On the night I went looking for photographs, I knew something had to change.
I needed a few photos of me with my two young daughters for a video I was creating. So I sat in the blue glow of the computer screen, scrolling through files and folders, looking down deeper and deeper to find photos I was certain were there.
Where had they all gone? I wondered. Where were all the photos of us together?
The sad truth dropped like a weight in my gut: The photos were never taken.
Among the thousands of photographs I had snapped over the years, I found only a handful of me with my daughters.
At first, I blamed the lack of mother-daughter footage on the fact that I’m usually the one behind the camera. But that’s only partially true. The bigger truth is this: I have not wanted to be photographed.
At the computer, I copied and pasted those precious few photographs into one file folder—like a little treasure box that held rare jewels. The lump in my throat tasted like regret. I would never be able to rewind those years and snap the photos I’d missed.
I grieved the Christmas mornings when I, with mussed hair, scooted out of the shot that my husband was framing up. I grieved the pictures-that-never-were from summer afternoons, when I believed I was too pasty-skinned and “too fat.”
Oh, I wouldn’t have dared utter those words out loud, because I have never wanted my girls to hear their mother complain about her looks or weight.
No, I hadn’t spoken my insecurities aloud. But what had they read between the lines of my not-so-subtle escapes from photo shoots? And someday, when they grew older and wanted to find photos with their mom, they’d wonder, “Where have all the photos gone?”
Looking back, I have always hated the way I looked in pictures. I’m not even smiling in my senior pictures, because I had braces on.
As I grew older, I always figured the photos could wait until another day, after I lost 10 pounds, toned my upper arms, had a zit-free chin. But here’s the deal: even 41-year-old women get pimples. And while waiting for some elusive better-hair-day, I missed photo after photo.
Even in the best photos, I found flaws—for instance, the fact that one of my eyes is bigger than the other.
That night at the computer screen, I saw how scandalously critical I’d been about myself, and how I’d missed the opportunity to capture unrepeatable moments with my girls.
I realized that I had often seen myself as a series of ugly pieces, rather than as a whole woman, beautifully fashioned by an inventive God.
The truth rises up against those spurious self-accusations in places like Psalm 45:11. “The King is enthralled by your beauty.” Enthralled!
So I vowed a better way, to see myself whole. I said it like a pledge, and sometimes I have to repeat: I am lovely and brave and crooked and banged-up and beautiful, and, yes, rounder than I used to be. I am wrinkly and stray-grayed and goofy-smiley and courageous and scarred and gutsy enough to make babies. I am a wonder and a miracle, and my scars are part of my story. I am not a series of bad parts; I am whole.
MOM IN THE MIRROR
So I first wrote this article for my dear friend Emily Wierenga, as part of a series she was hosting in conjunction with the release of her 2013 book, Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty, and Life after Pregnancy. At the time, she had asked me for an author photo to go with this post, I thought of sending the polished head-shot that the professional photographer took a while back. But then, I changed my mind. I gave her the collage, above, with some mussed-up, no-lipstick, too-early-for-the-camera shots. That’s the ME me.
Photos, clockwise: Deidra Riggs and me being classy at Women of Faith; early-morning snapshot before Lydia’s ear surgery; silly kissy face, mwah!; wake-up-sleepy-head shot; pre-mammogram shot, while wearing standard-issue pink hospital gown (All was good in the mammo-hood!); Me, before I put on my moisturizer. (Nah, I’m just messin’ with you. THIS is me before moisturizer.)
Mirror Free Lent
While we’re at it, I’ll share the latest adventure from my #mirrorfreeLent. I got a call last week for a very exciting project that I’ll tell you about soon. The project involved (get this) A PHOTO SHOOT. (Insert sound of panic attack here.)
But I said yes.
And no, I didn’t look in the mirror before I went to the photo shoot. I stood in front of my mirrors, boldly, with my Hello Kitty robe, and I read the words on those preapproved printables, about who I really am. And a couple hours later, I went in front of the camera, not certain what I looked like, but assured that I am #preapproved.
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