Not Another Self Portrait
by Jennifer Mally
"Who's the model?," he asked. "Me," I said. "It's a self portrait." Thankfully, he responded with a hearty laugh. The scene was a local art festival. "He" was a visitor to my booth, and he was looking at my painting entitled, "Smiling Pig." The thing is...I wasn't joking.
I realized not all that long ago that the subject of nearly every painting I do, in one way or another, is me. I certainly don't set out to do that. After all, how many paintings of me does the world need? (Don't answer that.) But somehow, that's where I end up. If you look closely at any of my illustrations, you'll find me...lookin' right back at ya.
Flash back to 1975, John F. Kennedy High School -- a sophomore girl gym class. She said, "You'd be pretty if your eyes weren't so close together and your nose wasn't so big." I could have responded, "yea, well, you look like a pimply rear end," or criticized her mother's mating habits or something, but I didn't. I just looked at her with one of those who-the-heck-are-you facially-contorted sneers that 15-year-old girls can do like no one else can, and left to go chase after a basketball -- I could care less what she said. (But of course, I did care, because my eyes are close together and my nose is big.)
I really didn't have the slightest idea who she was, nor why she would have an opinion about my looks. Big school. Hundreds and hundreds of kids -- I think 650 or so in my class alone. To this day, I've not been able to come up with her name. I have paged through my yearbooks a number of times, and can't put my finger on her. I'm sure my memory of her takes on a much more distorted perspective, so it's not surprising. And it doesn't matter. It's silly and superficial, and there are so many more important things in the world to think about. Even so, I've carried her words with me for 30 years -- and drawn them into nearly every picture I paint.
Yep. That's where the big noses and close-set eyes come from -- and if they have teeth, those are big too. Ol' what's-her-name from Kennedy High neglected to mention that sizable trait of mine. I think I've managed to draw up more than a few likeable characters that feature my prominent features. So, we'll say the insecure 15-year-old that still lives within me is finally okay with herself.
I like myself better acknowledging the silly and superficial stuff that I carry around. I've got a messy little suitcase of these things and "my looks" are right on top. Lately, though, I'm less concerned about the proximity of my eyes than the crows feet that adorn them -- and I hear our noses continue to grow as we age. Oh my. By the time I'm 60 I'll be able to fit pomegranates in my nostrils. Now that will make a notable self portrait.
Really. I am a caring and compassionate person too. But, sometimes it's nice to escape to more shallow thoughts. Actually, the best part is just being honest about it. I find honesty to be a most refreshing and lovely thing. I like people who are honest. I'm drawn to people who are fearlessly their real selves, you know, who aren't afraid to call it as they see it. Hmmm...maybe I should find ol' what's-her-name. I can always use a new friend.
Jen's Current Gallery of Self Portraits
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