Completely Gratuitous: I’m getting old. And I don’t like it.


I don’t like having my picture taken.

I actually hate it.

In childhood, it was because I had a serious overbite from ten years of thumb-sucking and a gap between my two front teeth that you could drive a car through.

And for some reason, my natural smile is wide. Super wide. I smile with reckless abandon. Like I’m really really overjoyed that your camera is in my face.

Even though I’m not.

So when I get a request for a photo to be placed on the contributor’s page of a magazine, I panic.

I’ve always pored over the contributor’s page of every magazine I could get my hands on. Everyone always looks so fashionable, so with-it and happening. They all have amazing bios and their photos are always perfect: a family shot with adorable cherubs, a glam shot taken by a professional, a care-free picture that looks like it was taken by a lover.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I think all writers stress over submitting these pictures. We take a million of them right at our computer, trying hard to make it look like we didn’t take the picture just for the magazine. Here’s me right now:

Photo 518

What? I'm not posing. Uh-uh. I just happened to get my picture taken today.

For a few years, I used a caricature I had commissioned from artist Ed Steckley. I can’t find the image. But luckily, Ed’s got it up on his website:

Ed Steckley - NYC based humorous illustrator

Sidebar: You have to check out Ed’s website. He’s amazing. Years after he did this for me, I hired him to do my wedding invitations. It’s me and TH jumping over a broom together. Awesomeness.

But after a while, that picture didn’t really fit. And it was silly that I was so picture-averse. I tried out using real photos. For VIBE, I used a photo of me and TG at my nephew Jordan’s high-school graduation.

Yes, I'm wearing a pink do rag. And?

Yes, I'm wearing a pink do rag. And?

I’ve cropped TG out here. But in the real picture, you can see us both clearly. And it’s one of my favorite pictures of her. But when  the magazine came out, TG’s mom wasn’t happy about her child’s photo being displayed in a national magazine. And looking back, I can understand that. So this photo, which was going to be my forever contributor photo, was canned.

In the last issue of KING, I wrote a story about the recession. They asked for a photo. Yikes. For King? Hmmm.

Photo 912

Yup. I put makeup on. Smoky eyes. Lip gloss. I can’t be in King looking like the regular me!

And then there was Essence. Hmmm. Gotta look more intelligent. Not too over the top. Real natural like…

When you miss Essence, you miss you. Subscribe today.

When you miss Essence, you miss you. Subscribe today.

Now last week posed a real problem. A business magazine is running a short profile on working in social media and I’m one of the subjects of the piece. It’s a conservative business magazine and they asked for a “professional head shot.”

I’m a writer. Not a model. Why would I have that?

I sent the Essence photo. It was too small.

I sent a pre-TWA photo of me in my office this summer:

aliya s king

I got an email back from the reporter: Do you have anything more…professional?


Now what?

I guess writers do get head shots. I’m having a book published next year. I assume there will be photos used in marketing and promotion.

I gotta get a real, professional photo of myself.

I’m not looking forward to it.

For the business magazine, I asked TH to take a headshot of me this morning.


Who is this woman? When did I get OLD?! Why do I look 50? I hate this picture. Why is my collar bone so bony? Why are my eyes so far apart? Why is my eighthead so huge? And I’m feeling some type of way. I want to know when, exactly, I turned into a cross between Florida Evans, Florence from the Jeffersons and Maya Angelou.


I just spent the morning looking for the first picture that ever appeared on the contributor’s page of a magazine. And then I realized it’s hanging right above my desk. This photo was taken by Shelby Gates. And it ran in a 1999 issue of CMJ New Music Monthly.

aliya young

I remember looking at the picture when I first got it. You know what I said? I said:  Who is this woman? When did I get OLD?!  I hate this picture. Why is my collar bone so bony? Why are my eyes so far apart? Why is my eighthead so huge? And I’m feeling some type of way.

And in ten years, I’m sure I’ll look back on the photo I took this morning and wonder why I hated it.

But right now, I want to go back in time, to 1999. To that wide-eyed girl who was so concerned that her hair would never lock.

Since I can’t do that, maybe I’ll just get some Botox, learn to apply makeup properly and lose ten pounds.


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7 Responses to “Completely Gratuitous: I’m getting old. And I don’t like it.”

  1. Belle Says:

    hon- go to MAC, get your face beat for $50. then call a professional photographer, spend the money for a good head shot, and more importantly for PHOTOSHOP. you think all the people in those pics look that AMAZING in real life? they look amazing, but “that” amazing? come now.

    i made the mistake once of having a self-done pic on the contribs page. NEVER AGAIN. me and that dang DVF red wrap dress will ride off into every contributor page sunset from here till eternity.

  2. Haftime Says:

    I’m agonizing over sending a bio pick for this journo fellowship right now!

    My current work photo is horrible and of course they want a “professional” photo. I was looking back at Saptosa’s contributer pic from her guest blogger post (professional and chic. make-up flawless) in awe. Now that I’m all ready to get this over with, I have a lovely pimple on my face. Yay…

    Great advice Belle! MAC and Photoshop. CHECK!

  3. max Says:

    this post made me chuckle…i had a similar crisis trying to find a contributor’s photo to submit for i’m not in love with the picture i submitted, but i had to just move on with my life.
    for a long long time i hated having my picture taken too. i always looked like crap in pictures but i realized it was because i didn’t pose. i wanted to look like i was caught off guard and i did…but not in a good way. now i have my standard cheesy pose – hand on hip, 3/4 profile, big sh*t-eating smile…i feel like an idiot doing it but i almost always like the picture.

    p.s. i love the headshot TH took of you. it’s stunning!

  4. Michael Says:

    Trust me, it’s better to set it up yourself now and get photos you like than constantly deal w/ the process over and over again w/ every new publication you write for/featured in.

    Remind me to tell you the story of how a multi-million dollar black-owned media company organized a ‘photoshoot’ for me at the home of a redneck two years ago. For some reason or another he took a liking to me — he even let me take pictures holding his favorite AK-47 as he discussed his daughter’s dabbling in miscegenation and the gays. True story.

  5. LaShelle Says:

    You are literally the prettiest (and coolest!) teacher I have ever known….and I’ve been going to school since I was 4….to me you still look like the same way you did in 99 just a little more distinguished….im confident that if you hire a pro photographer you’ll easily get a shot that looks naturally beautiful and professional w/o photoshop…keep me posted tho…i would love to see more pix of you :)

  6. clove Says:


    @Michael lol. smh

    Lol @ “Tags: old people, ugh”

  7. schukumba Says:

    Aliya, as beautiful as u are, you need to stop bugging. We ALL take crazy pictures sometimes (one of the reasons I frequently curse FB). @Michael got it right. Set up a photo shoot with all the various ‘you’s people will want to get headshots for, and knock them out. Pick different clothes, an assortment of earrings, a few hairstyles and you’re done!

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