I’m a freelance photographer, meaning the majority of my job is taking pictures of people who are not used to having their photo taken. I hear it all: “You can retouch me to look 10 years younger, right?” a stunning 30-year-old woman asks sarcastically.
“Can you smooth out my wrinkles?”
“I don’t like how my hair looks on this side. Can you make sure to always shoot from the left?”
“Ahhh! I have two chins!”
Hold on. Aren’t we supposed to be more accepting of our bodies these days? We’ve got Dove’s incredible Real Beauty campaign; all the body-positive, #nomakeup, #fatkini, and #realnotretouched movements on Instagram; and clothing companies like Aerie and Runway Riot trying to be more diverse in size, color, and shape. But a lot of times when I’m behind the lens, it seems like all of these efforts aren’t diminishing our negative thoughts about our bodies.
It seems like all of these efforts aren’t diminishing our negative thoughts about our bodies.
I’m guilty too. In sixth grade, I found out that I had growth hormone deficiency, and most likely would only grow to about 4 feet 4 inches as an adult. I prayed to God every night, asking to grow taller. My prayers would come true—if I took growth hormone shots every day. After many tearful nights, I decided it was worth it.
My world became a blur of doctor visits, the constant smell of alcohol wipes, monthly blood tests, and small bruises that covered my body from the shots I took night after night. Eventually, I had to learn how to give myself the medicine, because my mom was not about to join me on every camping adventure and sleepover. I would sit in the kitchen, crying until I built up the courage to do it, and my parents would steer clear so that I could learn to calm down and not rely on them. I felt like I had no choice. I didn’t think I could be happy if I stayed 4 foot 4.
I grew almost five shoe sizes in one year and made it to five foot one, so you would assume I was content and happy with my height, but that was not the case. I could always find something to feel self-conscious about: my pale skin, the chicken pox scar on my forehead, how I have to wear shorts under my dresses because my thighs hurt when they rub together, or how my eyes can cross a little when I look at something close up.
The list goes on, but what finally helped me triumph over those insecurities was more than just saying, I’m going to accept myself. Instead, I started asking, Where does my worth come from?
Thinking I am ugly, not valuable, or unimportant only leads to self-hatred, depression, and insecurity. What changed it all was the process of intentionally seeking value in other people.
As a photographer in New York City, the capital of the fashion world, I understand how easy it is to feel defeated when seeing an unflattering photo of yourself. I understand why someone dislikes the way their nose looks from the side. I understand what it feels like when you don’t see more images of women that look like you in the media. I wish I could change all of it, but even if I take the most beautiful photo of you, it will only make you feel beautiful temporarily.
I get to share the magic found in normal people, magic that can be captured in anyone.
That is why photography is much more than taking a polished picture. Instead of selling a product, a physical feature, or an ideal, I get to share the magic found in normal people, magic that can be captured in anyone. Portraiture allows me to find dignity, power, and magic in the ordinary.
A young woman around my age said it best when I asked her what she thought about having her portrait taken:
“I’ve always been shy about having my picture taken: in part because it was a rarity for so long, but also because of how distorted my self-perception used to be. I was shocked when you asked to take my picture; I was shocked that the beautiful face you captured was mine. Having my picture taken reminded me that it’s a healthy, and dare I say, holy practice to seek beauty in ourselves as well as others. If I think terribly of myself, then there’s no telling who else I’m underselling.”
That is what being a photographer is all about for me. I get to intentionally create a space where someone knows that I find them worth photographing, worth getting to know, worth the time, and worth my attention. Stepping behind the lens has allowed me to see beauty in others time and time again, and ultimately reminds me of the beauty in my own life, even when I can’t see or feel it.
My life is important. The way I act, the work I create, the people I invest in, my faith, and the legacy that I leave are important. And that to me is way more valuable than growing six more inches. It’s a continual fight of reworking what I interpret from the world and the media, but it’s worth it. And each day I get to encourage myself as I encourage those who step in front of my camera: You are worth so much more than a photograph or what I can offer you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life and for being part of mine.
This article was written by Julia Hembree from Greatist and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.