A photographer contacted me last fall and asked if she could take “day in the life” photos of my son and me. She would follow us around for a day, she said, and take photos of us doing the things we did in our normal lives.
And my first thought, which I admit is sort of silly, was, “No thank you, I would rather not be in these pictures.”
And my second thought was, “Ok, I would consider doing these pictures but only if I can wear a full body gorilla suit the whole time.”
And she, somewhat understandably, said, “Can I just ask—is there like a specific reason—for the Gorilla suit thing?”
And I think I said something like, “I thought it would be fun!” but really there were lots of reasons, the first of which is that I do not particularly love looking at my own face. I look at my face in the bathroom mirror all the time and rarely think, “Wow, I just get better with age!!” or “I just look great from every angle!” or “If there’s one thing that causes me literally no stress, it’s staring critically at my own reflection!” More often a session of looking in the mirror involves things like “dissatisfied frowning” or “trying to make a face where the lines in my forehead go away.” Often they involve thoughts like, “I wish I had a bathroom with more flattering lighting.”
And just so we’re clear, I’m not implying that I look like Gollum or The Elephant Man or Mel Gibson’s character from Man Without a Face. I look nothing like Mel Gibson’s character in any movie because he and I have extremely different bone structure.
The main reason, I explained, that I’d like to wear the gorilla suit is because Gorillas are cool and beautiful and exciting. Gorillas are powerful. People stare at them with a quiet mixture of love and awe, which is very different from how people stare at women who are approaching middle age. No one has ever looked at a gorilla and muttered, “Yikes, that Gorilla has totally let itself go,” or “Ugh, that Gorilla has totally had work done.”
If a Gorilla decides to pick up a few things from Target, no one goes, “So typical. Target is always full of these boring middle-class gorillas who drive minivans and walk around buying low fat yogurt and throw pillows.” For the record, if a Gorilla decides to pick up a few things from Target, everyone in the Target will be really excited about it, and the super nice cashier will both engage the Gorilla in conversation and then excitedly ask if the two of you can take a photo together.
As an average-looking woman approaching middle age, I have been to Target many times and no one has ever once wanted to take a photo of me. Most days people walk right by me without noticing that I exist and certainly no family has ever crowded around a second floor railing for the privilege of watching me ride the escalator.
Walking around in a Gorilla suit is the antithesis to feeling invisible, which is what a lot of what both motherhood and getting older in general feels like.
Wearing a gorilla suit emboldens you. People want to engage with you because you are a fun and out-of-the-ordinary person wearing a gorilla suit in public! Do you come to this Fairway a lot? Do you think they should buy this salad dressing? Your opinion matters! You are someone they are taking seriously and probably at least three of them have secretly taken photos of you and put them on Instagram.
It can be hard, getting older, because the person you see in photos is not always the person you feel like on the inside. The person you see in photos sometimes looks tired or old-ladyish and not always like a young, vibrant whipper-snapper, which is what obviously you know that you are.
And yet the very nice thing about having a very young child, of course, is that it has never once occurred to them that anyone could ever find you dull or uninteresting. They do not know that companies spend millions of dollars on boring marketing campaigns, trying to get you to buy dishwashing detergents or under-eye creams. You are the most beautiful person they can think of, even when you walk into their room at 7 a.m. with your unwashed hair and your skin that is simultaneously sagging and breaking out like a hormonal teenager. You smile at them with your snaggle tooth that you constantly think about, wondering if it is worth it to splurge for Invisalign, and they smile back as if you are the most glamorous person at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
“So do you want to do some without the Gorilla suit?” the photographer asked. “For your son?”
And I just really didn’t, I admitted. Because while my three-year-old loves me and doesn’t care that I’m no longer in the super relevant 18-34 demographic and thinks I look beautiful no matter what I’m wearing, he also thinks it is totally fun and cool to spend the day walking around town with an unpredictable person in a gorilla suit.
Because in fairness, it is.
* * *
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the piece, I also have a book out TODAY (or a few days ago, depending on when you read this) called Welcome to the Club: 100 Parenting Milestones You Never Saw Coming that you can order through Barnes and Noble, Amazon or Indiebound. Or just walk into a bookstore and buy it like my technology-phobic dad will probably do. If you’d like to read more of the blog, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
If you enjoyed the photos and would like to hire the charming and wonderful photographer Kat Burdick (Kathleen Miller), she is based out of Greenwich, Connecticut (very near NYC) and you can see both the beautiful photos she normally takes while simultaneously knowing she is also more than willing to take pictures of a woman in a gorilla suit in a Target. Her website is Kathleen and Camera
And a note: I did this photoshoot almost a full year ago (I am an amazing procrastinator). In the time since taking the photos a horribly unfortunate thing happened to a Gorilla in the Cincinnati zoo. I was sorry it happened and felt bad for everyone involved but please know this post is in no way intended to be a statement about gorillas or parenting. This post is about my lifelong love of funny animal costumes and also, really, it is about being a woman and about getting old.
(Although if you happen to love Gorillas, please check out the amazing documentary Virunga on Netflix and, if you are so inclined, donate to help them HERE.)
Thanks so much for reading.