Facebook Photo Phobia©.

This notification gives me hives.

This notification gives me hives.

This is the one Facebook notification that makes me feel all twitchy and ill. When I see it, my palms starting sweating and I move my mouse slowly, rolling my eyes toward the ceiling and saying a quick prayer before I click and see what hell awaits me.

This is what it means to have Facebook Photo Phobia©.

It began with a milder disorder. In the pre-Internet age, I definitely had Generalized Photo Phobia©. I loathe having my picture taken. I always smile too bright and have often been described as having a “Kool-Aid” smile.

And then, there’s the issue of my teeth. I sucked my thumb for ten years. So for a looong time, my Kool-Aid smile showed off a gnarled box of teeth that looked like they were all dashing off in different directions. I had an overbite, a large space between my two front teeth and a mouth full of bright pink gums that were highly visible.

We won’t even talk about how my mom gave up on doing my hair when I was about two.

So me and photos just never got along.

As an adult, I loved to jump in front of a camera and smile. But I’ve always wanted to burn the results. In some cultures, it is believed that photos can steal your soul. In my case, photos just steal every part of me that makes me look halfway decent.

Now we’re living in the age of Facebook. It’s got the word face in the title for a reason. So now my phobia is enhanced. And I’m not the only one. Everyday, I see the updates:

Ninety-six of your friends have changed their profile pictures.

96!! 96 of you people changed your photos today! What are you all DOING?!

You all have the Phobia too. You want just the right shot to represent you. Should you look demure? Should it be obvious that you took the picture yourself? Crop out the boyfriend? Leave in the kid? Don’t front—you obsess over your profile picture just like I obsess over every picture I take.

My girl Tai has a great profile picture.

So fly.

So fly.

When I run into her at Starbucks, (my old office), she’s always cute and well put together. But that profile picture? Damn! She’s hot! She makes me not want to ever put up a current pic. EVER.

My boy Anslem’s got a great one too.

Well hello there!

Well hello there!

He’s going for the who-me?-did-someone-just-take-my-picture-why-i-had-no-idea effect. It works for him.

My old roommate Dylan has a super serious look on her face in her picture. But I know why she really chose that picture. Cause she’s got the thickest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a white girl and she knows that picture does it justice. You ain’t slick Dylan, you know those bangs are fly.

I've got great hair.

I've got great hair.

Now how the hell can I find the right profile picture when I hate every photo ever taken of me in the history of Kodak?

So I did the sucker move. I posted a picture of me and my baby sister circa 1979.

Kool Aid smile. check. Undone hair. check.

Kool Aid smile. check. Undone hair. check.

And I’ve never changed it. Ever.

Then, David Ramsay, my childhood friend from East Orange, got real slick with it. Tagged me in a picture from a childhood birthday party in the late 70s.

Hmmm. Where is Aliya?

Hmmm. Where is Aliya?

My undone hair is straight up on display. My teeth are…my teeth. And I’m sort of looking down, eyes away from the camera. Even at a young age, I wasn’t feeling it.

If I must have my picture taken, I like to control how and where it will appear. And those days are over. If I’m going to be a part of the online world, I have to let go of that part of me that feels insecure and angst-y about people peering at me.

I’m actually embarrassed about how anal I can be about the whole thing. Right before I got on Facebook, I was honored by the Rutgers African American Alumni Alliance. They have an annual Hall of Fame Awards. I was selected and inducted last year. After the event, one of the organizers posted pictures on Facebook and of course tagged me in the photos.

totally acceptable picture.

totally acceptable picture.

It’s a very benign photo. I look normal, holding my plaque with my fellow honorees. And yet, I completely freaked out. I emailed the event organizer and asked her to take down the photo. (I didn’t know I could simply un-tag myself at the time. I didn’t even know what a tag was. Ugh.) I know she must have thought, is this chick nuts? She wants me to take down a photo of herself getting an award?! On our Facebook group page?

So lame, I know.

But I’ve gotten better. A little. Until today. When I saw the words…

Portia tagged you in a photo.

I groaned. Out loud. Now let me tell you about my girl Portia. I love her. We go back to 9th grade. She knows all my secrets (all the good ones anyway) and vice-versa. We’ve got history. I mean like, stopped-speaking-for-five-years-cause-you-started-dating-my-man-after-we-broke-up history. She is what Wendy Williams would call a rocking chair friend. The one you know you will end up on the front porch with in your old age, a blanket on your lap, a smile on your lips, talking about the good old days.

So yeah, that’s my girl. But I know how reckless she can be when it comes to photos. See, Portia has this book of memories from 1988. There are some very incriminating photos of me in that book. Me smiling too hard. Me with my hair looking too crazy. (Think colored hair gels and crimping irons. Shudder.)

And we all know that people think it’s cute to scan-and-post these oldies but goodies.

I held my breath and clicked through.

Holy Hell.

There I was. Poolside at Portia’s 30th birthday party. Portia, sporting a sensible cover up and a one-piece, black bathing suit, looking age-appropriate. Me, wearing a freaking bright blue string-bikini we’d bought two minutes before from Target.

There should be no pictures of me on Facebook. But if they do slip by, they can’t be any pictures of me in which my belly button, feet, cleavage, and general vaginal area can be scoped in any way, shape or form.


