Tuesday 10 January 2017

2016: A Year in Bad Portraits

Hello hello and Happy New Year to you! 

For the last 3 years one of my first blog posts of the new year has been a collection of the less-than-flattering photos taken of me during the previous year. And, if you're ready for a good giggle at my expense - hang around - as 2017 will be no different.

My #BadPortraits posts are:
  • my version of a January detox - where I purge my system of any build up of self-importance.
  • my 'factory reset' - where I wipe away all the accumulation of gloss, filters, and spin of a life shared online.
  • my antidote to posting perfect lives on social media - all year, I resist hitting 'delete' on all those photos that I deem ordinarily unInstagrammable. (Totally a real word.)
  • my stocking-up on some good karma for all the times I have, and will continue to post favourable photos of myself! 
Photos like these ...
... which - throughout 2016 - lived out a life as profile images or received their share of covetable 'Likes' over on my @withjuliekirk Instagram.

And now ... in contrast ... here are those shots that didn't make it into my curated online persona in 2016!  

January 2016: 
New Year's Day 2016. Late afternoon.

Perhaps I have some Gremlin DNA in me as I'm really not at my best if I've been up after midnight the night before.
This is either my 'tired and emotional' pose or my 'guitarist in a late 90s indie rock band' look.
Note to self: take photos on a morning when your make-up's still on. Although ... some days ... even that won't save you ...

Here I am, on the morning of my birthday, in full make-up, trying - and failing - to capture the moment of turning 40 with any kind of effortless style

Instead I looked like a bush baby trying to emotionally blackmail a lift home out of someone (if bush babies need lifts home.):

And turning 40 had a few other effects on my appearance too ...

March 2016:
I don't know what to say. I don't know what came over me. I would never normally do something like this. It's completely out of character ...

I wore trainers ... with jeans.

30somethings - don't say you weren't warned. This is what happens when you hit 40. Suddenly you don't care about fashion - only ease and comfort (hell, I even went out in a short skirt on holiday without shaving my legs and I didn't care!).
And, before you know it ... Jerry Seinfeld has become your style icon!
Also - while we're talking about awkward styling choices ... I had an under-cut in February (the underneath of my hair shaved off) which I've really enjoyed having .... except for the time my hairdresser wanted to cut a pattern into it. And I let her.  (Bear in mind that I generally trust her completely, yet this time I couldn't see what she was doing.)

What seemed like hours later, after she'd already once stopped what she was doing to admit she didn't know what she was doing, she finished her design and asked her staff if they could tell what it was she'd done.

"A lotus flower!" cried several of the women in the salon, "Yes!!" she replied and audibly breathed a sigh of relief.

And I was relieved that it was apparently a success. Until the only man in the room came over for a look.

"Looks like a marijuana leaf to me". he helpfully added. A week before I returned to work on campus. Let's just say I didn't wear my hair up until the design had grown out.

(Try as I might I cannot find the photo I took of it! Probably for the best really.)

May 2016:
This photo isn't so much a bad portrait (although it is that too) it's just a slightly cringey one, but one which I took for a purpose. 

I'd had a terribly sore eye that felt like something was caught in there (it turned out to be an allergic reaction to something, tree pollen I reckon). An optician used drops of dye, which revealed the inflammation, but it wasn't until a few hours later, when I got into my car to go home, that I looked in my rear view mirror and learned that it had been a bright yellow dye ... 

... and I'd walked around town, even stopping to buy silver shoes to cheer myself up (which worked) with it luminously ringed around my eyelids:
It doesn't show up so well in the photo but it reminded me of the time in the mid-80s when I experimented with a rainbow eyeshadow palette. A look which I'm happy to leave in the 80s, and the opticians' chair.

And then there was this. A photo I'm sure was intended to capture a nice easy Saturday lunch of fish and chips along the seafront, enjoying the warming springtime air and blue sky. 

So I'm not sure why I'm looking at the camera like someone who disapproves of everything that there's ever been to disapprove of in the history of disapprovals.


June 2016:
The intention: to document a quiet afternoon in the garden with a book under a blue sky.

The reality? A re-make of 'Weekend at Bernie’s':
BTW: I took this photo myself. Myself!!!

It's not even like James sneaked up and took this unflattering gem while I was sleeping. I am fully awake in this photo! I am fully aware it's being taken ... and yet ... and yet ...

And from one cadaverous portrait ... to another ...

