He took photos of people that year too and I can remember many times putting my hands in front of my face, playing a sort of peek-a-boo. The camera overwhelmed me. I didn’t like who I saw when the photos came back. It felt risky to be seen that way. It felt raw.
But a part of me, a huge part of me, secretly hoped that, in one of the shots he got when I was brave enough to not cover my face, he would capture THE picture of me: the picture where my beauty was unearthed.
I believed because he loved me, that he might be the only one that could capture that image. That he might be the only one who could see past all the flaws I saw swimming at the surface and capture something of the essence of my hidden glory. Maybe only he saw who I really was. We got married, he kept snapping pictures, but still I waited for that one picture. He gradually stopped pointing the camera my way so often. He would have the camera out taking pictures of beautiful and interesting things that he saw and a part of me would pine with a strange sort of jealousy, “Aren’t I beautiful and interesting?” I was still waiting for that photo…
Of course, each time a photo was taken, I could find a flaw. The angle was wrong, my butt looked too big, my hair was in my face, why didn’t someone tell me that shirt was so frumpy?!
Over the last year or so my battle with body hatred has been brutal. Injuries side-lined me from activity. Meds made me put on even more weight. I looked in the mirror and saw my size, saw my tiredness, saw the asymmetry of my face… I was having a hard time believing that I was fearfully and wonderfully made.
And then I heard about this class put on by a woman named Vivienne McMasters. The purpose was the class was to learn self-care through self-portraiture. All of that was hugely out of my comfort zone, but my curiosity was piqued.
On a whim, I signed up for the online class. And I took pictures…. Not just pictures but self-portraits. Taking ‘selfies’ was a totally foreign concept to me, and here I was taking a whole class focused on them! Wasn’t that narcissistic? Wouldn’t people think I’d gone off the deep end? And… did I really want to see what my camera would capture?
At first I just took pictures of isolated body parts. My feet (even though one is currently broken and in a boot cast), my hands, my arms. Then she challenged us to play with our shadows and reflections. Slowly, very slowly, I came out of hiding. I pulled more and more of myself into the frame. It felt brave and vulnerable and a little ridiculous at times.
Somehow, incredibly, I loved the photos I was getting. After going months feeling like I needed to hide from the mirror, and of course the camera, here were photos (of me!) that I was in love with. I found a softness in my face… a loveliness in my eyes that completely disarmed me.
What hit home most for me over the course of the class was the concept that *I* told the story when I was holding the camera—even if, maybe especially if, it was pointed at me. I was in charge. I composed the photo. I edited the photo. I chose the shots that said what I wanted to say to the world. In a powerful, tangible way I was able to see clearly that I am the author of my own story. I tell the world who I am.
I thought back to all the times that I longed for my husband to get that perfect shot of me. All the times that I asked him to see the beauty in me that I couldn’t see even when he wasn’t holding the camera. All the times I asked him to show me who I was.
I realized what a crushing burden that was to him: I was taking my need for validation to him when really it was my own eyes that needed healing. I could wait all day for him or for anyone else to see me the way I wanted to be seen… But unless I could see myself that way, it was futile. I was the one who needed to look upon myself with love and to go mining for the beauty lying beneath the surface.
I had tied myself up in who I was with him. I was a “Navy wife. I was a ‘dependent.’ I was ‘she who waited’ when he left for deployment, and the woman with the welcome home sign when he returned. I was the Mom comforting the babes who missed Dad and serving too many Eggo waffles for dinner.
Why was I letting other people pick the adjectives of my life? In how many different places was I trying to find my beautiful?
In the pictures I shot I saw more than those things… and less. I saw a distillation of who I am. I saw that I am a woman of stillness, a woman of joy, a woman with a streak of silly. I saw that in each photo—even the ones that I intentionally tried to put movement in there was a deep quiet. Seeing those things in the pictures in front of me, I was able to wrap my head around the concept of my own beauty.
I thought the only person who could take The Photo I longed for was someone who loved me deeply, someone who really saw who I was. It turns out, I was right…