My two-year-old already knows to smile for the camera.
I'm not sure where he picked it up, but any time you point a phone in his direction and look vaguely documentarian, the kid turns, hits his mark, and flashes his gums.
It's not like any of the rest of us have photographic selves that are any more truthful. When I examine the visual record of my son's first years, I am confronted with a well-lit, nicely framed alternate universe in which he slept beatifically and snuggled in my arms as we floated cherubically in a warm bath of community support. I'm smiling in the photos -puffy cheeks, greasy hair, jelly belly and all.
The reality was more ragged. In those first two years, we faced a random sampling of the short straws any new family must draw: feeding trouble, boredom, loneliness, judgment, teeth.... I wrote every day during first two or three weeks of it, to keep myself honest and to keep myself sane, and now, when I contrast the written and visual records, I'm troubled, though not surprised, by the gulf between.
Though it isn't news, the way we curate ourselves. Social media has exacerbated the practice, and certainly tightened its timelines (no longer do we wait a few years to impress an audience of our future selves; rather we perform our lives in real time to a virtual clutch of friends and near friends and less than friends). But ever since the first neanderthal put charcoal to cave we've been fronting, and no part of the year is lousier with self-presentation than the stretch from mid-November to late December.
I'm not advocating for a resurgence of realism (resurgence is the wrong word, and so is realism; we are both what we present and what we repress, and we've never been above fluffing our feathers for a crowd).
Rather I want acknowledgement. Our smiles are not the whole truth. But they are fierce and they are brave.