Photo Struggle

It’s so normal to add a photo to your Facebook page, your blog, even your business card. We have cameras in our phones, and use them, sometimes more often than phoning. We change our profile shots, we Skype so we can talk face to face. It’s  the new normal. There are big, bloviated reasons for loving photos of ourselves. “We are visual people, so we want to know the person we are talking to,” says a well-known blog marketer. “We have an affinity for faces, and we like to look at others,” says a coaching company, who won’t let you have a listing without a photo.

weight-stereotypingBut the real reason we want to see photos is one we talk less about. We like people like ourselves. So we look for people just like our ideal self. We eliminate by age, by gender, by race, by clothing, by glasses, by teeth color. We judge. We eliminate not by experience or content of soul, but by looks. Photos are handy for that. It wasn’t too long ago that a college admission form had to include a photo. Guess who didn’t get in? The ones that “just wouldn’t fit in” at that school.  At the same time, of course, we espouse equality.

Watch out for those grapes and apples--they have more carbs than you might think.

Watch out for those grapes and apples–they have more carbs than you might think.

Here’s my experience of equality: Since last October 3rd,  I have lost about 50 pounds. That’s the weight of the average seven-year-old. I am the same person I was 50 pounds ago. But my life is different now. I get help in stores more quickly. People in clothing stores are polite to me.  Grocery store checkers don’t comments on the contents of my grocery cart anymore.  I’d used to hear, “Is this all for you?” Or, “How long will this last you?”

While I still need to lose weight, it’s been a record-setting three weeks since a complete stranger came up to me and suggested a diet. This used to happen three to four times a week–a woman (it was always a woman) would step up to me at the library or grocery store and suggest a diet that had “done wonders” for her.

fast-weight-lossWhen I mentioned diabetes, I was often told that I had brought it on myself, by eating sugar (or gluten, or not enough kale, or whatever people felt like saying.  A well-known crafter once said that fat people took up too much space in the world. Thirty of her friends agreed with the statement on Facebook. Some of them belonged to minority-factions themselves, but did not feel compelled to consider their piling-on as defamatory or hurtful.

So, no, I didn’t want to post a photo on my site. Because we absolutely, positively judge the overweight as undesirable. Fat people may the the one group that we still make fun of, tease, taunt and feel self-righteous and justified in dishing out the mean-girl words.

When we want to describe a problem as difficult to overcome, it’s a “big, fat” problem. If a business “trims the fat” it becomes “lean and mean” which is a good thing.

The changes in my life are profound. I have chosen to control my blood sugar by diet. No “just give yourself a little insulin and have this cake.” No pill to cover a guilty pleasure of a glass of wine. It’s an incredibly hard choice to make, but it makes me be aware of how I live and how I choose to nourish myself. There are no more treats in the way I defined them–no more cookies, no chocolate covered ginger, no fresh cornbread.  There cannot be, ever again. It is not a choice I recommend, because it reminds me of loss. In my case, it also fills me with gratitude, and the desire to make the same choices again. I get sick if I make mistakes, so I make fewer mistakes.

And yes, I had a head shot taken. Not because I lost 50 pounds, but because too many workshops, training and speaking opportunities won’t come your way unless you have a head shot to show. And because, for me, this is who I am. If you don’t like the photo, you absolutely won’t like the personality that comes with it.


-Quinn McDonald still has weight to lose. But she’s moving ahead step by rocky step. She will always wish she could eat ice cream, but she will never have to give up Inktense watercolor pencils.

87 thoughts on “Photo Struggle

  1. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Your words and thoughts on the subject are so similar to my own. It is such a struggle. Your attitude is wonderful about the whole situation!!! good job!!!

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  3. Quinn, how exiting to see your smiling face for the first time, I had no idea how you looked and never thought about it either, ’cause I focussed on your words and mind and felt a connection. How awful that you had to deal with such rude people, yes, I find it rude that they suggest diets to a total stranger. You are beautiful! Love you!

    • People are nervous around fat people. They think it’s catching. Or they are afraid of their own weight. Most people project their problems onto others, and since I allow that in coaching, it happens easily in other settings. It can be very hurtful, and I’m not letting people off the hook because I’m no longer fat.

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  5. Quinn, I love your new photograph! It’s fresh and happy and full of joy. I struggle with my weight, as my mom did, and her father. My heartfelt good wishes to you for good health. Some people treat overweight folks as if they have a character flaw.

