Category Archives: portrait
In celebration of International Woman’s Day, I’m going to shut my mouth and give the platform to a woman with something to say. This is for all the women who mean so much to me, most of all, my wife and daughter.
When I look at you, I see happiness. I see grace. I see confidence, and I see humility. I see a killer sense of sarcasm that’ll knock you on your ass before you even know what hit you. I see beauty. I see strength. When I look at you, I look for myself in your cracks and your flaws, and am bettered by you. When I look at you, I look for myself in your virtues, and am inspired. When I look at you, I see you for everything you are, everything you are not, everything you have been and might become. I see you. But I wonder, what do you see of yourself? I ask this because I must confess that when I look at my own reflection, I’m never quite sure what I’m looking at. Who is this looking back at me in the mirror? Is this really me? Is this what you see? When I was little, I looked at my reflection and I saw fat. I would go to bed at night and pray that when I woke up in the morning, God would melt away the extra flesh on my prepubescent belly and thighs so that I could finally be happy like my skinny friends. But every morning when I would wake up and find a fat pair of eyes staring back at me in the mirror, I cried and cursed the heavens for wishing such misfortune on my innocent soul. When I got a little older, I looked at myself and I saw hideous. The seething, stinking, wicked essence of the baby fat of my youth had spread like a virus, seeping not only into the rest of my body, but into every corner of my mind until I was convinced that I was just as seething, stinking, and wicked as this hideous body I inhabited. During this period of my life, I was afraid to wear clothes that fit me too tightly, because I did not want to repulse anyone. My body was the leprosy that I had fallen victim too, and I felt guilty exposing others to my disease. As time passed, I grew tired. Every diet tried and failed left me tumbling down into the inevitable void of unhappiness that my fatness left in its wake, and in my mental and physical exhaustion, I began to rebel against this inevitable war with my own body. I suppose you could say I had an epiphany, of sorts, one that started like a silent thumping in my ear, and slowly grew louder until its sound consumed my thoughts and pulsed through my veins. What would it mean, I wondered, if the inevitability of my war against myself was not the product of my intrinsic unworthiness, but rather was the outcome of years of exposure to the wrong idea? What if this idea, that fat bodies are not worthy of happiness and love, was a lie? What if the only thing I needed to do to feel happiness and worthiness was to change the way I think? It was at this time that I was introduced to a new idea. Body-positivity. Instead of obsessing over photographs of thin, coifed Caucasian women in magazines, I followed plus-size models and fashion bloggers on social media. Instead of judging other women for happening to exist in fat bodies, I considered the possibility that fat women could be beautiful (and happy!) too. Instead of scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror and numbing my unhappiness with whatever mask I had chosen to wear that day, I stripped down my own layers of self-hatred and ridicule and forced myself to stare at my naked, vulnerable reflection in the mirror. I inspected my fat, my cellulite, my inadequacies, and then I looked into my own eyes and lied to myself- “You are beautiful.” Every morning for years I would wake up and tell myself this lie. I’m not quite sure how it happened, whether it was magic or God or my own wave-like persistence eating away at the shores of insecurity, but one day I looked in the mirror and was shocked to find that something miraculous had happened. I was finally starting to believe it.
Sometimes when I think about this ultimately insignificant journey of mine, I can’t help but feel a little pissed off. My dear friend, why is it that we teach our girls that their truest value is derived only from their aesthetic desirability? I am so struck with the fear that we are nothing more than a polished battalion of dolls, waiting to be chosen. As we sit on our respective shelves, and judge each other across the aisle from behind our tinted panes of cellophane, prospective buyers peer down at us as nothing more than the objects we have become. Pretty dolls. Should one of us fail to measure up, she is thrown to the back of the shelf, to the bottom of the shelf, made to believe that no one could want her, that no one should want her. And if by the grace of God someone decides they do want her, she should count herself as lucky, but nothing more. But friend, when I look at you, I have hope. I’m realizing that for my entire life, I have never truly seen myself. The reflection in the mirror upon which I’ve alternately validated my self-hatred and my self-acceptance is nothing more than a mirage.
