I recently sent an up close screen shot (of myself) to my husband with the text, "I have such a bad, droopy eye! And the most wrinkled, saggy under-eyes I've ever seen.." (My poor husband had to respond to this, but that's another blog post for another time.)
You've done this before, right? Taken a selfie with one of your friends, or kids, or simply by yourself, only to zoom it in, and cringe because of the many imperfections that you see? Or in my case, emotionally throw up on your loved one about how terrible you look and feel.
I will tell you all day long how gorgeous and radiant you are. And I believe every damn ounce. But then why can't I believe the same about myself? Just like you are yours, I am my own worst critic.
As a photographer, I have discovered that one of my absolute favorite sessions to shoot is boudoir. I have had a lot of extremely different women, all trust ME, as they stand on the opposite side of camera, allowing me to photograph them in their most bare and vulnerable moments. "How do you do it?" someone asked me. "How do you help make them feel comfortable enough in their own skin to trust you?" That answer was easy: I just strive for realness. When they talk to me about their struggles with their appearance, or about how they are not at the ideal weight that they had hoped to be, I lavish them with compliments and affirmation. Not because I'm faking it--but because I sincerely mean every ounce of what I tell them.
I've photographed everything, from the Mom Bod, to the Crossfit, to the Body Builder, to the Perky Nineteen-Year Old. Each and every one of them showed me how gorgeous they are on the outside, but more profoundly, I've found that each of them had their own battles with insecurities. I found myself photographing these beautiful women, thinking how LUCKY these women are to look like THIS. And then it hit me hard, all women, no matter how gorgeous, talented, smart, wealthy, creative they are, deep down inside, are their own worst critic. We stand in our own way.
This all starts at a shockingly too young age. We hit the age of adolescence and we start noticing things--things about ourselves that we just don't like. I didn't have too many weight insecurities as a kid but boy did I have some acne. In high school I would call my mom from the bathroom stall and just cry about how I wanted to come home. Come junior year when I could actually drive, I would occasionally leave; all because I couldn't stand the internal voices that screamed at me upon entering those fluorescent restrooms: 'You are not good enough. Your friends have beautiful skin. Your face is red and ugly.' Through many years of trial and error and lots of potent medications, I was able to get my acne under grip. And as I've aged, I've been able to train my mentality into believing that a zit or two just isn't THAT big of a deal. But now the voices of self-doubt have discovered my other weaknesses.
Some say I've been blessed with great genes (which yes, I suppose you could say I have!) I come from a pretty long line of healthy people and my mom is only a couple of inches taller then me. We're a smaller family, smaller boned, petite framed. But after I had kids and the Postpartum Thyroiditis leveled off, my body plateaued at the weight it's currently at, and it hasn't budged in almost three years. I've heard some of my friends joke, 'After summer vacation, I'm going to look like ASHLEY!' 'Don't do that!' I've said. And in my head I am quietly envying their beautiful curves, their butt that they've deemed 'too big,' their hips they declare too curvy. They see me and they see, 'tiny/small/skinny/cute/petite,' and I look at them and see, 'curvy/blessed/sexy/more beautiful.' I'm sure if we could all pick and choose and hand select exactly how we wanted to be build, we would. And then at the end of the day, we would STILL find fault with those choices! We look to our left and right and we see one thing: women who we see as BETTER than ourselves.
My hope is to launch a series here where I shout out LOTS of amazing women that I know. To photograph them, tell their story, and to show ya'll why they really and truly are just incredible super-stars, period. We as a whole, are really fricken amazing, but I'm right there with you when someone extends compliments: I struggle to believe them. My husband (who is the sweetest and most loving man on the planet), tries to reassure my doubtful and insecure self often, but at a fancy dinner on my 28th birthday, he brought tears to my eyes with this:
"When looking at who you are, where you've been, how you've grown, you really just astound me. Small town girl, college educated, Masters degree in special education. You dedicate your life to educating the emotional and behavioral challenged. You have started two businesses and are successfully managing both. What's more important, is that you have a beautiful home filled with love and laughter because you have birthed and are raising two awesome children. You find the time to be a loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. You are a kick ass woman that wears all of this success with humility, dignity, and grace. You have stayed grounded in who you are and have never lost sight of God's blessings in your life."
You too, have had affirmations such as this. You're either dating or married, or you're single and you have tons of people who love and support you. But yet we look around and we wonder, "Am I enough?" We see pictures of ourselves and think, "I have so much to fix." You are guilty of taking fifty-five selfies only by the last one, to still be unhappy with the way you look. But next to you, you have someone saying, "You are SO beautiful. Your hair is amazing. Your eye color is just gorgeous. You have the best arms. You are such an excellent mother, sister, daughter, friend. You are so smart and creative, you are driven and passionate. You are exactly who God created you to BE and He is SO proud of you..."
When will the truths outweigh the lies? When will you, when will I, start liking ourselves?