ODDITIES AND ALL
The sunny days of summer have assuredly faded. Here in San Francisco, leaves transitioned from green to brown and now line sidewalks of all ethnicities, awaiting their fate along with discarded cigarette butts, animal fecal matter and a host of other unidentified entities. As the temperature changes, the weather, in a way, becomes as refreshing as a lager on a hot day and something about that change is rewarding.
In Northern California, even during this time of fleece leggings and puffy jackets, warm days periodically emerge like lovesick ex-significant others. Gusts of cold winds support the idea of a change of season with those random sunny days providing a much-needed form of distraction from reality. San Francisco's weather is beautiful in that way; like human and animal personalities. Lots of variables. Lots of transmuting and unchanging.
Personally, living in a four-season climate, adjustments become a lot more arduous, sickness comes easily, and wardrobe needs constant updating. Swimsuits cry out for attention versus being a staple, like in the Caribbean, and the park and beaches see an influx of sun-hungry people on those random sunny days.
In many parts of the world, this description is applicable, and in others, it would need re-indictment.
One of these others is the Caribbean. Sandy beaches, tropical breeze, and heat - just pristine sunshine, giving school children tan lines. To combat the effects of the sun, a proud show of talcum powder on the chest and necks of some becomes a defense against excessive sweating. As proof of the sun's power, sweat stains in the shape of car seat belts and bag straps, imprint themselves across the shirts of the working class. As a means of avoiding inundation by the heat, people blast air conditioners on the coldest setting, while fans are a highly sought after commodity. Although rain shows its face now and then, most of the time the sun becomes a marginally less sought after best friend and everyday reality.
In the sunny twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the sun holds a special place in life, with two seasons - the wet season and dry season - seeing more rain during the dry than in the wet. This duality makes for good memories, frequent beach visits, arbitrary flooding, traffic, and sometimes school closures - mainly when those hurricanes stop by to say hello.
As a child of the sun, growing up in the Caribbean meant rampant squinting.
Countless childhood images show peculiar facial expressions as a means of trying to look decent while the sun shone blindly into disinclined eyes. As a result, constant questioning of the need for picture-taking in the sunlight became habitual. What a silly girl some may say, but when most childhood pictures look odd because of a strange facial expression, then others may find themselves questioning the need as well.
Throughout childhood and early adulthood, these eccentric facial expressions remained constant. As an adult, the frequency of squinting in photographs gradually got better. The difference? A newfound understanding evading the powerful sun when being photographed outdoors and the purchase of glasses.
Scrolling through old newspaper clippings, eyes stumble upon an image from days as a delegate in the Miss Trinidad and Tobago Pageant and one tainted by squinting.
As delegates for the Miss World Trinidad and Tobago pageant, immersion in all sorts of pre-pageant preparations and events became a natural part of life. Packed schedules ascertained that. Apart from the many other unmentioned activities, swimming sessions noticeably sat on the pre-pageant regime. Every Saturday morning, it kept all the delegates occupied.
One of these mornings, several media photographers showed up to snap pictures of the delegates in action, many of whom expressed displeasure over having their photographs taken, citing messy hair and un-made faces as the reason. Impeccably legitimate reasons, especially as a beauty queen. Urged by the pageant chaperone, Denise Darlington, and hurriedly strewn into it all, a quick low bun, a pair of hoop earrings, a choker necklace, and a swim wrap helped one look a bit more "put together" for the photo.
The sun was blazing that day, mercilessly in fact, and eyes relucted willing participation.
As memory-evoking as this image is, for a long time, subjective criticism focused only on the squinting. This opinion brewed periodic dislike for this image and a secondary awareness of the lack of focus placed on all the great experiences this time of life holds. Subjectively speaking, this image was once viewed as ugly, mainly because of the squinting, but is it that unsightly? The answer comes in the negative form.
By definition, ugly means; unpleasant or repulsive, especially in appearance. Therefore, the next question to ask is, does this image even fit that definition? Again, the answer comes in the negative form.
For years, taking photos in the sun received adverse reactions, and on that day, those feelings remained the same. As a beauty queen, photographs were always taken and featured in local newspapers and rather than enjoy seeing them, one pined over the fact that this particular photo looked ugly. This statement itself may seem superficial and even shallow, but sometimes opinions make things seem that way.
Looking at a photograph is such a different experience than looking in the mirror. Personally, it provides an authentic perspective on how others receive one's physical appearance, and because of that, looking, and feeling good bears some significance. For centuries, physical appearance presented a basis for judgment. On the same note, physical appearance gives a basis for stereotyping. As a person of color, with naturally curly hair, skin color and even choice of hairstyles can at times encourage judgment and stereotyping, thus tampering with the perception of others. Many may lay claim to this statement as well and because of these types of specificities self-presentation rises in importance to make sure that physical appearance is positively received because the last thing many wants, is to offer others the opportunity to take a critical stance against it.
Pondering on that last point, one begs to state that, the previous sentence holds the answer to the unasked question about the main issue with the image in the first place. To elaborate further, had it been placed in childhood photo albums, fuss about it would have been minimal but publication in a major newspaper for millions of people to see garnered self-consciousness and worry over how others would receive it, especially those who were strangers and vice versa.
Everyone should embrace the right to criticize, question, or analyze their thinking, especially when thoughts dismiss helpfulness. The consideration of how childhood thought processes about the sun and squinting influenced personal feelings about those same topics in adult-life and encouraged association of that thought with derogatory self-criticism is astounding. This same thought process negatively manifested itself through the harsh criticism about that image upon publication. Furthermore, ignorance only made matters worse.
Truthfully, glasses would have resolved things. Had they been a part of life since then, those odd facial expressions would have ceased to exist and opinions of the sun and photography would have differed. At the time, though, if this experience never existed, would any lessons have been learned? Probably not. That is the beauty of living and experiencing things.
Presently, embracing those odd quirks and mannerisms come quickly for these oddities are beautiful and offer a broad perspective on one's individuality. When a person can express, embrace, accept, and portray themselves as themselves - quirks and all - abundant liberation follows. Each individual has specific ways of being, co-existing with others with oddities of their own. When considered, is it safe to ask, will embracing each other a little more come when one understands how instrumental each oddity is in the lives of others, but most importantly, their own?