In my mind's eye, I so clearly see myself sitting in Ms. Hanlon's high school English class awaiting our manila file folders which determined our theme and required reading for our thesis papers. I looked at the tab of my folder and found two words "know thyself" scrawled in lovely cursive; and although I would go on to ace that paper, I would fail at applying those two words to my actual life for years to come.
Recently I have been thinking about beauty, about the emergence of the carefully curated feed, the photos of the seemingly perfect influencers online, and the pressures we tend to feel to match or surpass those whose online presence we envy. I have always had body dysmorphia and had never really appreciated my visage (some of the many reasons for my eating disorder from which I have since recovered, but that is a story for another day), but early on I made a conscious effort to only follow the Instagram feeds of those who are makers and doers, body positive humans, and those for whom I care; and what I learned from those lovely beings is that physical appearances mean nothing without substance behind it.
I am beginning to know myself after all these years of inhabiting this meat bag, and here are some facts: I am five feet tall (short); my teeth are crooked; my baby hairs, oh, who am I kidding, most of my hair tends to be out of control; I often have four eyes; I have a weak chin; my skin is incredibly dry, lips perpetually chapped; my body is much more squishy than it has ever been. I know these things about myself, and I accept these are not beautiful by convention. And before you begin to believe that I am disparaging myself, I can honestly tell you that I have done nothing of the sort. I do not have to find these facts about myself beautiful, nor do I have to feel that these facts are negative. They just are. If that seems unbelievable, allow me to present some additional facts about myself: my arms, though doughy, have strength enough to carry two babies at once, to wield a camera, to embrace a weeping friend; my hands have the ability to create works that bring me (and hopefully others) joy; my legs and feet can take me to places I want to explore even without the gap between them; my mouth can form words of comfort and kindness and dissent and utter silliness; I have a human body unique unto myself. I do not have to find the former list of facts beautiful when I see the beauty in the latter. I can be objective with my features and find my worth elsewhere within myself. No matter what facts my corporeal self presents to the world, I know that my features are not where my value lies; my value lies in my words and actions, in every service I can provide, every work I can create, every kindness I can show.
Anything I could describe as physically ugly about myself can easily be "fixed" to conform to classical beauty standards - that is easy, and I won't judge anyone who has done so, because honestly I would probably do the same if I had the means. The challenge comes when trying to transform an inner ugliness, an ugliness that refuses to see beyond the barriers of our flesh and bones, a judgemental ugliness that would inflict violence on and garner hatred toward those whom one cannot understand. I would take that physical challenge over that spiritual one any day.
Self portrait photography has been an important key to my ability to look at myself objectively. I am beyond camera shy and experience a chocking anxiety when in front of someone else's camera, which very often translates into the photo; but when it is just me and my equipment, I feel a sense of freedom to romanticize the best parts of myself while not fearing the mistakes (the many, many mistakes) I make while in frame. I am able to find the light and work with the shadows in a way that I can find beauty on the most outer part of my being. I feel photographing myself in this way is akin to artists like Kahlo and Van Gogh and countless others who painted their own portraits, each brushstroke leading them to know more about themselves as both artist and subject.
The study of self is, in my opinion, one of the most important subjects that often goes unlearned either because of neglect due to a need for survival or because society teaches us that to do so would lead to an unhealthy self-absorption. I believe in order to truly garner a respect for your fellow man you must know yourself inside and out, and adjust accordingly until you can sit comfortably within your entire being. When you accept your beauty where it lies, you are more likely to find the beauty within others. I find that the most accepting and lovely people are the ones who are accepting of themselves, faults and all; it is those who believe in their own supreme perfection who seem to pass unwarranted judgement upon others i.e. me in my teenager years (gosh, what a poor mixed-up a*hole!). Don't be the former me, and please don't be the current me. Your best course of action is to (as cliché as it is to type out) be you, and if you are unsure of who that is, that is okay, you'll learn with a bit of studying, trust me.
Please do let me know your thoughts and join in the conversation on my Instagram. Additionally, if you are looking for a photographer who strives to make you feel safe, accepted, and lovely when taking your portrait, please don't hesitate to contact me.