Milestone birthday and photo shoot!
This may sound obvious for those of you who are in a higher plane philosophically than I am, and maybe others figure this out much earlier in life than at 50 years old. But I am guessing that there are at least a few of you who struggle with the same things that I do when it comes to self image, self love, and self judgment. I had a revelation this week. I think I began to accept myself for who I am.
It was an eventful week, with me and my husband and six-year-old jumping on an airplane and going to Seattle for the first time together since we moved to Virginia three and a half years ago. The occasion was my early 50th birthday party. We stayed for four nights and saw as many friends as we possibly could in such a short time.
Included in the festivities was a photo shoot that lasted about six hours. It was the full treatment: hair and makeup, mimosas, various iterations of wardrobe and poses. It was a ton of fun. With me were my mother, Sally Rose, and my best girlfriend since middle school, Gail. The shoot was at BPhoto, which is a studio run by friends of mine in Seattle. Their concept is natural light photography. So, no flash, no hot lights, just filtered natural light through sheer curtains. But it didn't stop at the production concept. There was something about the whole day that resonated with me, and with Gail, and I am guessing with my mother as well. I could see the change take place as soon as one of us began posing. The way that Darryl Bernstein managed us in front of the camera was remarkable. Gail and I compared notes later on this, and it was beautiful how comfortable we each felt.
The reason for the photo shoot was that I wanted to capture images of my mother and me together for a future book jacket authors' shot. We are working on a tandem memoir, and since I don't get to Seattle very often, I thought I'd take the occasion of my 50th birthday party weekend to schedule the shoot with her. Having professional hair and makeup done was a splurge, so we had the shoot the same day as the party, so we'd already be made up.
It feels shallow to admit this now, but I had been stressing for weeks about losing weight for the photo shoot and for the party, mad at myself for having put on about 15 pounds since I got to my skinny Weight Watchers success story level a couple of years ago. At some point within the couple of weeks leading up to the trip, I'd had to accept the fact that I wasn't going to reach my goal. I felt defeated. I have always been able to reach goals when I set my mind to something. I consoled myself by reminding myself that my knee had gone out and I hadn't been able to go running in five or six weeks.
I am so grateful to my best friend Gail for understanding my vanity without judgment. She said that she felt the same way. When I asked her if she wanted to join us in the photo shoot, have the glam hair and makeup treatment and have both individual shots and shots with both of us together, she almost didn't do it, saying she wished she could lose some weight first. But she said "yes."
Something happened to me when I was posing for the photos. Maybe it was the gentle way that my photographer friends managed the shoot, making us each feel beautiful, or maybe it was just how close they made us get to each other for the mother and daughter shots or the shots of me and Gail together. I found myself realizing, without seeing any of the finished photos, that I was going to love the finished product, because we were at our authentic best that day.
When Mom and I were posing together, Darryl had us sit so close that Mom's arms were around me. When Darryl was changing a memory card or distracted in some other way, Mom said to me, " I should have hugged you when you were little. I just didn't know any better, because my mother didn't hug me either." It was huge for me. We have bonded so much, from my writing the first draft of the book and Mom reading it to now adding her story to the book. Hers is a story that I didn't know, and that came out only after she read my draft. The entire process is transformational for us both.
And Gail and I have had our ups and downs as friends, too. There was a 16-year drought where we were not in touch. Finally, three and a half years ago, we mended our fences and it has been a truly wonderful re-building of a friendship that should never have lapsed. The photo shoot was great for both of us on an individual level and as great friends.
What I gained by the experience was only matched by what I lost. I lost the vanity factor. I don't mean entirely—I still wanted to look nice, but I was no longer worried about whether I was 15 pounds over my goal weight or whether it mattered to anyone else. My big revelation was that it matters to NOBODY. I finally gave myself the same grace that I have given everyone around me. I love them no matter what they weigh. And they feel the same about me.
I figured this out before I got to my party. It was liberating. I saw friends I hadn't seen in over three years. Some had gained weight. Some had lost weight. I was probably about the same as when I left Seattle, but the point was that it didn't matter. The love I felt from my best Seattle friends was profound. I am positive nobody cared at all about my size or shape because I didn't care at all about theirs. I was just so happy to see them and hug them and be in the company of true friends, that it was profoundly moving to me how much energy I have wasted over the years on the superficial.
Perhaps it comes with mid life. There is a lot that looks different to me these days. In a lot of ways, I wish that 20 years ago I had felt how I feel today. It would have saved so much energy. On the other hand, maybe it's the journey that was necessary to finally accept myself. Whatever it took, I'm glad that I finally understand what is really important in this world, and it isn't the number on the scale or the size pants one wears. It’s amazing what this photo shoot did for me. I hope every woman who is feeling insecure can capture the sense of personal acceptance that my experience at BPhoto gave me.