They say death and taxes are inevitable. I say so are the family photos that arrive at my house each Christmas. Specifically, The White Shirt Beach photo.
I have to admit, the white is pretty perfect. It provides a lovely contrast to all that sun kissed skin. It doesn’t detract from the gently waving grasses on the dune, and the uniformity of the white helps me focus on the smiling faces of some of my favorite people — people who are having a much better, much more serene time at the beach than I have ever had.
I’m not buying it.
Before my dearest friends and family angrily denounce this blog as a personal attack on their White Shirt Beach photo, hear me out.
I love the photos. You all look great, you really do.
But you look too great. Brady Bunch great. Reality show before the drunken fistfight finale great.
Take for example, my friend. A lovely mother of two who spent a week at the beach with siblings, nieces and nephews, and in-laws. Oh, the 24 hour a day joy. When it came time for the White Shirt Beach photo to be taken during that golden hour before sunset, my friend had the audacity, the audacity I say you, to show up with her son in a white shirt with pale blue stripes. She explained it was the closest they had to white. I explained that was a lame excuse. The mother-in-law saw it as the worst sort of betrayal, a photo-ruining-blue-striped-catastrophe.
And then there was the sweet baby girl I watched throw up on her white shirted mother moments before the photo. A male family member held the baby at arms length(think Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom) while the mother frantically washed off in the ocean before rushing back for ‘Say Cheese!’ I bet that mom was blissed out.
As sure as my eight year old hasn’t met a hotdog he doesn’t like, I know there are teenagers who want no part of the white shirt — likely grumbling, “Every f***ing year,” as they pull on the one their mother packed for them.
Just this week I saw a very drunk man in a black t-shirt with a big extended white shirted family. It was the finest, most obvious example of a black sheep I have ever witnessed. He was stumbling about in the sand, belly protruding, beer in hand, the dozen family members unsure what to do. I didn’t get to see how it played out because we were too busy trying to take awesome, carefree pictures of our kids flying a kite.
Which is why I am no better than my white shirted brethren.
Let’s be honest. These pictures are more for others than for us. How many times have you snapped a photo and your first thought is how you can’t wait to post it to Facebook to see what kind of comments it will get? We hope people will proclaim our kids/dog/friends/spouses ‘Handsome!’ ‘Adorable!’ ‘So fun!’ ‘Love this!’ And yes, this even applies to the friends who post sarcastic and snarky photos because this makes them look cool(this is often the same crowd that professes disdain for fast food even though we all know the best french fries come from McDonald’s).
The White Shirt Beach photo and the effort that goes into it — the matchy-ness, the golden light, the surf blown hair — shows how deeply we are striving to present a sort of family perfection that we know, having endured said family and life thus far, does not exist.
And despite knowing this, I still look at other people’s photos and think, Why can’t we be more like that? Oh, wow, they get to have all the fun! I would love to be their friend because they are so happy! I believe your projection of perfection and it makes me feel bad about my life — with my husband who blinks during every flash, with my kids who endlessly bicker and shove each other, with me a miserable ball of sweat before it’s over.
I am posing a challenge to those of you who have yet to make a trek to the beach, the lake, or your backyard.
Shake up the white shirt. I’m not suggesting anything as insane as wearing color.
Just make it your own. Make it real.
Real for us is that my six year old still sucks her thumb. My teenagers live on their phones. Their father yells too much. I nag too much. Our son’s bottomless ADHD energy is part of why we yell and nag too much.
The best part of this silly photo? My kids have never been more excited to pose for a picture in their lives.
I can’t wait to send my Christmas cards this year.