  6. Well done for losing all that weight, not a easy task. And thank you for writing such a thought provoking piece. I wish I could say that I wasn’t judgemental, but I’m afraid to say that I am. I am getting better as I am getting older though and I’m a better person for it. I too struggle with my weight even though I was a thin child. The strange thing is that I don’t think of myself as overweight, but when I see myself in the mirror I know that I am. It comes as a shock and I don’t like what I am seeing. Twice I lost two stone with a slimming co. who shall remain nameless and twice I have put the weight back on. Perhaps I should try cutting out sugar from my diet?

    • We form our body image as a child. That image stays with us, even if we gain (or lose) weight. i didn’t think I was “all that overweight” either, until I saw photos or caught my reflection. My personal opinion (I’m not giving you advice) is that diets don’t work. Sure, you lose weight, and when you reach your goal weight, you sigh with relief and stop dieting and the weight comes back. To keep weight off, you have to change your relationship with food. Behavior modification is the only way the weight stays off. I was eating too much of the wrong stuff. Stuff I loved–crackers, cookies, rice, pasta, potatoes, chocolate. When I changed the amount of carbohydrates I ate and exercised daily, I began to lose weight. In order to keep the weight off, I have to stay away from those foods. So now it’s two vegetables with dinner, no starch. No sandwich for lunch, but a salad. One piece of dark chocolate after dinner, not several sugary-filled chocolate candies. And it worked for me.

  7. It’s a lovely portrait – it says so much about you — the books in the background, even your trademark pencil. And you, claiming your space, happy, you look so happy, what a smile. And your eyes with such deep connection and sparkle. What a journey in the last 7 months.

  8. Quinn, from this site (writing) I thought you were a twenty-something “art guru”! Look, you have a young, vibrant, fascinating mind and what you look like is not WHO YOU ARE!!!! Our culture is so fixated on looks and outward pieces that we get into the habit of not SEEING who people really are. And I am SOOOOO very tired of rude people telling anyone how we Should be– get over it! You are a gigantic talent — and remember whenever anyine is rude— meaness goes all the way to the BONE!!!!

    • Meanness does go to the bone, and is a LOT heavier than fat! I would not like to live through my 20s again–they were so fraught, and I had so much to learn. I still have a lot to learn, but somehow it’s easier and I feel less embarrassed about how much I have to go!

      • i, too, would not like my 20s back 🙂 i like being in my 30s and have a feeling I will like my 40s even better (let’s hope). I, for one, love your face and that shot, especially when I have read all the wise words that came from you, to me, those always make the person even prettier. I feel my feeling of who someone is always colors how i think they look. And I will say those beautiful eyes are such a pleasure to look at 🙂

        • I think we gain a special wisdom as we age. I often don’t recognize people in photos at all. People look like their personalities to me–warm and loving people are always beautiful!

  9. Wow. You hit on too many points that mirror me! I have the weight AND the gray hair, so I have become invisible. (Actually all the gray is up front and the back is still dark; Cruella DeVille turned 90 degrees!) Being invisible means no one tells me about diets I should try, but…
    You are incredibly brave and just so darned persistent and self disciplined! I admire those traits in you as well as your deep well of creativity. Thanks for being so darned honest. And your picture is super…you look happy, healthy, creative and mischievious which is definitely a winning combination.

    • We do become invisible as we age. Except for fat people. We look younger because fat pushes out wrinkles, but oh, my, those comments we get, particularly those said “quietly” behind or backs.

  10. I love this post Quinn! You know I cannot understand how people can come up to you (or anyone) and offer unsolicited advice on losing weight. Or any kind of unsolicited advice for that matter. Yes, we are all humans who judge to one extent or another but we should certainly keep those thoughts and judgments to ourselves. In recognizing our judgments, hopefully we can catch ourselves in the process of judging the next time and stop the pattern in the future.

    Marisa, my stepdaughter, was judged for being too thin or for coughing excessively. People would say to her, “Gee, I wish I had the problem of needing to gain weight” or “Have another cigarette.” What they didn’t know was she had Cystic Fibrosis and her life would be drastically shortened. She finally got to the point (with a little help/push from me, LOL) to speak up and say something to the people who were being so rude.

