A self-portrait essay is a paper that describes you -- and what's important to you -- to your reader. Choosing what aspects of yourself you want to describe before you begin your essay will help you choose the most evocative images and events to include in your essay. Using specific images from your life will give your reader a physical image of who you are.
Reflect on Your Experiences
Before you begin writing your self-portrait essay, reflect on yourself. Think about the sort of personality you have, what types of people you get along with and your goals and aspirations. Once you've taken time to look at yourself, think about what aspects of yourself you want to focus on. To make your essay engaging, pick an area that challenges you. For instance, you might write about how you try to form new friendships despite your anxieties, or how you commit to your convictions even if it brings you into conflict with others. You can also explore what ideas -- religion, philosophy, ethics -- are important to you. Deciding on two or three aspects you wish to focus on will help you narrow down what you include in your writing.
Begin writing your essay by introducing your reader to yourself. Describe where you live and your family, and provide a physical description of yourself. To make your introduction catchy and interesting, avoid listing these details as if you're just answering a series of questions. Working them into physical descriptions of your life can make this information more interesting. For instance, if you're 17, you might introduce your age by saying: "We moved into this squat brick house 15 years ago -- two years after I was born."
You can also use a picture of yourself -- a literal self-portrait -- as an image to begin your essay. Find a picture of yourself from your past, and describe what that picture shows about you. For instance, if your picture shows you when you were upset, you might say that you can remember being sad when you were a child, but you can't quite remember why. This can be an excellent way of bringing in your reader and beginning to discuss how you have or haven't changed over time.
Tell Your Stories
The body of your essay should explore the aspects of yourself you decided to write about. For each aspect, pick two or three events from your life and write a paragraph for each. If you want to show your determination, for instance, you might describe a time that you ran all the way to school when your bus didn't come. If you hold steadfast to your opinions, you could describe a long political argument you had with your family, and the mixture of pride and anger you felt afterward. These events will show your personality and give you the opportunity to describe physical locations and actions, which will make your self-portrait feel more real to your reader.
In addition to using events from your life to illustrate your personality, describe yourself using objects from your life. If you're an avid reader, spend part of your essay describing the large bookshelves in your room. If you're meticulous about your hobbies, use an image of a plant that you keep on your windowsill.
Wrap It Up
The conclusion paragraph of your essay should tie your paper together. It should draw on the aspects of your personality and the events in your life that you've described and ask where you're going in the future, or what you feel about yourself now that those events are in the past. Don't summarize or restate the items you've already described. Instead, tie them together or build on them. For instance, if you described making art in the past, talk about how you hope to rediscover your creativity. If you know you'll have to deal with ideas you don't agree with in the future, write how you think you'll handle them.
Alternatively, conclude your essay by restating the details from your introduction in a different light. By tying the beginning and end of your essay together, you will give a sense of completion to your reader. For instance, if you describe your house as "gloomy" in your introduction, but spend your paper talking about the fun you've had with your siblings, you might conclude your essay by saying: "Yes, it's a gloomy house, but we know how to make it shine."
Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.