The thing with this one is, I had looked nice that day, for a visit to the Bodyworlds: Animals Inside Out exhibition. The fabulous skirt was new, to me, (from a charity shop) and - as we'd arrived at the venue, the staff member taking our tickets had even leaned in to say: 'Nice skirt!".  And then - when it came to getting a photo - I go and look all weird and bemused like this:

Although, to be fair, what is the correct facial expression to strike when you're standing in front of a preserved, skinned, dead elephant?

I mean, I don't remember that eventuality ever being covered by anyone giving out posing hints and tips. Not even on America's Next Top Model.

Now this next one isn't strictly a ‘bad’ photo of me, if anything it's one of my favourites of James and I from the last year as it makes me laugh. But it's just ... when I look at it I don't see a couple who've been together for almost 25 years, no ...

I see a giddy fan-girl who's bumped into one of her favourite, award-winning, authors in a book shop and has made him pose for a selfie with her!

"I'm such a big fan! Do you mind if I just ... " *click*.

July 2016:
Honestly ... when I just showed James this photo he said: "Oh God, what's that? That's awful!" And, judging by those sweet words, this next photo has unquestionably earned its place amongst my #BadPortraits!

You know what it's like ... you're at a day-long writing retreat in a country hotel, you're tip tapping away on a laptop, being all writerly-like, you're sitting in a bay window with the summer sun behind you and you think all of this will make for a nice sneaky selfie.

You think: "I'm cultivating my pensive lady-writer vibe".

And then you look at the screen ... and you're actually Lord Voldemort:

*No prosthetics or CGI were used in the creation of this delightful shot. Eat your heart out (or 'nose off') Ralph Fiennes.

BTW: shortly after this photo was taken my dress - which has a top-to-bottom, draping effect down the front, held in place with one hopeful popper - caught on a toilet door knob and popped clean open!

It was such a swift and seemingly choreographed manoeuvre it put me in mind of that Bucks Fizz performance at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 where the men whipped the women's skirts off mid-routine. Fortunately there were no witnesses to corroborate that!

Now here's another from July ... and another 80s pop-culture reference ...

The intention: to capture a simple, minimalist-chic, outfit on holiday.

The reality? A little too much 'Max Headroom' for my liking!

August 2016:
The thing you need to keep in mind while viewing this next set - as with all of my #BadPortraits in fact - is that I'm not intentionally making myself look ridiculous in order to get a funny blog post out of it. 

None of this is done on purpose. (I don't know if that makes it all better ... or worse ... !)

So what these photos are actually capturing is the gap between what I intended to happen ... and what happened in reality. Which, really, is the gap from which much of comedy is born (Ew, sorry for that mental image.)

Believe it or not ... before all these photos were taken I'd thought I looked OK - otherwise why would I be having a  photo taken in the first place?

I even thought I looked OK before these particular delights were taken.


These ...

No, I don't know what's happening here.

Let's never talk about it ever again. OK?

October 2016:
During another one of my writing days I took a walk into the grounds of the country hotel, down to the stream, for thinking time, for inspiration, and to be the kind of person who goes on day-long writing retreats and takes walks around the grounds for inspiration. And I tried to get a few photos to prove it.

One of which was this:
Which proves nothing apart from:
  1. I held my phone way too low while I was taking the shot, and ...
  2. I had clean nostrils. Which, and you'll correct me if I'm wrong, is not yet a category in any of the main illustrious writing prizes.
November 2016:
During November, while I waited for my book to arrive back from the printer (and we all know how long that took. And if you don't know then, it's a long story. Literally.), I couldn't put my feet up and rest because I also had a my new website to plan, design, write and provide photos for.

If you go to my About Me page you'll see the shot I eventually (understandably) went with, but here are a few I (also understandably) rejected ...

I call this one the smug frog:
And this, while it's utterly appalling, at least accurately reflects how tired I was at the back end of last year:

December 2016:
We could finally collect my book on Saturday 10th of December, 20 minutes before I had to set up for a Christmas market I'd booked myself into (don't ask, it wasn't a success). And ... as I sat in the romantic location of James's van in an Aldi car-park, I asked him to capture the first photo of me with my first published book.

And this was it:

I think you'll agree ... it's one for a frame isn't it?

At least my nails look nice in it.

And finally ...

Getting hold of my book was by no means the end of all my stress. I had to spend the following day preparing to get it into my Etsy shop so that people could finally buy it!

"How long will it take?" he asked "About half an hour?".

