What I’ve learned from being photographed (with & without my kids)

 

Being photographed.

For a lot of us the very idea is terrifying. Get in front of a camera? Voluntarily? No thanks! 

We’ll often force ourselves to do it for the sake of our kids when we do a family photography session, or when the occasion demands it, such as at a wedding. But we don’t enjoy it. And if you’re anything like I used to be, you avoid looking at those photos if you can. 

Why? 

Because you tell yourself that you don’t like the way you appear in those photos.

Maybe you think you look awkward. Maybe you don’t like being reminded of how uncomfortable you felt. Or maybe, like me, you’re not happy with the way you look, and so you avoid having to even chance a glimpse of a double-chin, dimpled thigh or wrinkled brow. 

I totally get it. I was exactly the same 12 months ago. 

 
 
Self-portrait on my 36th birthday

Self-portrait on my 36th birthday

 
 

I’m overweight you see. I haven’t always been, and that’s what makes it harder. I’m also in my mid-30s with two kids, and it’s terrifying how much the aging process speeds up once you age over 35 or spend a few years of your life not sleeping and barely surviving the trenches of motherhood. 

The last thing I wanted to do was be reminded of all that by a photograph. Don’t get me wrong, I know all about the body-positivity movement (be comfortable in your skin, big or small you’re beautiful!) but as we all know, loving yourself in all your imperfect glory is so often easier said than done.

I know academically all the reasons why it’s important to get in the frame for and with my kids. Heck, I’ve been telling my clients that for years! But it wasn’t until last May when I spent time with some of my beautiful photographer friends, and had my own photo shoot, that I realised the true reason why I hated being photographed and then was able to truly began to believe both that I was beautiful AND that I was worthy of getting in front of the camera and just how important it really is.  

 
 
The first self-portrait I took after a photography retreat on the Gold Coast in May 2018

The first self-portrait I took after a photography retreat on the Gold Coast in May 2018

 
 
 

You see, what I’ve come to realise over the last 12 months (and the realising and mind-shifting is an ongoing process to this day) is that what was really holding me back from getting in the frame wasn’t how I looked at all, but rather how I thought. 

I’ve realised that my reluctance to get in the frame goes much deeper than simply not being happy with my physical appearance, but relates directly to how much I value myself. 

In the 5 and a half years since I had my second child I’ve struggled with my self-worth and depression rooted in the belief that I was a failure. A failure as a mother, a failure as a wife, a failure as a human being. If I’m being totally honest, it’s something that I’ve struggled with for much longer, probably most of my life. 

Some people cope with the negative voices in their head really well, other people (like myself and many others) don’t. Does that make me a failure? Of course not!

But try telling that to my stupid brain!

 
 
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While I’ve always struggled with the voice of self-doubt, the stress & unknowns of parenting led me on a massive downward spiral of negative self talk and it took a toll both mentally & physically. 

By 2016 I’d convinced myself that I was worthless. That I was a failure. A shitty Mum, a shitty wife, a shitty daughter & sibling & friend, a shitty photographer and business owner. Basically I convinced myself that I was a shitty human being and not worth anything to anyone, especially myself.

By the end of 2017 I was tired. Tired of myself. I was spending so much time fighting with the voices in my head that by the time 2018 dawned I was ready to just give up.

Something had to give. 

 
 
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It had been my practice for the previous few years to choose one word at the start to guide my intentions through that year. In the end it was just another thing to “fail” at. So in 2018 I didn’t choose a word and decided to just ‘go with the flow’. 

I was going to to take the pressure off myself to “be a better person” and “love myself” in an effort to drown out those voices, and just live by the saying “near enough is good enough” (which any perfectionist will tell you is an excruciating thing to do!).

By the time we reached May I was starting to feel much better. It turns out giving less f%#ks can be a liberating thing! I found myself getting on a plane and travelling to the Gold Coast to spend 3 days with a group of beautiful souls I’d met via an online photography group.

At some point during those three days there was talk about photographing women and self-portraits. As I listened to these women (Robyn Regan & Claire Searle in particular) talk and share their passion and the reasons behind it, something inside me started to shift.  

Over the next few days I pondered their words. Claire had asked me while at the retreat why I didn’t take/get photos of myself and I gave some throwaway line about being too lazy and not having the time.

