When I hear that “print media is dying”, I panic. I truly do enjoy reading the daily paper. The feel of newsprint between my fingers connects me to the news and the world in a way that the abbreviated on-line version can’t. The daily newspaper grounds me and forces me to take time out of my day to sit and read. For me, rituals attached to the habit are sacred. I time myself to see how long it will take to complete the crossword puzzle. On Wednesdays, I clip the recipes from the Food section. Every day, I read the obituaries.
One of my favorite parts of the paper, the death notices, or what my family calls the “Irish sports page,” offers an opportunity to treasure another day above the roses. As I peruse the obituaries, I look at the pictures and often one catches my eye. So youthful and fresh-faced! Instantly, my heart drops. How sad! How tragic! I wonder about the age of the poor, young, departed soul. I scan the details-family members, places of employment, wonderful accomplishments, the dates and times of the upcoming services. And when the text begins with “Suddenly, at the age of eighty-five…”, I stop. In my opinion, with any age over eighty, the term ‘suddenly’ ceases to be applicable. At that point, it’s day-by-day but I’m sure I will feel differently when I’m eighty-five.
Eighty-five. I cross-reference this newfound knowledge with the photo above the blurb. The incongruity of the picture shocks me. Whoa! Eighty-five! Either they look damn good or there is some misrepresentation afoot. My husband has a practiced chant in response to this sort of travesty – “File photo!” Honestly, I can’t hold it against a dead person to want to be remembered at his or her best. The deceased probably never looked better than in this moment, captured for posterity, and certainly won’t look as good ever again. But if you can’t embrace the ravages of age at eighty-five, then maybe it was best that you, and Elvis, left the building.
I forgive the use of the file photo in death notices, even though I contend that, while harmless, it is the height of subterfuge. On the other hand, when the living take the same liberty, I cringe. The abuse and misuse of the file photo in professional circles teeter on the edge on fraud. In more than a few Linkedin profiles that I’ve come across, the image on the page barely resembles the subject. Even worse, in the recent past, I have attended two different writers’ panels and at each event, headshots of the participants, clearly professionally manipulated and enhanced, adorned the stage. There is a danger inherent in this positioning; it’s too easy for the attendee to see that the speaker no longer looks like the person in the picture. For me, easily distracted, hugely vain, and admittedly a little shallow, the differences in two representations, in person and in the photo, capture my attention and my focus on the subject of the presentation wanes, as my sights hone in on the subject’s need for makeup, a blowout, and, maybe, a facelift.
Needless to say, the angst I project in this piece is tongue-in-cheek. Yet, I consider this essay a cautionary tale, a public service announcement, and a prompt to look critically at profile pictures across your social media. Do the world a favor and save yourself some embarrassment: update your headshot. I get that it sucks to get old, but it sucks more when you give people a frame of reference by which to measure the decline.
Bet you never thought about it that way.