About 15 months ago I saw a photo of me that shook me a bit. I’ve been all shapes and sizes but I had never looked at a photo of me and truly hated it. I had looked at photos and thought it was a rotten photo but I had never before looked at a photo of myself and thought, “I look bad.”
It probably isn’t a photo you would expect, in fact I posted it because after years of being a photographer I learnt that no matter how much you hate the way you look, your family does not. They don’t care. They don’t see what you see.
Your partner sees your smile in your eyes.
They remember the time you laughed so hard that for ages after one of you would just have to start giggling and it would set the other off. (Sassafras)
They remember the touch of your fingertips on their skin.
Whispered I love you’s.
Your kids don’t see your imperfections. They remember soothed brows when they were hot with fever.
The time you went out to dinner and wore the red dress that made them think you were the most beautiful woman in the world.
They remember school concerts where you clapped the loudest, bedtime stories and birthday cakes.
No one ever sees what you see. I know that. So as a photographer I posted the picture. But as a woman who is human and flawed and a tiny bit vain – I hated it. I felt ashamed of me. And I stopped taking pictures.
I still photographed my sleeping daughter curled into me like a comma but I cut my face from the frame. I shot the book I was reading, the trees near me, my children, the surf, my partner…but not me. Sometimes parts of me made cameos, my feet in the sand, my hand holding a cup of tea, a shoulder, a wisp of hair. But I avoided the camera as much as I could because it was a mirror I was not ready to look into.
I do not write this to garner compliments. I didn’t need reassurance of my value. I didn’t feel worthless. I was still a good person, I was still kind, I was still funny (sometimes) and I was still clever. I was good at my job and I was a mother who was doing her very best and every day woke up trying to do better. I was a good person. I did not feel worthless simply because I did not feel attractive. I read articles frequently that advised that we need to love the body we are in and I felt that that was bullshit. Was it not possible that I could NOT love the body I was in and still be okay? Couldn’t I just look at myself with a critical and unbiased eye and find it lacking but still accept that I was a perfectly good person? So what if I was not pretty or beautiful or sexy? I’m still a worthy human being.
Here is what I know. I may never weigh more than I do right now. I find it so difficult to gain weight. My thighs – no matter how skinny – will always have a few rogue dimples of cellulite. My hips will always bear the stretch marks that crawled across them when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My stomach will never be entirely flat, that loose skin grew too many children and stretched like an old hair tie. It’s not coming back. My breasts will probably never fill out more than a B cup again. My hair will always be unruly and when brushed it will always go frizzy. My eyes are going to have smile lines, I can’t help it – I laugh too much.
BUT…this body? It grew children. It fed them. It carried babies that live in my home and ones that live only in my heart. It has kissed and loved and survived. It has hatched chickens and cooked meals and kneaded dough. It has delivered baby animals and picked flowers and planted herbs. It has walked beaches and forests. It has spun yarn and sewn clothes and worked stitches. It’s bled and cried and laughed and healed. It’s pressed the shutter of a camera thousands of times. It’s read and written. It has made magic.
It is not perfect. It is flawed beyond comprehension, really. It’s what I have. It works. Granted, sometimes it works like the vacuum you have held together with duct tape, but it works. Every morning when I stand in front of the mirror and I stare into my own eyes and tell myself, “You can do this. You’ve got this”, it rallies. I push it. I ask more from it than it deserves. And it rallies. It stands up.
I’m ready now. I am ready to look into that mirror and see what stares back at me. I will not look away. Not because I’m expecting beauty. But because I am expecting strength.
“Can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – BTVS “Chosen”.