    I am honored to call you a friend, Quinn. You are truly one of my favorite people and I thoroughly enjoy our looooonnnnngg lunches, laughter and exchange of ideas. You are so much more than a photo but either way, you are beautiful…inside and out! I love your new headshot; it captures your true personality and magnificent eyes.

    • You are my hero. You championed Marisa and your Dad, and everyone one else who was brave in your life. You are a strong, whole person who shows up every day ready to live life to the last drop of enjoyment and vibrancy. And you do it all in barefoot toe shoes!

  11. Quinn, I have said before that I think you’re a wonderfully couragous woman . . the accusation stands! And quite frankly, despite the lovely photo, I couldn’t care less if you looked like the north end of a south-bound cow, I relate to your mind and heart. Actually a cow is a beautiful creature in and of itself from any angle.

    The whole question of what others think about entirely superficial things occupies far too much of our minds. Fortunately for me I can apply for a job and am not asked my age as employers can’t discriminate on that basis however society does, it makes judgements just as you so eloquently said. I seem to have disappeared from society, no longer svelte and possessing the vibrancy of youth, at 64 I’m just another aging woman . . . but wait! As my mother said when in her 90s, I will one day achieve the novelty value of having lived a long time, I’ll tell them I’m far to old to sip wine (she really did say that) or give a damn about what they think about my appearance and will do as I damn well please . . . some who know me would say that I hold these attitudes now but I couldn’t possibly comment!

    A loss 5, 15 or 50 kilo or pounds, it’s hard work, to take control of your health and forfeit things you’v loved, . . . much admiration and applause Quinn, a standing ovation!

    • Thank you so much! I love your mom, and she had a fabulous, honest, strong daughter. My friend Derrick, when he turned 70, and had a face that had lived every adventure of those years, said, once, to someone who made a sharp remark about looking old, “You think this face is old? You should see me arse!” I can still hear him say it!

  12. That is you on the photo? Wow. And Yay you, I love the photo SO much, thank you for sharing and being you – you look totally awesome and perfectly YOU. Yay again. Sorry got a little excited here. Hihi.

    • Yep, that’s me. All of me! My hair color varies–a little darker right after it gets “done,” and a little lighter as the gray shines through, but most of all, I love being photographed with my art!

  13. Quinn! This is so, so brave and real. I am currently on my own health journey hoping to lose at least 50 pounds.

    I am sugar and gluten free for my skin, rather than to lose weight but it is working all the same. I miss sugar dreadfully, much more than I wish I did. But my skin is not covered in a nasty red rash, which has it’s own social implications.

    It staggers me that anyone approaches you with diet advice. Especially that often. It makes me wonder at what is going on for them in their own lives.

    Well done you for losing the weight but more importantly getting back in touch with your own body and getting your wellness back.

    I hate getting photos taken of myself that I do not control. I much prefer being the photo taker.

    I love this photo and how alive it feels to me. Pulsing with vibrancy, much like your blog.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • I want to stand up for the forgotten and demeaned overweight. So very few people know what it feels like to be at the receiving end of that kind of scorn. Yeah, sugar is soooo addictive. I stay away from artificial sugars because they make me want the real stuff. It’s hard, but I’m happy every day that I push the battle ahead one more time. May your skin be as glowing as your special soul!

  14. This post brought a smile to my face through a tear or two. You are so honest and real and you touch souls. I don’t understand why some people think they have the right to judge and then direct other people’s lives. Quinn, I think you ROCK. And I absolutely love and get your last line: “She will always wish she could eat ice cream, but she will never have to give up Inktense watercolor pencils.”
    (I haven’t read any of the comments yet, just had to say my piece before running away without saying anything like I usually do!)

  15. This was very interesting to read. As a fitness instructor I am must necessarily cheer on those who shed pounds, but I make a conscious effort to focus on the whole person and not just weight and weight loss. We all have cheer-worthy accomplishments and we are all more than our size. When I think about knowing you at EEI I don’t recall you as someone who needed to lose weight. I recall a creative, funny, interesting woman with cool objects in her office. I recall someone I could speak to on any subject. I recall your bright blue eyes and quirky take on life. So congratulations to you for losing the weight and getting healthier. And let’s hope that we can all someday understand the hurtful impact of those who think it’s OK to poke fun at, demean, or otherwise marginalize others because of their size. PS Great photo! You look cool, and interesting, and quirky! You look like you!

