*Note: once I started writing this post, words started flying out of me, and I just wrote as quickly as I could. That means one of two things: either someone out there needs to hear this right now, or I just really needed to get this off my chest. Either way, at least one of us is getting therapy from this post! ?
This evening, as I was snuggling with Annika for quiet reading time, she started poking my (bare) thigh. Immediately self-conscious I braced for the worst.
“Wow, Mama, you’ve got a lot of muscles in your legs.” Is what came out of her mouth, to my surprise. “I’m getting there”, she remarked, poking her own skinny thigh.
What sprang to my mind in that moment was a myriad of ways to deprecate my appearance. Stuff like “what my thighs actually have is a lot of disgusting fat in them” or “omg, don’t touch my repulsive massive legs” etc. you get the picture. The impulse to put myself down is constant, like a chorus of a thousand angry little goblins of self-loathing inside my head.
Instead I said “thanks! They do the job.”
(She went on to kiss my thigh goodnight, then poked it and said “I like when it ripples!” …. so …. a good time was had by all.)
I was completely mortified by the whole affair. But simultaneously relieved by her non-judgmental outlook.
By her age, I had already become obsessed with thinness and suicidal over my perceived flaws, both physical and emotional.
That’s right, I was suicidal at age 8. I know because I kept (crappy) diaries. Very few entries, but “I hate myself and want to die” is clearly scrawled on one page in clumsy 8-year-old handwriting. (The next page, I believe, said “I love Micheal McConnell”, spelled wrong, followed by my first name paired with his last name in several different fonts…we don’t need to touch on that here.)
What triggered this early self-loathing? As with most girls, I learned it first from my mother.
I grew up with my mother on a pedestal (until my teenage years, but we won’t go there.) She was a paragon of beauty and virtue in my eyes. Practically perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins but without the magic. When I looked at her, I saw beauty personified.
I imagine when she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw a once perfect body changed forever by 4 pregnancies.
I now understand where my mother’s disgust with her own appearance came from, because I have seen my own body change after bearing 3 kids — it isn’t for the faint of heart. But as a child, I had no judgment for her scarred, stretch-marked tummy, or her cellulite-covered thighs. Those things didn’t factor into my calculation of her beauty, they were just superficial. Background noise. I saw kindness and caring in her eyes, in her smile. I saw gracefulness in the way she carried herself. I saw class and dignity in the way she presented herself and interacted with others. She was everything that beauty should be, in my book.
So when I, as a young girl, heard my mother speak negatively about her appearance to us and to others, and saw her refusing dinner because of some juice cleanse, I was genuinely confused.
It started to change my perception of beauty. Suddenly beauty was more simplistic – it was dependent on thinness, smallness, symmetry, and smooth skin. It relied on makeup and jewelry and good clothes. With my disinterest in all things girly and my off the charts growth curve, I realized early that I would never ever achieve this type of beauty — and indeed I never did. When faced with an unachievable goal that is supposed to determine one’s self-worth (so much more so for a female than a male), it is no surprise that I ended up feeling worthless.
I think we are born able to see the inner beauty of others.
When we were very young, we saw beauty in the love shining out of our parents faces. We didn’t notice the wrinkles, or the under eye circles, or the thinning hair, or the double chin, or any of the other stuff we have since learned is “ugly”.
Beauty, as defined by our society, is learned in bits and pieces as we grow up. A comment here, a magazine article there, an advertisement, a food label, the teachings of our parents – they all add up into one cohesive picture of what beauty is.
But I disagree. I think true beauty is something completely different from flawless skin, straight teeth, symmetrical faces, or even a lack of any excess body fat. Beauty is something intangible that shines out of us from within.
(Sidenote: while we are on the subject, can we all agree as a society to separate the concept of beauty from a person’s body size? These are two different things entirely, and should be kept distinct.)
As a photographer, my job is to coax that beauty out. To tease, prod, make silly faces, and generally engage a person, until they open up and their inner beauty peeks out.
What I really want isn’t just a smile; I want to catch a glimpse of your inner joy, your inner spirit, your inner beauty. I want to show you how beautiful you are.
I won’t always succeed. But I promise to try. Because the best part of my job is showing others beauty where they cannot recognize it for themselves. THAT is why I am a photographer.
So relax, smile — you’re beautiful!
Let me show you how beautiful you are:
call/text me today, and let’s design a custom photo session to fit your personality!
Don’t listen to your inner goblins – you DO deserve a photo shoot celebrating YOU!