Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking at love


When I was a kid I liked to wedge a sharp corner in my mouth - you know, the edge of some cardboard or plastic packaging, or else the top of a Bic pen cap - and jab at the point where my palate met my top teeth until it was irritated and bleeding a little. I liked the taste of the blood and the tingling sensation. I never did any real damage. In fact, it never even occurred to me that this was weird, or self-destructive. The pain was besides the point. It was entertaining. I felt something different.

At night now I sometimes look at things on the internet designed to poke me in a similar way, although I take a lot less pleasure in them than I used to in gumming on a repurposed cracker box. One is the blog of St. Paul-based photographer Melissa Oholendt, which I stumbled upon through a friend's blog. Oholendt photographs engaged couples and weddings. On her professional website, she sets forth a mission statement of sorts:

You know the moment where the groom sees his bride for the first time? His look tells a story of love.

My passion is telling your story.

When I say I'm yours, I very literally mean...I'm yours.

So far, so strangely-emotionally-transgressive-and-bizarrely-sad. But hey! Her photos are nice. But (no insult meant to the Oholendt here; I'd hate to be TP'd by marauding fans of the photog), that's not why I look. When I stare blearily at pictures of "courtney & matt" or "beth & jeremy," I'm actively looking to snark (bad news, according to these findings). I want to think something bad. Not because I'm against Oholendt's stated goal of capturing love, but because I'm exhausted by the big question of how people fall in love.

For a good chunk of my life I thought I understood the machinations of emotional attachment, sexual compatibility, and human companionship quite well. Then, when I became single last year for the first time in nine years, I realized I was completely out of my depth. Since then I've experienced the vagaries of the dating world in a fashion that is neither unique nor, all things considered, particularly egregious. The things that have happened to me are the stuff of some particularly mumbly indie romantic comedies. I'll get over it.

But this year I was with a man who took beautiful pictures of me. I framed one, and it's sitting bubblewrapped in a cabinet right now because between the time I packed it into a box in New York and took it out of one here in Los Angeles he made it dramatically clear that my assumptions about our relationship were incorrect. And now on the internet I can look at the pictures he takes of a different woman, one who looks like she would agree with Oholendt's quip:

Um. Is Jennifer Aniston way prettier than Angelina Jolie? That would be a yes.

So I guess this post is a limp, barely interested Team Jolie fistpump.

But anyway. When I was a senior in high school I went through yet another bout of body image issues. I never had an eating disorder or hurt myself, but I sure felt pretty fucking terrible about the way that I looked. At one point I cut a photograph of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis out of one of my mom's copies of Hello!. I coated it in several overlapping strips of Scotch tape, a sort of ghetto lamination job, and stuck it in my wallet.

I'd pull it out when it was time to order at a restaurant. The photo - not the one above - didn't show Depp or Paradis's bodies, just their heads.

"What are you doing?" my sister asked me once.
"It just helps me," I said. "You know, to think about being beautiful."

It would have been more effective if I'd just folded the picture in half, pinched the corner sharp, and opened wide.