But as I thought about her question more I came to realise that the real reason I didn’t bother to get in the frame was because of those voices telling me I was worthless, stupid, weird.

 
 
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I realised I’d been hiding behind my camera, particularly in social situations, in an effort to try and escape those thoughts & feelings I’ve carried throughout the years. And by trying to escape them, they’d only grown stronger in the shadows until one day they were the only thing I could see & hear.

I realised that I’d been avoiding getting in front of the camera myself because in doing so, I would be forced to look at myself and see all the things I’d been trying to run away from for so long. In my mind, those things were represented by my multiple chins, dimpled thighs & wrinkled brow, a physical representation of my “worthlessness”.

Two days after I got back from that retreat I set up my camera & tripod in the kitchen and told the girls we were going to play and take some photos. They couldn’t believe that Mummy was going to be IN the photos as well, and we had a great time together there on the floor, with the girls running back & forth pressing the shutter button to trigger the self-timer. I didn’t take any time to change my clothes or do my hair I just sat down with them and played. 

Later, as I was going through the photos Zee walked in and said “Oh Mummy, I just love them!”. I was surprised by her enthusiasm and so I asked her why. She replied, in the most matter-of-fact, you-should-know-this-already voice “because we had so much fun playing, and you’re in them”. 

Cue all the tears! 

Up until that point I’d been looking at those photos and thinking about how terrible I looked. I was viewing them through the eyes of my inner-critic. It took a 4-year-old to really open my eyes to see beyond the physical appearance and see what those photos really showed... a loving Mum, two adoring daughter’s and a fun afternoon spent playing together and creating photos.

I went on to create 3 more self-portraits over the following days. Each time reminding myself not to worry so much about the end result and just focus on doing something for myself and for my girls. Creating images that might not be amazing, but that I had learned held a great value for my girls. 

 
 
June 2018: In creating this self-portrait, and letting go of those feelings of 6.5 years earlier I felt lighter and so liberated.

June 2018: In creating this self-portrait, and letting go of those feelings of 6.5 years earlier I felt lighter and so liberated.

 
 
 

A few weeks later the girls and I got dressed up to have a Mummy & Me photo shoot with Tarynn Walker. Normally I’d focus my efforts on dolling up the girls and neglect myself, but after the revelations of the last month I’d finally started to believe that I was worth dolling up too.

I bought a new dress, paid to have my make-up done professionally, and then proceeded to Centennial Park to spend an hour & half playing with the girls in the sand & leaves. It was so much fun! Almost a year later the girls still talk about how much they loved getting dressed up with me and exploring a new-to-them park.

When Tarynn started sending through the photos from our shoot I looked at them with new eyes. Not once before had I been able to look at a photo of myself without cringing & criticising.

This time it was different.

My first thought when I looked at them was how much I loved them! I didn’t care about my multiple chins, dimpled thighs or wrinkled brow, all I could see was the look of love on my face as I looked at my daughters, and the love on their faces as they looked at me.

The voices in my head had finally died. 

Haha, no, not really. I wish it were that easy to kill them!

 

Image Credit: Tarynn Walker


 

No, the voices are still there, but I’m getting better at not believing them so much. Being photographed with my girls and seeing their reactions to those photos, hearing them talk about how much they enjoy spending time with me (and seeing that proof in the photos) has taught me the real reason why it’s so important to get in front of the camera and take the damn photos. 

In their eyes I’m the most important person in the world, and I owe it to them and myself to exist in photographs as much as they do.  

You know what my favourite photos from my childhood are? The ones with my Mum in them. And there just aren’t enough of them. 

I’ve learnt just how much my girls love seeing me in photographs. Their answer when I ask why is always the same & so simple “because you’re in them!”. They don’t see any physical deficiencies, they just see the Mum they love.

I’m learning to believe that documenting MY story in photos is just as important for me and for them, in the same way that I’ve always believed in documenting stories for others is important.

So I’ll keep pushing myself to get in the frame, even when I don’t feel important enough or pretty enough. I’ll keep trying every day to stop believing those voices when they tell me I’m not enough, that I’m not worth getting in that frame.

Because I am worth it. 

And so are you