Nearly 6 hours later ... 6 hours of photographing, description writing, weighing and working out UK and global postage charges, I was finally ready to set my little book out into the world. And my in-house photographer picked up my phone to document this beautiful process.

There's that anxious bush-baby again in the first photo ... and photo 3!!! I am literally clutching my breast like a living breathing cliche of a feeble heroine from a Regency romance!

And with that ... I'll leave the #BadPortraits for another year. (Although you can fully expect the book promotion to continue throughout 2017 ... after all I've been through with it I'm not giving up on it quite yet. It made me clutch my breast for goodness sake!)

I hope you've had a smile, a laugh, even a snort while browsing my bad portraits. No need to feel guilty ... it's all there for your viewing pleasure!

I don't share any of the photos that have given me pangs of regret, or twinges of sadness or disappointment at how reality is often so different to the fantasy 'me' in my head!!

There are photos like that trust me, I just don't share those. I'm not a masochist. I don't share these to shame myself into dieting or wearing more make-up, or learning how to pose while keeping both eyes open, or not looking like I'm about to faint. I share them because as much as I like to look nice ... I like poking fun just a tiny bit more.

And I have no doubt it reveals how very very lucky we are to live in a time of digital photography. Can you imagine if I was using film? ;-) I could never take a dozen shots so I could pick out only the good ones ... all the #BadPortraits of myself would be the #Only Portraits ... and what a scrapbook that would make!

Join the #BadPortraits conversation! 

You don't need to share your own photos to have a say on the topic!

If you do share any of your own photos please stick to the rules of: no body shaming, no harsh criticism of yourself and only share the photos that make you smile.

And so ...
  • Which one of my worst is your favourite?
  • What do you do with yours? Delete straight away? Keep for the sake of a rounded family album?
  • Do you take selfies? Or are all your photos taken by others?
  • Do you look back at your albums and wish you had more photos of yourself in there?
  • Do you have any tips for posing? Asking for a friend ... 
Whatever it is you want to say on the topic do get in touch! 

Happy New Year to You. May 2017 bring you everything you wish for yourself ...

... plus good lighting.

Julie x


If you want to acquaint yourself with my earlier photo fails here's your chance:

Here's a link to the article I wrote for Marie Claire all about the project.

2015 A year in Bad Portraits logo



  1. I admire your bravery :). And your witty writing, of course. I hooted at your Lord Voldemort impression (hoping it IS actually an impression, of course) and giggled at your disapproving look. Glad I wasn't on the end of THAT one: I'd have withered on the spot. I am afraid I hot the DELETE button asap when scrolling through the latest downloads from my camera, but perhaps I'll screw up my courage for the head ahead!

  2. Oh dear. Apologies, Julie. Note to self.Re-read before pressing Publish. For 'hot' read 'hit' and for 'head' read 'year'. Blooming auto-correct. (You should see what it does when I try to type in French).

  3. I'm not sure whether it suggests that (a) I'm super shallow, or (b) you still look awesome even in bad portraits, but my first reaction is that I reeeeeally want to see the whole of whatever it is you're wearing in the Max Headroom image. It looks amazing.

    Also, wishing my goods were as good as some of your bads. :)


    1. You're too kind. And also - yes it's a lovely dress - very minimal and sack-like (my favourite kind of shape!) It was a TK Maxx bargain and is one of my favourites. Will get a better photo of it for you sometime. It has *pockets*.

  4. Great part Julie I always look forward to this annual review of outtakes! Made me chuckle as I sit here with gritted teeth and internet connection problems. Thanks for the respite! Lol

  5. Hahahahahaha! I'll compose a proper comment when I have stopped laughing ...

  6. Happy New Year! Can we buy the book yet???? Jo x

    1. Ok, did the bright thing... followed the links and bought a copy for me and for my friend! How exciting Jo x

  7. Love, I love your photos and I love your explanations :) Thanks for making me laugh Julie :)

  8. Ha! Believe me: some of us think that ALL our portraits look like your dodgier versions. That's what happens when you hit...way over 40.

    Wishing you both a wonderful New Year, with lots of adventures and opportunities for new pictures.

  9. I particularly like the Lord V impression! I love these bad portrait posts, absolutely hilarious!

  10. You're totally a shoe-in for the Cleanest Nostrils Literary Prize 2017! Thanks for the laughs - this post is one I look forward to each year. (But no, I don't keep less-than-flattering portraits of myself, but hit the delete button ASAP).


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