Dear Mia: It’s OK To Just Take The Damn Picture

Dear Mia,

I was a child of the 80s, mostly, back when taking pictures of yourself was something that actually cost money. There were no digital cameras, let alone phones with cameras built into them, so you had to buy film for your camera. Film wasn’t cheap — a 36-picture roll of film cost about two weeks’ worth of allowance money.

Then you had to pay to have someone like Kmart or Walgreens develop the film, which also cost money, and even more money if you chose the super-premium, highfalutin’ “one hour photo” option. And, not for nothing, you had no idea whether any of the pictures were worth a damn, because there was no way to see what they looked like until after they were developed. Hence, most 1980s attempts at selfies were successful about 1/8th of the time, with the other seven cutting off half your head.

That’s why old people have tons of photo albums; photos were WAY more valuable back then, because they were far more expensive and rare, and even rarer was that elusive, excellent shot where everyone was smiling and looked great and no one had their eyes closed or their mouth hanging open. So anytime we got anything halfway decent, we spirited it away in a thick-ass book that glued in the photos and covered them up with plastic.

That’s far different from today, where you can take 1,000 photos in an hour at zero cost and instantaneous results. And if you still want to actually print them off, you can upload them to your Walgreen’s account and knock them out for 20 cents a print, and who cares if you lose them because they’ll be in your account forever and you can print off 100 new ones anytime you want.

The new way is better, of course. The ability to extensively document every moment of one’s life in high resolution and for free is truly incredible. No one in the future will ever have to wonder what any particular thing or place or situation looked and felt like way back in 2017, because every situation has been captured a million times a day, and those photos will be freely accessible forever.

But the downside of a world where photos are free and instant and extremely high quality is the desire to make everything look perfect. Because you can. If the first 19 photos — or 39, or 109 — contain the slightest imperfection whatsoever, what do we do? We delete them and try again. And again. And again and again and again, until we’ve got the absolutely perfect photo.

That one, we keep. The rest we delete, because when perfection is available, why settle for the imperfect?

I get that. But I also lament that it creates an artificially high standard for things — for people — to be and look perfect at all times. And we know that isn’t the case. Life’s full of picturesque moments, for sure, but the majority of our moments are not. They’re average, workaday, and sometimes even ugly moments.

One thing you’ve probably noticed while sifting through Grandma and Grandpa’s photo albums is the number of heinously imperfect shots that, if taken today, would’ve never seen the light of day. They’d have been instantly deleted. I mean, look at the gem at the top of this page: your grandma with a mysterious thumb injury and me looking like I was about to commit Christmas homicide against both her and the photographer (which was your Grandpa). This picture makes me laugh harder than few others in my life — but if we’d snapped it with an iPhone back then, it’d be gone.

People in general — but women and girls especially — are under incredible pressure today to be perfect, look perfect. I hate it. I don’t hate excellent pictures, of course — I just hate that the only pictures that seem to get spared the garbage can (digital or otherwise) are the excellent ones.

What we all miss out on when we delete every photo-documented imperfection is our actual life. Because most of it’s imperfect. Despite the amazing quality and billions of photographs available to us today, I fear we’ll look back on these days and have even less knowledge of what was going on than we did in the 80s — because we’ve become professional whitewashers. I mean, were we really euphoric and whimsical with perfect smiles and perfect hair for every moment of our post-iPhone lives?

No, we were not. And that’s ok, because no one is. Life is rich and full, and what makes it rich and full is not just the best stuff, but also the worst stuff and the medicore, boring, non-photogenic stuff that makes up so much of the middle.

So, absolutely, beat the brakes off that iPhone…take thousands of pictures until Siri begs you for a breather. But don’t discard every imperfect moment. Those are the most real, and the ones you’ll least want to forget.


  1. Sheena
    April 4, 2017

    Your writing style has evolved into a freakishly mature and clean prose. I may have to go back and check to be sure, but it is possible that this entire entry has no swear words. I know the audience is your twelve year old daughter, but still. Well done, Barsch.

  2. Sheena
    April 4, 2017

    Oh wait, the title…lol.

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