them, gently.

    As for obnoxious strangers, there's a lot to be said for the Miss Manners (TM) approach:

    "Hey, what's with your face?"

    "Why do you you ask?"

  • Jo says:

    Everyone else gave good advice, but I'd like to ad this: Go to your Facebook privacy settings and if you haven't already, change them so that people can not tag you in photos. I think the only option is just to make it so you can decline the tag — the photo would still be there if other people are tagged, but your name wont' show up. Your friends need to quit being douches about it, but that will help.

    Also, maybe you could make a joke of it. Always hold something in front of your face — your wine glass, break out YOUR phone and take a picture back, carry a pretty fan in your purse and hold it up so only your eyes show. Again, I think your friends should knock it off, but I think Sars is right that they're probably well-meaning. Maybe there's some kind of compromise.

  • IS says:

    As someone who doesn't like having my picture taken, I find it useful to phrase it as "I do not consent." People seem to take that more seriously.

    Although I do like Pam's suggestion of offering to take the picture!

  • kandijay says:

    @Cora: As for obnoxious strangers, there's a lot to be said for the Miss Manners (TM) approach:

    "Hey, what's with your face?"

    "Why do you you ask?"

    I've actually tried that. I've found that if a stranger is so clueless as to ask you about something that is none of their business in the first place, this response really just encourages them to ask MORE rude questions.

  • attica says:

    I have an idea: take a popsicle stick (or tongue depressor, paint stirrer, or coffee stirrer, depending on the size of your bag), and affix a bit of poster board to it. One side can say something in a fun font lighthearted but pointed, say, "None of your beeswax, Thanks!", and the other can be fierce: "Fuck all the way off, bucco!" Whenever strangers butt in, you can reach in to your bag, grab the stick and hold the desired side like a fan in front of your face.

    This may work better in my head than it would in real life, but it's amusing to imagine the reactions.

  • Bubbles says:

    On the one hand I get that your friends love you and want you included, but on the hand… I'd sit down the most likely sympathetic candidate outside of a camera situation and talk to them about how it bothers you. In college (er 13 years ago), my friend N told us that she doesn't do pictures. And we all said "okay" and pretty much left her alone. Once in a great while we'd wave a camera in her direction, but give her plenty of time to hide. So we do have photos of her, but mostly of her laughing with her hands over her face or the top of her hat. In the last couple of years, she's willingly been in a few photos.
    I believe that your friends love and want to include you. They think you're beautiful and you are just you to them. But I think they also don't get how important this is to you.

  • Georgia says:

    @ attica: It works well in my head, too, because it reminds me of Wile E. Coyote.

  • karen says:

    I love pictures. Love em. Send photos of bloody marys to people, hop in every shot I can, make people pose, take pictures of random people's dogs…I'm an instagramming asshole.

    But..I have two friends who don't. One is super anti social media and never wants a picture of herself on the internet. The other has some pretty serious anxiety and body issues (which I'd love to help with, but not by making her uncomfortable).

    It is not challenging to give them the option to back out of the photo, and to assure the one that I will never post her face any book.

    I think you need to have a talk with your friends.

  • erikagillian says:

    Now this might just be paranoia, but the fact that Facebook owns the photos people put up and that they've been helping the gov't with face recognition software… I'd rather not have a recent picture up there, not that I care that much really.

    I do have the I didn't let people take pictures in my teens and twenties because I thought I was fat thing. I'm sorry now, both because I weigh a lot more now and I think I was adorable back then but also because so many cool hair colors and ridiculous and/or cool outfits are lost now.

    The biggest problem I'd have is the friends are being insensitive. If they need a picture of me, let me give them one I can stand. But the putting them on Facebook without permission is way outside what I'd be ok with.

  • Clover says:

    @Attica: I love your idea, too.

    It reminds me of the Road Rage Flipbook one of my roommates used to carry in the car:

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Yeah, the biggest problem with how social media's changed our thinking is that "private" and "public" are utterly blurred. Nobody thinks about how "their" Facebook page is the most public property ever, so it doesn't occur to them that not everyone wants themselves splayed before the world.

    It's one thing for a friend to catch your elbow or half your face in a photo, quite another for your elbow to dance around the electronic ether forever, whether you want it to or not. Pictures have always been considered "soul-stealing" by some elements of humanity, and our frantic need to throw them out into the great soup strikes me as upping that theft considerably.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    I hate having my picture taken. HATE IT. If the photographer persists after I've politely asked them not to, I have found that a ferocious "Do not take my picture!" while throwing up my hands and ducking my head tends to do the trick. (I've also been known to hide behind books, menus, and other people.) (Yes, I'm an asshole about it.)

    I also find that people who know and love me respect my wishes about the whole picture taking thing. And since they DO respect my wishes, I will also give in on holidays, birthdays, etc for the occasional posed pic. (Glasses off, standing behind others usually.)

    And I third, fourth, fifth the suggestion to change your FB settings so you can approve the photo tagging.

  • Nikki says:

    You are not a "drama queen" if you set a boundary for yourself. This is YOUR IMAGE, and if you don't want it on the internet forever you are totally within your rights to be insistent. You can say, "no, it is not fine, do not take my picture." THEY are the ones that look bad if they argue. And once people understand your stand on this issue, they should back off.

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