Stepping in front of the camera stirred old hurts and humiliations, and helped me move through and envision a new story of freedom and personal power.
Jean and I have worked together twice. According to her, the photography explorations we’ve done have played a major role in her coming into herself, as a powerful, sensual woman. Recently she agreed to have lunch with me, and tell me about it’s impact so that I could understand how these experiences have factored into her journey and transformation.
Jean tells me: Two years ago, I was thinking about having photos taken, and looked around for a photographer. When I saw your website, the layout, the fact that you did everything in b/w in a very classic way, I felt a connection.
Yet, I kept that website saved for 6 months before I got courage to call you, because I still wasn’t comfortable with myself, even though I at the time felt I’d come a long way and gone through much adversity. When I finally did contact you, I remember saying that I was finally starting to feel comfortable with who I was, that I had become a healthier person and felt stronger, emotionally, physically, but that I didn’t feel comfortable with the outer part of me. Like women in the testimonials on your website talked about, I also felt I wanted to celebrate who I had become.
After scheduling, I didn’t know what to do with myself. With family, I had never taken that much time to focus on me, and you were challenging me to think about what I might want to do, wear and what I wanted to project in the photos. I honestly had no idea what to do. Concentrating on me alone was a challenge. As the shoot date approached, I started doing things for myself, pedicure, massage, shopping, for just me, and it was very liberating. Other people noticed that I was happy, more giving from taking this time for myself. The day of photo shoot I was terrified. (Jean laughs).
I didn’t know what to expect, had no clue what the outcome was going to be. As women, we are bombarded with images of perfection, and many of us feel we have to live up to a certain standard. At the beginning of the shoot, I also felt I had to pose a certain way, look a certain way, to fit the image, but I knew I was constricting myself by falling into all those expectations and stereotypes rather than following my own. I started telling myself to let go. And as more time went by and I switched outfits, I began to feel more comfortable, even made suggestions and soon, I was feeling a lot better about myself. I still wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be, but at the end of the photo shoot, I felt very relieved and liberated.
After the shoot I was emotionally exhausted, for some reason, but I felt freer. And then there was the anticipation about the resulting pictures. Telling myself that I didn’t have the benefit of retouching and tons of makeup and styling, I hoped that maybe there would be 5 – 6 shots out of almost 100 that I would like. After I saw the photos. (Jean starts to cry). I never thought I could look that good. I honestly didn’t. Looking at all the photos, I thought, It can’t be me, because I don’t look that good. Just seeing how beautiful they came out and knowing that it was all me, with no camera trickery or special lighting and makeup, it was very empowering. Even today, I look at the photos to remind myself that this is ME. Not anybody else’s expectations. Nobody can take this away from me.
It was a turning point in my life. I noticed that after that photo shoot, I felt a lot stronger, I was more accepting of myself, more accepting of other people, and I didn’t let other people’s perceptions bother me as much. I’ve shown quite a few people the photos. Because I am so amazed how well they turned out and that it really is me. They said they were inspired by me. By my courage to do it. By how well the photos came out. And because I was proud of who I am. Sharing the photos bolstered my confidence even more. I can help others realize that they are beautiful in their own way. This experience was really for me, because I needed to accept myself, and also, because I wanted to prove to myself that I was beautiful, that I do have a sense of myself, and I can come out of any adversity and learn from it. And when close to a milestone birthday, a lot of us reach that point where we want to do something for ourselves.
When my then husband took the photo album away, I got upset, but somehow I knew it wasn’t my fault. As women we often blame ourselves, but I knew it wasn’t something I’d done to spite him, but his own insecurity. And his reaction actually empowered me more, because, he was trying to take away the self awareness and strength I had found, but for me, just the experience of doing the photo session, of letting go and finding myself, was something he couldn’t take away. I think he realized he couldn’t stand in my way anymore. Having conformed to what everyone expected of me for so long, it went again the grain and upset the status quo for everyone around me when I did something for myself. That’s what’s we risk when we step into our truths. Luckily there was a lot of people around me who saw that I was coming into myself, that I was becoming a lot happier, and they continued to encourage me and drew strength from what I was going through. Those who felt I was disturbing their illusion or status quo I pulled back from. I realized that by conforming to others I was holding myself back. I think when we try to conform to others, we hold ourselves back, but then, we also blame others for holding us back, because we can’t find the strength within ourselves.I’m no longer going to hold back.
So yes, this sparked an exponential growth period for me. Instead of taking any set backs, crawling into a hole, I used it as another stepping stone, another challenge. I got the confidence to try things I probably wouldn’t have tried before. I actually got the courage to take a sensual dance class, again a chance to bring out further the sensuality I saw in my photos. And once I did that and saw the power I have as a woman, I thought about doing another photo shoot, to bring all that into play — the strength that I found, the power I have as women, and the inspiration I show to others. When I made the appointment of the second photo shoot, with the prior photo experience and new acceptance of my body, I was much more comfortable. I wanted to portray something more edgy, more raw and just have more fun with it now that I didn’t have the apprehension of what to expect. It was a lot easier to let go the second time. Again the photos came out absolutely incredible and if I could, I would post some all over the walls of my house. (Jean laughs). Don’t think I can do that. Not yet any way. I ask Jean about how this has affected her way of being a mother to her two boys of 9 and 12. It’s actually given me more drive, she says, and made me want to break out of that standard mold of what we think a mother should be. Both my boys saw my photos. They thought they looked really good. I wanted them to appreciate them for being beautiful photos and see that there was nothing bad about it.
These experiences have made me aware of how we constrict ourselves and everyone around us, so I try to encourage them to think outside the box and not take what people say for face value. I try to be open and honest with them, even around topics other parents wouldn’t touch. My 12 year old will ask me about girls, about drugs and sexuality, and just the fact that he’s comfortable coming to me without hesitation, tells me I’m doing the right thing. I am not constricting him in a box, everything is approachable. These photo experiences really has helped a great deal. Today, I notice myself asking why, more often than not. And again, this is going back to the very first photo shoot, why do we allow ourselves to be constricted. So just having that question, why? is a first step. Liberation is a process. I may not put all on the table, all the time, but I tend to push the envelope more than I used to in terms of being honest, trying new things, meeting new people, and just experiencing life in general. Where I wouldn’t have tried something before out of fear, I am now thinking more in terms of what can I learn from it, that I can take to another experience.
Because I have such high expectations of myself now, I will probably be a lot more picky in choosing my next partner. It would have to someone who’d be able to handle that kind of self awareness and power that I have now, someone who’s not trying to make me conform to their expectations of a woman. Since many men are intimidated by a strong woman it’s quite possibly that I’ll be living alone for quite a while, which is fine with me, because I know I can do it, with supportive friends around me. I doubt I will hold myself back again just to get into a relationship. I have been holding myself back way too long already. What’s next thing, cutting edge, adventure for you, I ask: To travel by myself, Jean says. I have actually been looking into travel tours that cater to single women. (She laughs heartily) I want to travel without the extra baggage so to speak! Jean has been generous enough to share some of the photos from each photo session we’ve done, so far. My sense is, we will be working together soon again.