    • We do all have cheer-worthy accomplishments and character flaws. I’m SO pleased that you are a cheerleader for weightloss–and a quarterback on the field of whittling it off. EEI was 10 years ago–I can hardly believe that!

  16. Reblogged this on shadowofthemind and commented:
    As someone who has struggled with my weight my entire adult life, I am SO on board with this post. The interesting thing is the number of people who will give the same advice about anything that we struggle with – weight, exercise, writing, housework. WE are judged and found wanting by others, but none so much as ourselves.

  17. Dearest Quinn,
    First of all, my heart is broken to hear about the comments that people have so thoughtlessly slung in your direction. My experience is that people automatically want to blame the perceived victim of hardship because it creates a feeling of comfort and safety for the viewer. They think, “I do a good job in my life of making choices, so that will never happen to me.” People don’t believe that they can handle the idea that randomness exists and they could develop diabetes or suddenly lose a loved one, or give birth to a child with a degenerative neurological disease because of a random genetic mutation. They want to believe that karma is a nice, neat, stoichiometric equation, whereby you do the “right” thing and you get the result that you *intended* to get. I know this because this used to be me.

    Regarding photos of oneself, I am on a multi-faceted journey about this myself. Here’s what I’ve decided so far: I care about my people and I care about what they think because of that. However I also believe that what people think of me is none of my business. I need to be truly free from that and embrace myself for the things I love and hate about myself. I started a self-portrait project and at first I was SO uncomfortable (oh my GOD, am I this egotistical? Do I have a narcissistic personality disorder?). But I was alone in a room with myself and a camera and you know what? I found out that I’m a piece of flesh like anyone else. I have lumpy bits and smooth bits. And if I look at them in different lights and angles they are very interesting. Sometimes I find them ugly. Sometimes beautiful. I am humbled and empowered at the same time. Like public speaking, showing photos of myself has become simpler with practice. Once I know and accept myself (my flaws and strengths) I am so much stronger. As I age and change I am interested to see how my perspective also shifts. Is this practice for everyone? No, of course not (we’re all so different). But it has been an important exercise of self-acceptance and empowerment for me.

    I confess that I did love seeing your smiling face; it’s the first picture that I had ever seen of you. I felt trusted.

  18. Brave you for writing about these things. I know so many people (especially women) who feel these same things, including me. I also have recently lost 60+ pounds and know first hand how much of a struggle that is and how different life is when my weight is more in range of “normal” (whatever that is!). Your writing always strikes such a chord with me, Quinn. Congratulations on your accomplishment. I am also working on it still – for several health issues. It’s not easy to think I will always have to watch what I eat, but the alternative is worse.

    As for gray hair – I am not brave enough to allow mine to grow completely in yet. Not sure I ever will be! Let’s just say I live my life as if I were young at heart, so why not look like it too.

  19. I love your picture, Quinn!

    And you’re too nice… I wish you’d said who that well-known crafter is because I don’t want to be following anyone who thinks like that, even if I might like their art. Because that’s the kind of intolerant I am.

  20. Hi Quinn. I really enjoy your blog. I love how personal and thoughtful it is and I feel like I know you. I have been very overweight for the last 20 years and have end stage renal disease. Most people think it is my fault. It has helped me realize that there is nothing I can do to change people’s perception of me and I am free to move on to make new friends who love me just the way I am. Letting go is so freeing. I have learned a lot from being unwell and it has made me more compassionate and a much better person. Thank you for sharing your life. I love your headshot, your artwork, and your interesting thoughts. And I may just have to try those Inktense pencils!!

    • “Let go” is my word for this year, and your telling me this important part of your life reminds me how important it is to stay grounded in what is really important. Absolutely try the Inktense pencils!

  21. Ah, Quinn! Good stuff. I just really love that photo because you look so happy and it seems like things are coming together for you on so many fronts. Good for you, you deserve it!

  22. Way to go! I am having trouble making the commitment to exercise every day. I applaud your decision, but more than that, I applaud that you are actually doing it. I’m so proud of who you are.

  23. I hate my photo. Especially now that I am letting my hair go gray. You cannot imagine how rude people can be about that! No one ever says anything to my husband about his gray hair. But me, all the time. Too bad. I am done with hair color burning my scalp. It is always something isn’t it?

