Well, it’s a bit silly, but it’s true: photos can change our lives. I’ve experienced it.

Our personal perception of our beauty, attractiveness, and value as a human is a huge, deep topic. In our visually dominated world, it’s safe to say we all are often thinking about how we look and what others think of how we look. Sadly, it’s really easy for us to tie these ideas of outward, physical appearance to our innate, complete value as a human. Going further down this road and expounding on how crazy our society is would leave me here all day with irradiated thighs and tired fingers, so I’m going to focus on my personal experience of how a single photo can change the perception one has of oneself. 

Like billions of other humans, I never felt like I was particularly good looking. People would tell me, and I wouldn’t believe them. I was the ugly duckling between two really good looking brothers. I carried that belief with me through childhood, when our older sisters' friends would be over, exclaiming how cute their brothers were, with a seemingly clear focus on a specific two. I carried it through the awkward high school years, where female friends and acquaintances would often make their interest in my older brother known in front of me. I carried it through various relationships with beautiful girls, still not fully embracing the sweet things they were telling me. Okay sure, I was blessed with blue eyes, but that was just a genetic lottery… It wasn't until a random day, in a small apartment in Málaga, Spain that I finally, finally saw a glimpse of what other people had seen in my physical appearance. 

I’d just shaved my facial hair into a mustache, for fun and for a bit of a joke more than a conscious style choice. I threw on a recently thrifted sweater, my Beats headphones, and sat down at the kitchen table to do some computer work.

My partner at the time, a photographer, looked up and said ‘you look nice, can I take your picture?’ Reluctantly, I agreed while muttering some weak protests under my breath. I rose and took off my headphones, but her eye for detail came out and she told me to keep them on. She grabbed her camera and I sat on the couch, feeling awkward, not knowing what to do, what the point of this exercise was, and twiddled the end of the headphone cord. So, I smiled, looked at the camera, and she started to press the shutter button. I still didn’t know what to do and fixed my hair, though I knew it was cliche and something I didn’t really like.

We went through some poses, I mustered up some smiles and let my simmering discomfort come through in serious and slightly angry faces. Thankfully, a minute or two later, the impromptu session ended. She smiled at the camera and I went back to the computer to continue working. She immediately popped the SD card into her computer and started editing.

Not much later she turned her computer around, and I saw something I had never seen before. I saw a beautiful, handsome boy with headphones on, scowling at something out of frame. I sat looking at the photo, while the realization that the boy in the photo was me dawned on me like a mist descending onto bare skin, tingling all the way down. As silly and crazy as it sounds, a life changing moment was happening in front of those flickering pixels. I was beautiful.

the photo - by Marisa Torola

This new concept was of course still slow to incorporate itself into my being. Some days it feels stronger than others. And, over the years now, positive reactions from social media and matches and comments from dating apps (where the photo has been my profile photo) have stacked on top of each other and I’ve come to believe something about myself that I didn’t believe for most of my life, I’m a handsome, beautiful human. It has really changed quite a bit about how I carry myself as a man walking through this world. Sure, I still can’t imagine seeing someone at a restaurant and going up and talking to them, but, maybe someday, in the right situation, I'll find the strength.

I did find the strength to ask a photographer friend here in Madrid if she wanted to exchange photo shoots, and so the photos you see here (besides the photo above) are from that session. It was fun and maybe I'll spend a bit more time in front of the camera in the future...