The reason that I look at you and am so overwhelmed by your beauty is that I am seeing your power, your radiance, your expansiveness. My reflection, on the other hand, is just a fragment of my self, a fragment that has been craftily distorted by years of exposure to the wrong idea. Upon realizing this, it stands to reason that I too might contain the power, radiance, and expansive beauty that I see within you. I can feel it- when I speak my truth without fear of judgement or retribution. I can feel it- when I sit by the river with my best friend on a hot summer afternoon and watch the sunset, in awe of how small I am in relation to the glorious natural world. I can feel it- when I nourish my body with good food and good company, when I use it to ride my bike to school and to do good in my community, when I use it to traverse the globe and to embrace my friends. I can feel it- when I feel sorrow, the kind that knots itself up tightly in my stomach and wrenches tears from my eyes, reminding me that I am alive and that life is precious. I can feel it when I love, and am loved in return. In these instances, and in so many others, I can see my truest self, a self that is much larger than my physical form, but which is at home in my body. And boy, am I beautiful.
So my friend, I ask again- when you look in the mirror, what do you see?
“Place your value as a person above your size, shape, or weight. Your dress size is no more important than your shoe size.” -Julie Parker
Everyone has a story to tell, and I am a firm believer that our stories are not for us alone, but are meant to be shared with others, to help them with their own adventure through life. The unique set of experiences we encounter may show an easier route up the hill a friend is climbing, or, it may be a much needed handhold for a stranger. We just need the courage to share our imperfections and vulnerabilities. A smile, a conversation, a piece of yourself.
I’ve known Taylor for almost a decade, and she is still one of my favorite seniors I have ever worked with. We have kept in touch through the years, shooting for fun, shooting for special events. Last year we shot a simple, no frills, no makeup, honest session in celebration of her freedom. She’s a beautiful person with a story to tell, so I will let her tell it in her own words.
I sat there losing faith as I gripped my parent’s hands tighter. The beeping from my heart monitor had woken me up for the 6th time that week, as nurses came rushing into my room with warm blankets and concerned faces. I knew what the doctor would say, “JUST a few more days and you’ll be out of here.” He didn’t know. No one knew when I would be healthy enough to go home.
A bucket was my new toilet, a ‘toilet’ I couldn’t use until a nurse brought it in for me. I was forced to eat all of my meals with a mean nurse who micromanaged every bite I took. I brushed my teeth and spit into a cup. The amount of water I could drink was limited. Each morning I got my blood drawn, one of my biggest fears. I could hear the disapproval in the nurse’s voice when they weighed me every day, as she told me, “I probably wouldn’t be released that day.” They didn’t look at me with compassion. I did this to myself, and that is why I was there. I knew people I loved would feel that way, too.
How did I get there? How did the bubbly little girl I had always known disappear without even a goodbye? On the outside it looked like I had everything. I had great friends, and a great boyfriend. I had great parents, a great home, and our family never struggled financially. I ran cross country. I was on the dance team. I had recently been baptized at a church where I was treated like family.
I wish I could pin point the exact moment I took a wrong turn. Maybe I felt I couldn’t control my relationships, but I could control the amount of food I ate, and how much I ran? Whatever it was, something inside of me snapped, and I didn’t come back from it. I limited my food intake more and more every day. I never missed a run, even when I felt injured.
By the time prom came around, My Mom couldn’t even take pictures of me. I was so thin and fragile. I had been denying my problem to everyone, and when I looked in the mirror I saw someone who was healthy. I didn’t see sunken in yellow skin, bones, or a dark, hollow look in my eyes. In two short months I had lost 40 pounds. 40 pounds I couldn’t afford to lose.
I wanted help, but I didn’t want to ask for it. I didn’t want to give up the control.
I pushed every single person away. I was alone and scared. I told my mother, the one person I loved more than anything in the world, that I hated her, when all she was doing was trying to help me.
I often look back and think, if I wouldn’t have seen this, or done that, or been there, it wouldn’t have happened…but I truly believe this was the plan for me all along. I was meant to go through this to help other people. I was given this obstacle because it would change the way I see myself, others, and the world.
My mom tricked me. She told me we were going to get a physical for dance and track. I remember sitting across from a doctor as she took my vitals. A healthy resting heart rate for an active athlete could be anywhere from 55-70 beats per minute, and my resting heart rate was 34.
The doctor told my Mom she could either let me go, and I would probably die, or, I could be taken to the hospital immediately. The hospital was my saving grace. I had no phone, no TV, and no noise. Just me and my thoughts. That room was a huge turning point in my life. I remember feeling like those four walls were like a jail cell, and the realization that the way I had been living for months was the real prison.
