“It’s like you, only better,” said Jacqueline Kent. It seemed like an oxymoron to me. How can an experience of a photo shoot be authentically transformative? Surely it’s just a change based on the expertise of the hair, makeup, and wardrobe people plus the magic of a gifted photographer. I had to admit, I was skeptical, but something urged me to sign up for the photoshoot.
My mission was to be me, the me I was born to be, this time, on the outside. Being the focus of the camera felt like another level of revealing myself so, as part of my preparation for this photo shoot, I dug a little deeper into who I was revealing. I’m glad I did because I uncovered a nasty habit. I told myself I wanted to uplift people but staring me in the face was someone with self-serving behavior. If I appeared less beautiful, less smart, less aware, people would like me more. I didn’t think of the demeaning messages I was sending to myself and that I was only enabling other people’s habit of comparing themselves with others to feel superior
The shift happened as I made peace with the scripts of my youth that had taken up residence in my brain. “You look interesting, like Eleanor Roosevelt,” my Mother said. “Alice the Goon, the big, fat baboon,” taunted my classmates even though I was actually skinny then, and on and on. The saving grace was remembering what a wise teacher said one day, “Everyone blooms in their own time, and some of you are just late bloomers.” I’ve no idea what else he was teaching that day, but I remember my heart lurching in a flash of understanding. That’s me, I thought, “I’m a late bloomer.” Hope stirred possibilities deep inside.
I also tackled the subject of beauty. What was it? Was I beautiful? Is everyone beautiful? I wrestled with this subject in a previous blog post, Beauty & the Beasties. I knew I loved myself but why didn’t that seem to apply to my appearance? The simple answer is that my facial features aren’t what’s considered cute or pretty or beautiful in the society I live in. “It would take a magnificent artist to change this face from just interesting to gorgeous,” I quipped and then stopped, mid-thought. My mind had shifted unexpectedly from looking at myself to looking at others with new eyes that saw beauty everywhere. I shivered with goosebumps as it sank in. I got it. Beauty resides inside everyone and when we believe we are beautiful, we see each other, through that lens, as beautiful. Hope and possibilities vanished. I was beautiful and it didn’t feel at all strange.
Clothing and body image was next. What would look stunning AND feel authentically me? Oh no, another script rippled through my mind, “Rubens would hunt me down to paint my pear-shaped body,” I said with a bit of an attitude. OK, not really a put-down but I felt a glimmer of longing for the legs of my youth. The script didn’t hurt much this time as I laughed at myself. Are you kidding? Strong, reliable hips, legs, and ankles are so much appreciated.
Re-energized, I pulled everything out of my closet that was black and white, my favorite colors. Then I went to second-hand stores looking for unique pieces and found a Joseph Ribkoff asymmetrical top and a long dress with a Picasso-like design on one side. They made me smile as I tried them on. I also found a couple of outfits that I loved and looked gorgeous on the hanger but didn’t feel at all like me when I put them on. Goodbye designer Italian dress. Sayonara indigo silk handmade gown. What did I finally decide? I chose everything that was a little different and interesting which made me feel really amazing. Hmmm, different and interesting? Didn’t my Mother say I looked interesting?
My hair was transformed by the artistry of Ida-Marie Huska of Huska Hair. She always listens to my creative ideas and uses her amazing cutting and color skills to give me healthy, shiny, and great-looking hair that suits my face, age, and personality. This is not easy because I constantly come up with different ideas for my very fine textured hair which Ida-Marie interprets masterfully. The bonus for me is that I can usually brush it and it looks great despite my lack of skill in this area. Thank goodness I love the “messy” look.
The different parts of me, attitude, wardrobe, and hair, were starting to coalesce into a beautiful whole. I had been working on losing COVID-19 weight for months and had lost 20 pounds. I have my walking legs back.
Finally, it was the day of the photoshoot. A gorgeous house and photo studio were all set. Healthy snacks, water, and coffee were on hand, and music playing. A rack of clothing fit for any style, shape, and mood stood ready, just in case. Then we began.
I’m struggling with the words to describe what happened over the next 3 hours. Rachel began her artistry on my face. Her hands were like butterflies as she prepared my skin with the most delightfully scented mixtures. My whole face felt like it was drinking the most exquisite liquid after being parched for days. Jacqueline picked up her camera shooting all the way through the process, through our conversation about art and transformation and why we had all come together to reveal the woman, the me that wanted expression. Somehow, all the artists were creating the canvas that was me. Somehow, all the probing work to express myself honestly took the form of sculpting eyes, lips, contours, and both Rachel and Jacqueline intuitively seeing the unseen through a face and a lens.
Expert instruction on how I could move so my best angles were captured followed as Jacqueline arranged backdrops and lighting. I was not afraid of the camera or what I looked like anymore. The artists did their work with integrity, professionalism, and mastery and I was enveloped in their art with them.
The experience had a profound effect on me. I will always see myself, now, as the beautiful work of art these amazing women drew from the canvas that was me. I felt honored; I felt like me, only better; I looked like me, only better. I was me, only better.