  24. Yes Pete, it is a gender thing. I have seen some very cruel things done and said to and about people who are overweight. And overweight can be quite subjective to people. My mother was a tiny slip of a thing most of her life, and in her opinion anyone who was a size 5 or more or weighed over 110 lbs was considered overweight. It was perspective to her since she was so small, all those other people seemed so big to her. Which is no excuse of course, but that was how she saw the world.

  25. I once had a neighbour say, “You’ve put on a lot of weight.” I replied by saying, “Thank your for pointing that out.” Then I turned and walked away. She came to my door later and apologized. It really is incredible that people find it necessary to make personal comments.
    Your photograph is lovely.
    Congratulatlions on your great accomplishment!

    • People say the first thing they think of, and while many of them don’t mean to be cruel, many of them feel it is their obligation to tell you what you already know, then shame you for it.

  26. Don’t you LOVE those inktense pencils? and you are so talented and wise!! and again, no one has any manners or consideration thee days. it is none of their business about your diet. they are rude and ill-mannered to ‘suggest’ diets, etc. etc. congrats on the weight loss, though. I have just the opposite problem. if I do not eat lunch, I have lost 2 or 3 lbs…. each way is hard 🙂 and I like the head shot, too!!

    • My heart goes out to people who have to gain weight. Fat people get criticized, but no one has empathy for the people who have to put on weight. It’s as much a struggle one way as another. And yes, Inktense pencils are my favorite art supply. I love their transparency and their power!

  27. How AWESOME it seems so easy to pack the weight on AND so hard to get it off. I too am working at losing weight. It is a hard battle but one with great rewards. You go girl. love your work and enjoy your Blog. Keep on keeping on.

  28. Hmmm…I have a body type that’s almost an archetype in the technology realm; I’m the short, fat, balding guy with a beard and glasses. And yet not one of the “fat negativity” things you describe has ever happend to me. I wonder if it’s a gender thing?

    Congratulations, and nice photo!

    • It IS a gender thing. No one tells a football player he’s fat, although many of them weigh in at 300 or more pounds. No man has ever criticized my weight. Many women today seem to need to find someone to put down to make themselves feel better. And I think our culture supports it. And frankly, in my opinion, that’s a big reason a lot of Americans are fat. They are unhappy and easily available carbs make them feel better. Celery does not, let me assure you.

  29. A wonderful story – thank you Quinn. I understand what you mean about people deciding what you are just by how you look.

  30. Gave up the ice cream and donuts years ago but my wine is my guilty pleasure….well we have to have one….however now I am back in the land of craft shops and stationers and inks and pens …,oooh ooh feel the addiction coming on….yep I have a stationary fetish…off to hunt for old botanical books in the charity shops and vintage wallpaper ….got an idea……xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
    Well done you….you are so pretty as well as being so wise and clever…..but beauty comes from within and you shine…x

  31. What a rude thing to do, suggesting a diet for you. Some people are really thoughtless. You should feel really proud on the decissions you’ve made, and I don’t think many people could follow your example. The job you are doing is hard, really hard. I wish you the best of luck with your fight.

      • Yes. If only our inner thoughts could at times be unleashed. But people who are thoughtless never see themselves and don’t get it when they are made accountable. I have faced both extremes. Painfully thin as a child which adult women with low esteem felt necessary to mock and now working on the excess weight age and genetics has brought on. But I love my grey speckled hair and wear it proudly. You look great! Your personality shines through!

    • And yet in their minds they are being thought-ful. Trying to share the advice that someone gave them that helped them in the past. They are not thinking, “What a fat slob, I think I will go over and shame them.” They are maybe thinking, “Oh that poor wonderful woman, if only she knew what I know she could look and feel fabulous again.” Selfish maybe, but not thoughtless, or if thoughtless only in the sense that they are not putting themselves in the self-conscious shoes of their target. As a fat bald guy I can say that I seldom hear anything from strangers, but my friends and family have no compunction about commenting on my shape.

      Way to GO Quinn – you look great and it is even more amazing that you are doing it by essentially the same method as a smoker quitting “cold-turkey” EVERY DAY! You have great strength and determination. Congratulations.

  32. People would really come up to you and suggest diets?! I’m flabbergasted…. And thumbs up for your determination. You look like you feel great!

  33. Great picture!!! Beautiful you!!! I’m photo shy too – Your post encourages me to think about getting a head shot to post.

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