As any introvert will tell you, spending time at a party with people you don’t know while being forced to make small talk is a most difficult task. Think nails down a chalkboard while being stuck in an elevator with a baby crying kind of difficult. The anxiety I feel on the days and hours leading up to such an event can sometimes be downright brutal. When I finally arrive and settle in, I nearly always have a fantastic time and come home feeling a deep level of satisfaction. Why? Because I need to be social and I genuinely like spending time with my friends. It also allows me to stretch me beyond my comfort zone and allows for the possibility of meeting new and interesting people.
Such was the case last Halloween.
Brooke and I met while at my friend Mel’s house for a Halloween get together last year. Brooke, I learned, was a professional photographer who was extremely passionate about creating art through photography. We chit-chatted a bit about cameras and that was about the extent of our conversation. Little did I know that our meeting would lead to a lovely friendship and teach me a valuable lesson about myself.
For the past few months Brooke and I have discussed the idea of collaborating on a project together. I’ve been working on a series of mixed media pieces featuring Mother Earth/Nature as the subject and she proposed the idea of doing a photo shoot of me as a ‘living’ Mother Earth. I eagerly said yes and was incredibly excited about being involved in such a creative project. When the day of the shoot came, I started to panic.
Believe it or not, I hadn’t really given much thought to the idea that people would actually be seeing these photos. Even though we’d discussed it. And decided that we’d cross-promote our project on each others website/social media pages. I suppose I didn’t allow myself to think about the complexities of this venture for fear that I would chicken out, so I just didn’t think about it at all. Period. As the day arrived however, I started thinking plenty!
I spent most of my twenties and beyond dodging the camera at every opportunity because of my self-esteem issues and morbid obesity. I suddenly realized that I was about to expose myself for all to see. True, the weight has been off for over 8 years but the loose skin remains – and I would be in a strapless costume. Oh, boy – what did I get myself into?
Brooke has the kind of personality that immediately makes her subjects feel comfortable and safe. That should have been enough for me to trust her completely but instead, I felt compelled to warn her about my ‘problem’ areas. I stood in front of the mirror with costume on and pointed out my upper arms, my stomach, my -
I stopped. What was I doing? This was not the person who admires women who age gracefully. Where was the woman who’d recently applauded the strength of a cancer survivor for baring all her scars for the entire world to see? Talk about hypocrisy at its most raw form. I was ashamed of myself. Fear, as always, is a dark horse.
I decided at that moment that I was not going to mention another word about my body. I wasn’t going to think about sucking in my stomach or reconsider stretching my arms out to my side if I was asked. I was simply going to go out there, be grateful for the moment, for this opportunity – and appreciate the gift of being able to work with another artist.
When the shoot was over I felt exhilarated. Without having seen a single image (except for one or two on the camera screen) I genuinely felt good about myself.
Fast forward to this afternoon. Brooke sent me a message stating that she was about to to Live with the first of the images. I became both excited and full of panic. My friend Kyra and I were in the middle of a conversation and I texted her that one of the first photos was coming out and that I was feeling a bit exposed and way out of my comfort zone. She was very supportive and reassuring. She gently pressed a bit by asking a very, very good question:
“Why does THIS picture make you feel exposed?”
I had no idea how to answer that question; I’ve been pondering it since.
The photo went Live at 6:00 PM this evening. Brooke wanted me to know that aside from fixing an issue with my eyelash she did not photoshop any other part of the image - and I’m glad.
Ashley Beige Photography