It was one of those urban legends that high school girls gasp and get indignant about early in the a.m. on shabbatons. That your high school graduation picture is your official shidduch picture. That mothers dig up yearbooks to find your face before approving a date, that yeshiva guys spend late afternoons flipping through the “Graduates” section choosing their favorite mug shots, that no men’s dormitory is complete without a stack of yearbooks for dating purposes.
Naturally, we were indignant. We were still naive high school girls, confident that our marriages would be based on something more elevated than appearances. Plus, we found the idea of guys looking at photos of girls a bit obscene.
To a great extent, and for much the same reasons, many of us still do. The idea of having to surpass a minimum threshold of good looks makes us indignant. Beauty is only skin deep, it’s what inside that counts, and how can you judge someone by the color of their eyes? we argue. Ugly people deserve a fair shot, we protest. There are many (fat) guys happily married to overweight girls who they swore they wouldn’t date for weight reasons, we point out. Would you like it if we asked for pictures of you? we demand.
I, personally, don’t care to know what my date looks like beforehand. There’s a pleasant element of surprise in the process without it. Especially if there’s a phone call first – then you build up some preconceived notion based on the voice which is nearly always wrong and just heightens the fun.
But another point is that nobody really looks like their picture. A picture is a frozen moment in time – usually a posed, fake moment frozen under strong lights. When you look at a real person, they’re animated by personality, and after time, your perception of them becomes clouded by what you know about them personally. I’ve actually failed to recognize some people in photographs because they’re just not the same when they’re not moving.
Of course, I have a personal bias against the photo thing, because I don’t have a single photograph of me that I like. The quest for the perfect shidduch photo has been ongoing since I threw my high school graduation pictures in the trash. Whenever my critics (read, family and friends) assure me that I look presentable, we snap a few pictures, but they never like the results. Whereas, the one picture that everyone seems to like is one where I don’t actually look like myself – I’m wearing a hand-me-up jacket from my sister, have straightened hair, etc. The fact that people preface their comments on the photo with “Is that you?” kinda clinches it. It’s enough to make a girl lose confidence and enter a convent. Or just refuse to date guys who request a photograph. Hey – if they want to know what I look like, they can just find themselves a yearbook.