I have a confession. This girl?
That’s not me.
Sure, those are my earrings, and that’s my hair (on a pretty decent day), and I suppose those are my features, but still. That’s not me.
This girl is polished and sure of herself, staring at the camera with a hint of a smile — or is that a challenge? This girl knows what she’s talking about. This girl don’t take no shit from no one.
But me? The real me? I’m distracted and often frazzled, underslept and overscheduled. More Marla Hooch than Dottie Hinson, if you know what I mean.
[Sidenote: a few weeks ago, my friend Nat and I were playing “What celebrity do you hope you look like, and what celebrity do you fear you look like?” I said that on a good day, I hoped I look like Drew Barrymore, but most days I fear I look more like Marla Hooch. He had to look Marla up on his iphone, and then he didn’t stop laughing for like ten minutes. IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.]
Author photos (and author bios, for that matter) are weird and often uncomfortable because they ask us to choose one face to show to the world, when we know that no one picture — and no one paragraph — will ever sum us up. As my friend Marisol told me, back when I was struggling to write the bio for the book jacket:
“I think, among other reasons, that writing a bio is stupidly hard for the same reason that writing a resume or a college application is stupidly hard – they all seem to build on the premise that there is a single truth of self that we can capture on paper if we only find the right words. And worse, the right 50 or 100 or 200 words. But, that’s bullshit. And, perhaps ironic, because anyone who could be captured in that way – would you really want to hire them, bring them to your college, or read their book?”
(I love her.)
I think most of us grapple with this, in our world of social media and profile pictures and 140 word twitter bios and “About Me” sections — how do we choose to present ourselves in this or that context? (I like to joke about “managing my brand,” but lately it feels like less of a joke than it used to.) At least with Facebook you can post a number of pictures to hint at your multifaceted glory. But with an author photo, you only get one shot.
So which do you choose? Do you go with the casual snapshot, the Oh Hey, I Didn’t See You There, I’m Just Hanging Out On This Dock?
Or the Sure I Write Books But I Spend Far More Time Hugging Dogs/Don’t Look at Me, Look at This Adorable Greyhound:
(To be fair, she is adorable.)
There’s always the I Can’t See You, I’m Too Busy Being a SERIOUS WRITER And Wearing This Awesome Leather Jacket:
(What was I writing? Probably “Ali is taking a picture of me. Blah blah, I am writing!” or something similarly poetic.)
Or do you try to channel Robert Frost and go rustic with the Here I Am, At Home In The Woods, Just Casually Laughing On A Stump:
(This one was taken in Iowa, so it has a special place in my heart.)
Or do you try to show your readers how fun you are with the Wacky Hatching From An Egg pic (total cliche, am I right?):
(What author didn’t hatch from an egg?)
Or do you give up on the idea of trying to put your best face forward, and go with the But Seriously, This Is What I Actually Look Like shot? (Which might be what old Uncle Shelby was doing in the picture that so terrifies Deb Joanne.)
(That’s just my face, you guys.)
It’s overwhelming and crazy-making, and in the end you often have to just go with something and try to stop obsessing. And that’s why I went with what’s probably the most boring option, the professional headshot:
It’s not me. Not entirely. It doesn’t show how casual, dog-loving, thoughtful, rustic, fun, cranky, or contradictory I can be. It’s only one face of many, and I contain multitudes.
But I guess that’s what my book is for.
**You know you want to play along: What celebrity do you hope you look like, and what celebrity do you fear you look like?**