In April of this year, a photographer friend of mine ask if she could come over to “capture” a typical “schooling” day at my house so she could practice her skills at photo storytelling. I was immediately honoured she would ask and then instantly terrified.
Yes, I loved the idea of capturing the essence of these days I spend with my children. I knew she would do it in an artistic and loving way. I knew she would look for and capture the things I see daily but often fail to take note of; I knew I would treasure these photos for all my days and that my children would look back at them and see the love we shared together while we whittled away our time learning about poetry. There was little doubt I wanted these photos done.
But … there still existed a great deal of personal conflict.
“Come into my house – where my things are – where I have stuffed the nooks and crannies full of learning materials and literal material and art supplies and books – the piles and stacks and shelves of books. Come into my house where we live with my mess –where my “eclectic” home décor is on display and will be photographed. Like evidence of my weakness as a – home maker.”
“Come into my house – where my children live – where they fight and bicker and carry on like half civilized creatures – where they leave dirty underwear on the floor and just step over it rather than pick it up and at least hide it from guests. Like evidence of my weakness as a – parent.” “Come into my house and witness my lack of a “typical” system of educating my children – the lack of structure and scope and sequence. The lack of correct spelling, correct multiplication, the messy handwriting and reluctant students who abhor all the writing – when they need only to add their names to the paper in front of them. Like evidence of my weakness as an educator.” But mostly – the real heart of the problem was much – much closer to home.
“Come into my house – where I live. Where you will see how tight this shirt is on me despite it fitting just a month ago. Where the defining lines of my face looks like they have been erased and smeared and blended into my neck and ears. You want to come here and take photos of me … me … but I don’t look at me, I don’t look in the mirror anymore, no, not in a long time. I jump into the shower before I even glimpse a shred of skin – I haven’t looked for me in a very long time. The photos will only capture a woman hiding under a mask of denial and preserve forever that woman … that was going to be hard to accept. Like evidence of my weakness … and my resignation.
These were not pretty feelings … I could clean my house up, tune the kids up, hide the underwear, and I could come up with a simple lesson plan which would fill the morning and the need to be seen doing “learning.” But I would never be able to find myself under the weight in time– I knew I would have to look and see and be seen as I was. Yet despite the pain this might bring about – I needed to let the photos be taken, for me, for them, and for all the right reasons I knew to be true because that was what mattered and would matter most in the long run.
Afterward, I was unable to return to my cozy bed of denial. Because I became anxiously obsessed with what I would see in the final photos. The waiting, however, had a peculiar effect on me. I began to get tired of my own self-criticism; of my own tired thinking about my body. It was just too much to “carry” around. I needed to stop and get off the endless ride of shame.
I could hide my head and live forever in my denial or I could confront what I knew to be true despite every effort to ignore it and then make a change. It wasn’t easy.
These photos were taken 5 months ago – and I have since been making efforts to find my “happy” body. I am pleased to say that I have had some success. I am seeing hints of myself again and it feels good. I am not expecting to turn back the clock and become some young whipper snapper version of myself again but I do want to see my natural smile again, to see my jaw line again – even with its pokey chin. I don’t envision a sleek body, just one which is healthier, because I can garauntee that when I do see it in the mirror, I will see reflected a happier inner me.
The photos are everything I hoped they would be – they are a beautiful story of my life here with these extraordinary people. I will treasure them always – look over them often and I am certain my family will value them forever.
I am not surprised by how I appear in them but I can look at them and know that if not for these photos, I might still feel trapped in someone else’s body. These photos have been my crucible, my catalyst – I will look on them and remember. These photos have made all the difference.
Many thanks, much sincere gratitude and all photo credits to my talented friend, Peggy Knaak, at Sunbeams and Freckles