WARNING: This blog post may contain images that you don't want to see. They may disgust you. They may seem unappealing to the societal eye.
But I don't care. Because they tell a story. My story.
It's so often that I send out beautiful images to clients. Previews are posted, positive feedback swarms, and a lot of the time people cherish their images just as they are, holding them close as they look back on yesteryear.
However, that's not always the case.
Sometimes I open my phone and then I see it. The message that every photographer dreads to read. Initial responses from moms, dads, grandparents, even teenagers, containing self-hating comments; picking themselves apart in every image. From face, to their figure, attacking their whole bodies as a negative entity.
Special requests pouring in like a flood for additional touch ups, and longing desires to look like someone else.
As someone who's struggled with body image issues, and self-hatred for the majority of my life. Believe me when I say, I get it.
I understand the rush of feeling so uncomfortable in your own skin that all you want to do is invert like a turtle. In fact, I spent the majority of my pregnancy with my son feeling this way. Forcing myself to love my body, even when at the time, a large part of me hated it.
"I understand the fear of feeling so uncomfortable in your own skin that all you want to do when you're in front of the camera is invert like a turtle."
I have images from my postpartum experience, like the one above, that I've never shared. I almost deleted them. I got straight up angry - furious even, when my fiancé took these pictures because I had a double chin, I had a lot of weight to lose, and I felt completely insecure.
I was angry at someone I love for documenting one of the most important times of my life. How heartbreaking is that?
Looking back, I don't understand how I could possibly hate my body. It gave me a vessel to grow something so remarkable. The one thing that's given my life a true purpose. It's housed so many emotions, overcome the highest of obstacles, and yet, there I sat picking apart every piece of it as if it was lice stuck in multiple strands of hair.
For those of you who follow me regularly, you're familiar with my son, Ellis. He's one of the sweetest, loving, most adorable little boys in town. The mere sound of his presence can melt your heart. His smile is more addictive than nicotine. He is by far my life's greatest blessing, and I'm so grateful I can be here today to witness each and every milestone of his growth.
An experience that I wouldn't have today if it weren't for my body.
I'm sitting here in front of my computer screen, torn over whether or not to share this post, but after repeatedly receiving some of the most heartbreaking messages I've ever read, it became very clear to me; it was necessary.
So, first of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being here, for being you, and for taking the time to read this. It's not every day that a small town girl can get the attention of a crowd.
Second, please don't forget where you started. We all come into this world as babies. Helpless, sweet, innocent little beings who want nothing more than the comfort of their mothers scent, the embrace of their fathers arms, and the love from anyone within sight.
Look deep inside yourself, and recognize that at one time, you were that person. You loved the world around you, you explored, and you didn't pay one moment of worry to your reflection.
"I was angry at someone I love, for documenting one of the most important times of my life."
People so frequently ask how children can be so happy-go-lucky and the answer is this. They are free-spirited, because they allow themselves to be free. To love, to embrace, both the world around them AND themselves.
I chose my career as a lifestyle photographer in hopes of capturing those free spirits in action. From the joy of trying something new to the most recent milestone in a family's life. So that even after each moments passed, you're able to re-live it.
So before you take a look in the mirror and go Regina George on yourself, I want you to ponder a few things. Think of your childhood. Allow yourself to soak up all of the feelings. Reminiscing how it felt to play in the mud and get dirty. Come home at curfew, and fight so hard not to fall asleep in hopes of not missing a single thing.
Think of who you are right now. Who you strive to be. What you're working so hard to accomplish. Who are you? What is your purpose? How far have you come, and what pushed you to keep going?
Think of how you want to be remembered. By your friends, your children, and future generations to pass.
Do you want to grow up flawlessly? Showing no progress of who you've grown to be? Do you want to hide those stretch marks? Stripes that prove that grew something so pure and beautiful? Do you want to cover up those smile lines and remove the proof that your life was filled with laughter and joy?
Before you say yes this this, I want you to consider one thing: your skin.
Your skin is not only your body's largest organ, it's your book, your canvas. The canvas of your life.
So what it really comes down to is this: Do you want to be remembered for someone that you're not, or for everything you are? We are all resilient in our own ways, we're still here, and that's something, in itself, to be proud of.
I encourage all of you to document your lives. Document well, and often. But before you smile for that next picture, I challenge you to show yourself grace. Embrace your inner child. Love the life you live and the relationships within it. Embrace it all. The raw moments, how they truly are. Then take the picture.
Photographs aren't just meant for temporary use. They aren't just about what you looked like, or how the image presents itself. It's about how you felt in that moment. That's part of what makes my job so important. If I don't encourage you to be yourself, and provide an enjoyable experience, you're going to remember that. On the flip side, if I'm kind, and allow you to have fun and be silly during your time with me, you'll hold on to that.
Just like a song can allow you to feel past emotion, an image allows you to re-live a memory. Memories which can be passed down through multiple generations.
Not everyone is lucky enough to make it to this years family portraits. Some don't live long enough to make it to their baby's high school graduation, or wedding. They miss out on those belly laughs. The memories created, the tears of joy and quivers of excitement. While others mourn their absence.
As a photographer, mentor and friend, I urge you to please consider this before criticizing yourself in every image. Value yourself, and find peace in your being.
Because despite every wrinkle, every scar, and every never-failing imperfection. You were there.