A few weeks ago I was asked to do a series of mini portrait sessions. I was more than happy to help out and the shoots were a fun break from studying. Everyone was happy with the results – except one. It wasn’t the quality of the images, the lighting or post processing – it was wrinkles, aging and ugliness. I was floored. What? Here was a woman, easily one of the most beautiful girls in our class – and brilliant too. Someone I secretly had a huge girlcrush on. And our perception couldn’t be more different.
As a photographer I’ve had the privilege of shooting some truly beautiful people over the years – beautiful inside and out. But working with women sometimes can break your heart. Because looking through the lens often reveals years of insecurity, worry and self-doubt. Where I see beauty and vitality, others only see wrinkles, freckles, chubby cheeks and dark circles.
My greatest photographic triumph isn’t an exhibition, a major client or capturing some show-stopping image in a remote corner of the earth. When I was just starting out, I photographed a gorgeous girl and on sharing the images with her, she told me “I never though I could be so beautiful.” To this day, hearing that is such a thrill. To allow someone to see them as I see them, to give them confidence, reminds me why I do what I do.
I came across this awesome video this morning and couldn’t wait to share. It’s a commercial by Dove, but it also poignantly captures how critical we can be of ourselves – especially women.
And just because I know I can use a reminder to be kinder to myself, here’s my favorite self portrait. It is not perfect. My hair is blowing over my face, my lips are tinged blue, and I’ve got dark circles from sleep deprivation. My skin is breaking out and feels terrible. I feel like crap because I’ve been trekking in Tibet and have been really struggling with the altitude. But when I look at this, I remember dawn breaking over Nam-Tso lake and relive the entire experience. A few years ago, I would never have imagined traveling so far on my own, or that I could endure such a physical challenge. So when I look at this image, instead of all my imperfections I want to see courage, endurance and fearlessness. We are capable of so much. Beauty and limitation begin with our thoughts and end with self perception.