Remember the time before digital photography? When you’d wait six weeks after returning from Marbella to find out how you really looked in lime green towelling hotpants. When every set of holiday snaps would include three customary “using up the film” shots – Mum degreasing the kitchenette hob, a close up of your brother’s scab, a “leaving shot” of your villa distinguishable from the “arriving shot” only by the vague sense of wistful melancholy and sunburn.
When the double chin, halfway blink and unfortunate nose angle were all accepted hazards of the photographic process – no checking the camera screen repeatedly until you get one that doesn’t make you look like an aged Miss Piggy. Fact is, back then, we were just all so much less attractive. Out of a roll of 30 you would get, say, eight passably good pictures, and 22 in which your face seemed to be trying to escape your head in two different directions at once. And that was just you – try then to find pictures where nobody looks like Bernard Manning or Beaker from The Muppets, nobody is ‘scratching’ their nose in the background and nobody’s finger is half obscuring Auntie Marigold’s wig, and you’re down to maybe two. If you were lucky.
But that was part of the charm. I defy you to tell me you don’t miss the giddy anticipation, of being handed the packet at Supersnaps, quietly hoping that this would be the time, this reel the one that would prompt people to say “My, you know at some angles you really do have something of the Kim Wilde about you.”
Of course as you go through the set to discover slowly that your new coy enigmatic photo face actually has something of the stroke victim about it, giddy anticipation gave way to a small self-esteem complex and need for a triple choc muffin. Yet, like the way mothers forget the pain of birth so that nature can ensure they do it again, so we would forget that halternecks make us look like a tan-lined quarterback, and blithely go through the whole thing again next time someone whips out a Nikon.
No longer. Digital technology has transformed the entire concept of personal photography. Firstly, because now it’s easy, free and immediate, everyone takes ten times the pictures they used to. No social occasion, trip to the pub or slightly funny hair moment goes undocumented and unfacebooked. At my 21st party this weekend, just one of my flatmates personally managed to take 363 photos. As far as I can discern, 345 of those were of people posing for various other cameras, staring into the middle distance and developing RSI from all the pouting effort.
Like the perfect haircut, mascara, bra and cheese-to-pickle sandwich ratio, the perfect photo face is another of those holy grails that women perpetually strive for but know we’ll never quite attain. I myself have been through about 12 variations on the theme of “smile” – close-lipped turning up, close-lipped turning down, open-lipped enigmatic, open-lipped toothy, wide-open surprised, pursed and endearing - the list (and the quest) goes on.
But now that everyone and his budgie is an amateur paparazzo, the main concern has switched from trying to look good in photos, to trying to obliterate every awful one of yourself before it reaches public viewing, while simultaneously framing and shaming each of your nearest and dearest in turn. Among my friends it’s customary to create a distraction before you shove a camera in someone’s face, capturing them with five chins, one eye and a visible filling, before darting away shrieking “no deleting! No deleting!” like a crazed photo-sadist.
So in addition to the real hangover, there is the photo hangover. Standard recovery involves five hours of de-tagging, a strong cup of coffee, and a friend to stroke your hair while saying things like “It’s not your thighs, it’s a trick of the light” and, “who said Vanessa Feltz? Not I” .
And if you’re still feeling awful, whip out the one that makes you best friend look like Mr Potato Head. Or just go back to film.