The Fraught Female Author Photo Experience
Is it possible for a writer to build her brand without damaging her soul?
Taking the author photo for my debut memoir, Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy, was an unfortunately vital moment in my career. Thanks to social media, how an author looks — sometimes euphemized as their “brand” — has never held more weight. Even as a cis, white, thin, assumed-straight woman, I’ve internalized the memo that I’m potentially not hot enough to be a success. I feel the pressure to look appealing enough to entice the reader into a curiosity about me, but not so appealing that I look like the polyamorous bisexual slut (I arguably am) who’s trying to steal your partner (I’m not, unless that’s your kink).
I felt constantly aware of this thin line even while writing my memoir itself. You know, writing? The actual work I did that theoretically decides whether you buy my book… and/or deem me a narcissist for talking about my sexual psychology in any way that’s not entirely self-deprecating? As with taking the author photo, writing about my life as a woman is a path laden with phallic banana peels.
As Olivia Sudjic puts it in her essay “Exposure,” as a female writer, “Either you’re a narcissist or you don’t know what you’re talking about. Either you expose your myriad, contradictory, imperfect selves, or you conceal and disassemble and appear inauthentic or unrelatable and then someone exposes it for you.” I have chosen to expose myself first, and I don’t regret it (yet). But when you’re a woman writing about sex, and early readers start calling you “so brave,” you know you’re about to be in for some shit. Would looking like a model protect me, or only make people underestimate and dislike me more? I’m guessing the answer is both.
For my first attempt at effortless beauty, I sent the photographer my favorite author headshots: Rupi Kaur (pictured above), Rachel Yoder, Ottesa Moshfegh, Catherine Lacey, Emily Henry, Dantiel Moniz. It struck me, as I assembled these examples, that all of these writers…