I don’t regret my past. I have forgiven my past, and anyone who has hurt me. Most importantly, I have forgiven myself. I am proud of the person I am today, and although I am far from perfect, I am finally comfortable in my own skin.
I am almost 8 years recovered from an eating disorder, and I am still learning. I am learning that although some of our problems stem from the media telling us to hate our bodies if they don’t look like a supermodel, I can’t blame magazines. The media affected me more as I was trying to recover, as I saw females in magazines that looked just as sick as I was, but it was “ok” for them to promote that as sexy. I was hospitalized. It made me angry at the media; however, the actual eating disorder didn’t start for me as a result of the media. Although I strongly believe it could be the source for other people, it was not for me.
I remember sitting in the kitchen with my stepmom at 10 years old, listening to her talk about how flat her stomach was, as she was lifting up her shirt. I remember being 11 years old, making my Dad spend an hour with me in Limited Too, because everything I tried on made me look “fat”. I entered middle school and resigned to make myself the “funny friend.” I truly believed I was ugly, fat, and I felt so awkward, constantly comparing myself to other girls.
Entering high school, I felt like the curviest of my dance friends, once again the “funny one,” placing myself in the back row. It makes me sad when I look at those pictures, because I wasn’t fat at all. I thought I was. A lack of confidence, insecurity, and perception affects this issue 100%. How you see yourself, and what you tell yourself will find a way to manifest. Then you begin to believe it. You feed the beast every bit as much as the images you take in on a daily basis. You tell it what it wants to hear. I am fat. I am ugly. A Christian might say that the devil hears those things and preys on you at your weakest. Instead of saying “I am beautiful,” I agreed with the insecurities already inside of me, and they grew. The media didn’t create my disorder, but it certainly kept it fed, as I starved myself.
Finally, after a full physical, mental, and emotional recovery, I know what my purpose is. I am here to be a voice with those who have experienced what I have, and a voice to those who are going through it now. I am here, trying to help empower men and women to SHUT OFF THE NOISE that tells you that you aren’t good enough.
Just in case you haven’t been told recently, or ever, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. When you first wake up, when you’re crying, when your heart has been broken, when you’re so angry you could scream, and when you think you’re at your worst… ignore the noise. You are the most beautiful thing in the entire world. IGNORE THE NOISE.
Before and after is a concept I always thought would be fun for maternity and baby, but I never thought I would love it as much as I do. I love story, I love bookends, and this feels like the perfect way to show that. I’m not into bubblegum maternity, but give me something with some mood to it, and I’m a happy camper. I could never say it better than Hanna, so her words will carry the actual story below.
From Hanna: On December 17th my life changed forever. I honestly thought I could never have children…the pounding in my chest, the speed at which my mind was racing, the overflow of deep emotion those two little lines made me feel. I never thought it would happen, even buying the test, I’d done it a million times before, what was different about this day? Everything. There they were…or there it was, one line, the one I was used to, not pregnant, but that second one, never saw that before. I stared at it hyperventilating for what felt like ten minutes, then a calm came over me. What are you afraid of? You’ve cried sloppy drunk to your best friend at 4am thinking you couldn’t have children, and now here you are. So fast, so sudden, a mother. They say a woman becomes a mother when she finds out she is pregnant and a man becomes a father when his baby is born. This is true in my life. I became a mother that day, even not knowing how far along I was, or if anything was wrong, or if it was a boy or a girl or if I was ready, if we were ready. None of that mattered. From that moment nurturing the innocent little soul the size of a blueberry inside me was the only thing I could think about. I was consumed. My pregnancy was a rocky one, I didn’t get the picture perfect Pinterest inspired crafting, the nesting, and the stereotypical pregnancy you see in the movies. I did it mostly alone, but the blueberry that grew into a butternut squash is what kept me whole, she inspired me and she continues to, to this day. I have been a single mother, I’ve been a mother going to night school to make life better for herself and for her child. Now, because of her, no matter what I do or where I end up I will forever be a mother. Stay at home mom, working mom, fun mom, serious mom, crafty mom, musical mom, health nut mom, mom, mum, mother, mommy, mama. There is one common thread in all of those titles, and there are many more, but we are all mothers…from blueberries to butternut squashes, to the perfect squishy screaming bundles of love that eventually leave our warm protective bodies, which carefully grew each eyelash and pinky toe. A mother’s love can never waver or be challenged.
“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better….but because I knew you….i have been changed, for good.” – Elphaba