the confronting power of baby photos

I started writing another post earlier and found myself looking at a baby picture of me that I had embedded into the body.

I started thinking about how profound and perspective-shattering it must be for my parents to have seen and been so intimately involved with my growth. Then I remembered a BuzzFeed video in which an engaged couple gets made up to preview their future selves. TL;DR they get real emotional by the time they’re in their nineties.

Thanks to the power of empathy, viewers fit themselves into the narrative, saw their lives compressed and were incredibly touched. Unsurprisingly, the post went viral. Confronting our mortality is intensely intriguing and emotionally charged.

And then there are baby photos.

Most of us have seen photos of ourselves as infants for as long as we can remember. So they become uninteresting. And then there’s the cultural game of sharing baby photos: we laugh and “aww” and try to guess who’s who. We dehumanize. So it makes sense that we don’t stop to reevaluate them without some trigger.

But if we look at our baby selves, we can imaginatively compress our lives. Better, even, or at least more accurately, than the lives we envision à la BuzzFeed. In terms of emotional impact, considering our current entirety seems like it should be at least as powerful as clutching a fictional projection. So why does a future-oriented frame of mortality feel so much more startling than a memory-based approach?

Maybe part of it is the disconnect we feel from the babies in the photos. A consciousness we can’t remember in an environment we never knew outside of our weird baby-world. A collision of our and our parents’ realities. When we think ahead twenty years, we more or less know that person. In these photos, we’re confronted by small strangers.

That, to me, is where I stop and am struck by my little self.

To not know that person but to have grown from it — to have been that thing — how does that not set off our tear ducts at every viewing?