The Most Embarrassing Five Words In English: 'Can You Take My Photo?'
I ask my younger brother to take my picture and it makes me feel a bit sick. Can. You. Take. My. Photo... Please?
I am 28 years old and this request makes my skin crawl. Standing there, 'posing.' But I have bought a new shirt (it's Acne) and needs must. He humors me. I check the results. Satisfying. Mortifying.
There are quite a few things in life that are a bit embarrassing: getting run over by a bicycle; tucking a napkin into your shirt while eating a big plate of spaghetti; ordering a mocha; losing your temper with your parents as an adult; slipping into a mockney accent while talking to a plumber; refusing to split a bill; fighting; running for a train; riding a scooter; referring to yourself as a 'Londoner'; DJs; sneezing more than twice in a row; throwing a frisbee; saying "Y'all", writing "Y'all"; jealousy; being really good at poker; the concept of brunch; Marvel films; leaving a three-star Tripadvisor review; Hamilton, the musical; cryptocurrency; baths. (This list is not quite exhaustive, but it's close). But nothing comes close to the quiet, banal, excruciating exchange of asking someone to take your photo. The garbled request, the fumbled baton pass of the phone to hand, the pose, the smile. Another pose. Grimace, grimace, grimace. The checking of the results, which you will smile and thank them for anyway, just as you will always tell a barber that your new cut is a "much better", no matter how badly he's butchered you.
With 129,000 hashtags on Instagram, scores of online forums dedicated to the practice and, with influencers, an entire billion-dollar industry built around it, the #fitpic (outfit picture, to the tragically out-of-touch) is a prominent part of modern men's style. If you wear your new Jacquemus shirt in the forest and there's no one there to snap some soft-focused evidence, do you really own a Jacquemus shirt at all? To participate in online fashion means, at some point, you will probably have to ask someone if they can photograph you.
"With outfit photos now being a part of my work I just get on with it, I have to," says Jordan Bunker, a menswear influencer (sorry Jordan) who has worked with brands like Arket, Joseph, Aesop and Mr Porter and who takes nice, softly lit photos in smart, minimalist clothes. "The more times you get used to the process of asking a friend to help you out or working with a photographer, it becomes easier for sure. I enjoy being able to document what I wear and if that means potentially standing awkwardly for a couple minutes in front of a wall, I am all for it."
Increasingly, whether you're an influencer or an insurance broker, there is a pressure – external, internal, both – to form a 'personal brand' online. To be seen as someone who wears interesting clothes and does interesting things and drinks interesting wine and inhabits an interesting space. We are the curators of our own solipsistic galleries; grubby little gardeners tending to a vain patch of carrots. Five years ago we posted sloppy, saturated yet eager photos of the food on our plates. Today, the Instagram mood is to show off your outfit without showing off your outfit. An ironic caption, an ironic pose. I don't really want to be here, but... just let me check that last one again?
"I feel like less of a war criminal asking someone to help me move in the middle of summer," says James Harris, on the question no man wants to ask: would you take my photo, please? One half of the Throwing Fits menswear podcast, Harris and his co-host, Lawrence Schlossman, have popularised a new wave of zeitgeist-y online menswear criticism, which comes accessorized with sardonic humor. Each Friday, hundreds of men (and some women) flood the Throwing Fits Instagram DMs with their own fit pics, hoping to be chosen for the podcast's hugely popular 'Fit Pic Friday' feature on its Instagram Stories.
In fact, it's become so popular that a growing number of people have taken to scouring the submissions for an eligible potential partner decked out in Our Legacy and Paraboots. "We get a few hundred submissions each week and people are legit salty when they don't get reposted," says Harris. "I think part of that is this new phenomenon where a bunch of female fans are scouring the fit check looking for some studs to DM. If a couple gets married because of Fit Check Friday then they have to fly us out to the wedding. That's the rule."
"Flexing is inherently corny ('look at me and my stuff!')," Harris adds, "and by roping someone into taking your fit pic you're effectively becoming the Edenic Serpent and inducing the original sin of flexing on the timeline upon them. To avoid the mortifying act of asking a homie to take my pic, and since I'm complicit in all this shit, I did the second most embarrassing thing you can do and copped a selfie tripod."
I Google selfie tripods, imagining a future where my siblings and loved ones aren't in slightly pitying cahoots with my ongoing propensity towards printed shirts, matching workwear and showing off online. There's one with good reviews for £17.96 on Amazon. My cursor hovers over it, memories of embarrassing fit pics of the past drifting through my mind.
I am 21 when I post my first ever fit pic to the malefashionadvice subreddit; the response is lukewarm to negative. "Those trainers with those trousers?" I sit alone in my bedroom on a spring weekday afternoon, feeling a bit sad.
I am 23 and on holiday in Sri Lanka. I get caught taking a selfie during a hike. "Do you want me to take that for you?" a kind American woman asks. I shout out something incoherent and sprint into a nearby forest.
I am 27 and, during lockdown, I send a photo of my outfit into the popular Instagram account 'Working From Home Fits', at the behest of a colleague who helps run it. I never hear anything back from her, or the account.
I am Narcissus gazing into a lake of my own making – a cracked phone screen and the small box of my likeness on Zoom – and I am quietly very embarrassed about it. Yet, will I do it again? Will I force my younger brother or my girlfriend to take 30 options for every outfit on holiday? To document my good trouser days? Will a small, humiliating rush of endorphins spike in my chest when a fit pic does triple digits? Validate these clothes. Validate me. Water these carrots.
Yes, yes. I absolutely will. Yes.
Now please, like and follow.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.