Wednesday, November 15, 2017


i think i was around 13 when i first had a desire to know what i looked like.  i remember buying a handheld mirror and studying my face in it.  i looked unfamiliar to myself and i wondered if somehow i had missed an important milestone in my childhood.  i committed my features to memory and promptly lost interest. 

i count myself very fortunate to have been generally absent any unhealthy body image issues as a teen and young woman.  to my mom's credit, i wholeheartedly embraced her wise mantra, 'beauty is on the inside' and was spared the agony so many young women inflict upon themselves, striving for a beauty ideal only obtainable through photoshop and eating disorders. 

perhaps this is the reason that my minds' selfies are all time-stamped.  i have a handful of discrete images in my memory of my appearance.
the first, mentioned above, at 13, handheld mirror, indian style on my bed.
another at 16, likely an attempt to understand what my newfound first love saw in me.
then my next mental selfie isn't until 23, a new mother with baby todd in my arms.  i know exactly what i looked like then.
another time stamp in the year 2000, when i came out at age 26.  i immediately cut my hair short in celebration of my new identity and wanting to look the part.
34 years old: a brush with my mortality had clarified much in my life..suddenly, looking the part wasn't as important as looking like myself.  i let my hair grow out, embraced its newfound curl and my femininity.

and then, at 35, there's a shift in my mental selfie album, from snapshots to a flickering film strip. paradoxically during some of the happiest years of my life, i was my most body self-conscious... perhaps it was the hyper focus on my fitness or perhaps the constant desire to document the joy in my life, or more likely - the combination of the two.  regardless, both came to an abrupt halt when my marriage ended and with that loss, the film strip snapped. 

in the years since, while i've healed in many ways, i've also resigned myself to the loss of my 'glory days.'  and accordingly my mind's selfie camera hadn't bothered to document my appearance, instead creating a self-image from behind my eyes that was essentially adequate and unremarkable.

and all of that is the prologue to what has spurred me to write today.   

amid an internet search for a lifestyle photographer to document myself and the boys, before the imminent empty nest, i stumbled upon a photographer of an entirely different nature and fell in love with her work.  her eye for composition and lighting and the mood her work captured - i felt an immediate connection to her art.  (because there was really no other word for it.)  

i read every word of her website, (including three and a half years of blogs), embracing her bubbly enthusiastic personality juxtaposed with the creative intensity evident in her photography.

but --- meagan was a boudoir photographer.  gulp.  what did it mean that i felt this strong pull to book a session of nearly naked, sexy photos of myself??  i didn't think for a second that i would walk away from the endeavor with photos that looked like the women on her website.  i've already established that i believed my glory days behind me, right? but i emailed anyway, tentatively, asking for a price list and hoping both that i could and couldn't afford the investment.  the latter would make the decision a lot easier, after all. 

her nearly immediate reply began with: "Thanks so much for reaching out!!! I would love love LOVE to get you in the studio for a boudoir session!"  and went on to explain the ins and outs of the process in similar exclamation-point-laden excitement.  i could hardly believe this giddy woman was the same one with what must be serious, technical skills and a mad eye for finding beauty in women.  (spoiler alert: she's one and the same.  imagine tigger, from winnie the pooh, with a creative streak that rivals the greats.)  

i scheduled her first available date - which was six extremely long weeks away - and descended into an obsessive internet vortex of lingerie shopping and boudoir photography study. being the information junkie that i am, i quieted my nerves with an overload of learning.  my research bore out two things in very short order: 
1.  there's a science to this art.  the extreme technicality of the posing, lighting, and shooting gave me some reassurance that little relied on me.
2.  very few photographers in this space have mastered both aspects: science and art.  meagan's portfolio left no doubt i had chosen one of the best. 

as the day approached, my emotions were a curious mix of optimism and skepticism. 

the day of the shoot... well, it rolled out just like i expected.  hair, makeup, posing instructions, lingerie that did nothing to conceal my insecurities... but, as promised, meagan left no oxygen in the room to feed my fear.  her supreme command of every finger, angle, and shadow required my full attention and it was only once i got home, afterwards, that my nerves found their voice in my psyche. 

i'd read blogs from dozens of women touting the confidence boost and empowerment they felt when walking out of their boudoir shoots.  i, on the other hand, feared that i hadn't been able to relax enough or that i wasn't connecting enough in the ways i was supposed to.  i feared that i wouldn't recognize myself in the finished images.  and to make matters worse, my anxiety post-shoot served to amplify my anxiety.  maybe i don't feel the way most women do because i didn't do it right! 

thankfully it was only a week between my shoot and my reveal appointment.  i don't think i could have held my breath much longer than that.  i spent most of the week reviewing all the technical details i'd found in my initial research, reassuring myself that meagan did it right, even if i didn't. 

at the reveal appointment, meagan greeted me with a big hug, gushing about how much she loved my images.  she says that to all the girls, my inner voice chided. 

and then she started the slide show.  'seven minutes, two songs, five seconds on each picture' - she prepped me. 

i didn't hear the first song at all.  i think my brain was receiving maximum input from my eyes instead and struggling to make sense of it all.  that can't be me.  but wait, it is!  

as my shock took a step back, relief sidled up next to it and tried to make space at the table for pride, who had the assignment of rating images with 'one for no', 'three for maybe' or 'five for must have.'  going through the images one by one, i heard myself saying 'five' over and over, and then my voice cracked.  tears filled my eyes.  as it turns out, pride wasn't used to having much of a voice about my appearance... not in a long time.  the realization was startling and cathartic and overwhelming. 

i left my appointment with all the images.  all 57 images, to be exact.  after fearing there wouldn't be enough to make a small album, i floated out on a cloud of disbelief.  it's been three days and i think i've probably looked through them 57 times.  i've shown only very few, to very few.. and yet, the simple knowledge that they exist has fired up that selfie camera in my mind. 

i've come to realize - through this experience - that my selfie snapshots have been triggered by love, most often for or from someone else.  but, for the first time in 30 years perhaps, i am both the giver and receiver of that love.  i am beautiful in my own eyes and that's enough. 

d:  this experience for every woman
b:  57 freaking gorgeous images (57!!!) 
g:  an unexpected awakening

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