Being Human: Look Ugly in a Photograph


“The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now”

City of Blinding Lights, U2


By: Gabriela Yareliz


Expectations can be a funny thing. This week, I experienced this, first-hand. I was going to exchange letters with someone who had quite literally brought me a letter from another continent. I had a letter to be delivered, too. We will call this The Great Exchange.

I was given the address of a hotel with a name that is incredibly close to another famous hotel, just up the street. In my mind, I was going to the well-known hotel, the one up the street. The one that rests every fashion week influencer’s head.

I was lucky enough that I put the correct address into my phone map. (Does anyone remember the large atlas maps that we would store in our cars for long road trips?). The map took me to the correct place, but it was not the place I expected. When I got there, I squinted and looked at the street number on the building. The building was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting the 5-star luxury hotel, and what I was standing in front of was a 1-star hostel that could double as a brothel. I laughed. Expectations can disorient us.

Expectations have gotten trickier in this age, as so many of us grew up in such a different world from where we sit now. The internet was only for email, and the dial-up thing was set up through a disk (this was much later in my adolescence). God forbid someone tried to use the phone when you were trying to check your email. We had paper maps. I had long distance calling cards. I would record songs straight off of the radio with cassettes and get angry when the DJ talked too much into the intro of the song (or if he cut off the end–). It was a different world– and because of this, those of us who lived then feel a little nuts if we don’t keep up with the now. Or we feel others are a little nuts. No matter what, someone is nuts.

We find ourselves standing in front of something, a circumstance, or someone, expecting one thing, only to find that it’s not what we thought. The unrewound VHS tape is now 3,000 streaming services– where no one can humanly sign up for all of them.

We look for promise, and what we find is Ms. Havisham’s basement, sometimes. Maybe part of the problem is we have developed expectations, or society has raised expectations with which we aren’t familiar. Suddenly, we are measured against the door frame, not to see if we are taller but to see if we measure up to a line someone else drew.



As I have stated in past entries, I was a journaler. I waxed poetic in my diaries. I remember being totally boy crazy, and writing about my little crushes, and whether someone looked at me at all or if I had a one-sentence conversation with some guy. A lot of young women in my generation get it. I was reading Kelly Oxford’s book where she talks about how many of us were borderline stalkers– but I feel that’s what our world was. We were boy crazy, turtleneck wearing, gel pen adoring geeks.

We crushed on guys. Hard. We stood at our lockers a little longer, we passed notes, and curled our hair and smiled despite our crooked little teeth and acne prone faces. Despite the fact that we were avid magazine readers, I still think my generation and those before it were relatively confident compared to a young pre-teen today. I was wildly confident, though I didn’t see it. One of the things I saw as a great achievement in my game was having someone laugh at something I said.

I knew I wasn’t one of those girls with the logo purses and ribbons in their hair, with the gorgeous rain boots. Nope. I would never be that girl. They had a bit of makeup, shaved their legs (I wasn’t allowed to do either– despite me having the family take a vote), and they looked perfect even after we had done a presidential fitness award test in PE. So while I knew I would never look perfect, I was determined to be interesting. I felt that made up for anything I was lacking in my acne speckled forehead and bangs that were growing out (I shudder, even now). So, being witty, or being chosen to do an extra-special writing assignment on Shakespeare because my English teacher saw potential in me– that was my anchor.

A kid today would look at me sideways. Instead of playing games on a phone, I was doing Clue Finders, where I had to solve math problems to get to the treasure chest. (The fractions were the hardest).


Glow up and life required a certain patience from us.

Kids these days don’t understand that back-in-the-day, we took photos with a camera, and we couldn’t exactly see the photo until we developed the film, and it came back. And even the cutest photo could be wild when the flash caught our eyes and made us look demon-possessed. Me, every time. There was a patience, and lack of caring for perfection, back in that time. We were part of a process.

While we were boy crazy– thank you Mary-Kate and Ashley– we also knew what mattered most. (Most of us did). One of my best friends and I were reminiscing about a movie we were obsessed with: What A Girl Wants. There is that scene, you know, where the guy tells her, “Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you are born to stand out.” I mean– we all wanted Oliver James to marry us, but beside the point– inner beauty was a huge focus. Stories were a huge focus.


When you watch a movie from back in the day, at least the ones I watched, the movie was never so centered on what the character was wearing– people didn’t do things to take pictures. It was the story that counted. People took a photo to commemorate doing something; they didn’t go out for the sole purpose to get a photo. Living in NYC, all you see are people literally biking into each other because they are taking a selfie or trying to take a photo of someone else. We have become so ridiculous.

Since when did the story and who we are inside become less important than what we look like? Not that I am pro-obsessions, but people are more obsessed with themselves than they are with other things or people in their lives. Maybe, this is the source of a lot of anxiety. People can’t seem to see beyond themselves.


“I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you’ve made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?”

City of Blinding Lights, U2



Don’t get me wrong, there were people who were extra. Walter Mercado, the famous Latin astrologer who would tell us if our stars were aligned after the five o’clock news who just passed away was EXTRA. Long tunics, always surrounded by a set that looked like a gaudy antique shop in Brooklyn– borderline hoarder. He had like twenty rings on each finger. (May he rest in peace.) My point is there were people who were extra. They stood out for being extra. His extra-ness was what made him unique and original. There was no one like him.

Today, we strive so much for the lewk, and we forget it’s about the story. Friends, for example, is an iconic show. It was never about the clothes and hair. Those elements were what helped make the character. But what we remember the most, are the stories those characters told us. Their funny lines. Their stupid mistakes.

I always hear that Friends would never work today. Our society is so different.

Here is a reminder to all of us: This life is about the stories we tell in how we live it. We have one shot. Make sure you make your day-to-day story about the right thing. 

It’s ok to take the photo and not look at it. It’s more than ok to “look ugly in a photograph.” The least perfect photos often document the best moments.

“Don’t look before you laugh
Look ugly in a photograph
Flash bulbs, purple irises the camera can’t see”

City of Blinding Lights, U2

And for those of you who know–


Published by Gabriela Yareliz

Gabriela is a writer, editor and attorney. She loves the art of storytelling, and she is based in NYC.

4 thoughts on “Being Human: Look Ugly in a Photograph

  1. The mother in me got stuck on the one star hotel that could double as a brothel :-). And I am hoping that you made it out of it unscathed.

    1. Thank you! I did. The great exchange happened, and I gave my letter which is going to my friend, to her friend, who I am sure when he booked his stay had no idea where he was going. It was wild going up those stairs in suspense. Definitely a New York moment.

  2. Enjoyed this post. It reminded me of a recent experience. I gifted the book “To kill a mocking bird” to my niece who is 16 years old. She called me back after finishing it and told me she really liked it. I was quite pleased to hear that. Who says kids don’t like to read these days? But she went on telling me that she started reading my book and soon realized that it is a ‘good story’ and so bought the graphic novel version of it from Amazon and read that instead. It seems graphic novels can be read much more quickly!!! I can’t follow this logic….she does not have the patience to finish something that she enjoys!

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