I’m sorry. I’m yelling. But thirty-five year old me makes a point to not look at pictures of 30 year old pre-babies me. It’s just not right.

So damn if I’m gonna let all of Facebook size me up.

I untagged myself quickly and left a comment. Something along the lines of, girl is you crazy? But was un-tagging myself enough? I had a quick text-mail session with my assistant, Del.

Me: my high school friend just put a picture of me in a bikini on facebook.

Del: not cool.

Me: I already untagged. Can ALL my friends see the pic or just all her friends?

Del: everyone can see it. Period.

Me: &*%$!

I went into my email box to contact Portia. But she had already hit me up.

I apologize…I deleted the pic. -P

Disaster averted. If you weren’t online between 12:30 and 1:30 today, you missed my naughty bits. And let’s all thank the Lord for that.

But the whole thing does have me thinking. Am I overreacting? Is it really that serious? Dear readers…Do you care about what photos of you are on Facebook or anywhere else? Where do you draw the line? I’d love to hear from you… Would you be freaked out if someone posted a picture like THIS of you?

Portia. I still love you. But don't let this happen again.

Portia. I still love you. But don't let this happen again.

14 Responses to “Facebook Photo Phobia©.”

  1. Michael Says:

    That’s hilarious. Its absolutely the case though that some people are just more photogenic than others, its all about how the light bounces off your face. Most models are not very pretty in real life, but the camera loves them. I have facebook phobia too, but my hand drawn avatar is very handsome!

  2. Vanna Says:

    Your article is too funny. I actually hate every picture I take too and also have some crazy pics of myself posted on FB (i.e We’re FB friends so check out my Gold Satin ensemble and some of those bad hair days being revisited), but I take a different approach. I really can careless what people think of me, because it’s something that I can’t control. Sometimes I even beat them to the punch and post them myself and laugh at the crazy moment that was captured in time. I have always tried to live in the moment and not to focus on the things too much. Having two ailing parents, I have learned that life is so precious and not to take a minute for granted. If my biggest concern is a crazy pic of me being posted then I think I’m doing pretty well. . . but that’s just me and I feel you!

  3. Clove Says:

    you are not alone! I love “photo shoots” and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “don’t put this on facebook!” every time a photo is snapped at an event lol. what they mean is don’t make me look ugly. I’m guilty of the same thing. most people only want the perfect shots of themselves out there but I’m learning more and more that everyone has different angles and they’re all true and there’s nothing wrong with showing them. one photo doesn’t define who you are…however…I’m glad the untag option is available :)

  4. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Michael: I did this too! I actually hired an artist to do a caricature of me. I loved it. But now I don’t look like the picture anymore. Sigh.

    @Vanna: You are so right. in the grand scheme of things, a picture is just not that important. But still. Still!

  5. Portia Says:

    *Coming out from under the table, hands over head* For the record…you looked great in that picture…way better than me! I can’t believe you told all about the boyfriend sitch. LOL Was that your silent revenge? You need to get over your phobia…and realize that there are way worse pictures that I could have tagged you in….check your email for one now…LOL! Love ya girl! No more tags for you!!

  6. Portia Says:

    Oh and thanks to all the blog readers who did not rip me to shreds!

  7. Retha Says:

    Great post Aliya!!! I actually just had the same conversation with my cousin who posted not so flattering pics of me, I went back and forth to myself about whether or not I should say something to her. In the end I simply untagged myself and emailed her. But FYI, untagging yourself only takes it out of the “Photos of You” group, it still remains in the original poster’s albums, so only they can delete it. Also, who can see it depends on how they set the privacy on the albums….the settings can get very granular, one just has to take the time to go through it. Anyway, I’ve often pondered about the fascination that is Facebook…you should write about that, would love to hear some others’ thoughts.
    Good reading btw! xoxo

  8. serenakim Says:

    Yeah, there should be some kinda control against your dear friends posting pics of you online! I hate pics of me, too. It must be universal.

  9. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Clove: that line you said about all the angles being true really struck me. I wish I could accept the truthiness of all my angles. But alas, I cannot.

    @Retha: I’m not so sure I want to hear from you on this subject. I have never ever seen an unflattering picture of you. I’m not sure it’s possible. Oh, and believe me, I know ALLLL about privacy settings. I gave myself a three-hour tutorial on Facebook and the various settings. Someone needs to teach an online class. And yes, I think I will write a post on Facebook.

  10. Vanna Says:

    Aliya you are so right about Retha . . . she always takes hot pics! Great Blog! Keep doing your thing.

  11. yes Says:

    I see those updates too 56/89 ppl updated their profile picture. I’m always like wow! I feel so out of the loop, my friend teased me for posting pics from 06 recently, I just don’t think I’m photogenic.
    I can’t just pull out my camera while sittin at home. Pictures have to be planned and prepared for around here, plus my camera doesn’t want to work all of a sudden.

  12. Ebony Says:

    I hate pics of myself too…..and If a friend of mines posts a pic that I find unflattering then I email them and say delete delete delete!!!! But most pics I could care less about….but I absolutely refuse to have pics of me in bathing suits posted….and I will not budge on that one!!!

  13. Ebony Says:

    BTW….you both look great in that picture!!!

  14. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Ebony. Yeah, the bathing picture shots should be AGAINST THE LAW. I’m writing a bill and sending it directly to my congressman.

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