Sunlight + Shadows // Self Portrait

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sometimes I wonder who I am. How it is that two radically different sides can exist in one fluid and ever-changing and perhaps always mysterious and un-understandable we are.

In dreams you watch yourself, from above or from the side, much like a passerby - you watch as a detached spectator who observes freshly and without bias. Even if it is yourself whom you observe. 

Sweet and nice and girly and cute, that's what people label me. How they see me. Who they think I am. 

And if ever I deviate, they smile - sometimes openly, sometimes not - and think or say, "ah, she's trying to be different."

But I am not.

I have a sunlight + shadows self - the one that loves dark colors and photographs that depict raw, real moods + imagery and withdraws to hide in trees because sometimes life is too much and people are too loud and sometimes I'm the wildest introvert....that self is just as much me as the one people see on a daily basis.

"This isn't the real me, yet it is. 
There's different versions of me, and they're all the real me. 
And you know what? That kills me. 
It's too confusing. I'm not one person. 
I've got a twenty-something body, eight-year old heart,
 eighteen-year old mind, and eighty-year old soul." 
~All Cowboys Need Pretty Girls

We're told not to label people. But we do. And somewhere along the line we take it upon ourselves to decide who truly is multi-faceted and who is simply trying to be "cool." 

Authenticity is not a sin. Neither is change. 

There's something desperate and wild in realizing others have boxed and labeled you - even if they don't realize it. Because people see someone who loves to laugh and see an extrovert - and someone who is shy must be an introvert but never do they consider that a person can be both or neither and so much more. 

It's why artists reinvent themselves so much, I think. Because they can, they can change perspective, change approach, dabble in the grittiness of their art.

I took a self-portrait and it made me want to cry - an image of light and shadows playing across a face that belongs to me. And yet, one friend was startled upon seeing it. She gave that odd, humoring half-smile and I could hear it in her voice when she said, "That' of you." 

A kind, polite ah, she's trying to be different - how sweet.

We speak of arrogance and confession as weapons that hurt and break, but sometimes gentle words from loved ones shatter our protective shields more than anything. I remained silent, stung with surprise and hurt - and sudden, swift doubt. This photo that I had loved, one of the rare few at which I looked and thought I was beautiful, had induced amusement....and my mind whirled through possibilities. What had she seen that I had missed? was my face that made the image comical to her. That somehow, even this old friend had placed me in a box, a box and label out of which I was not allowed to attempt to alter or leave. 

I voiced the thought and there it was again, the loving 'silly girl' look and a polite apology. You just don't look like yourself, she tried. 

To be told you don't look like yourself by someone else, someone who has no idea who you truly are, someone who can never fully read and comprehend the myriad of thoughts in your mind, the deep-seated emotions and fears that form you as the person you are...

It hurts. And I wonder again, wearily, if I really am beautiful. Or if my friend, who tells me constantly without provocation that I am, only finds me beautiful because she cares for me and because she sees the goodness in people - when in reality - my face, my body do not conform to the aesthetic principle of beauty. 

I stumbled upon these drop-dead gorgeous photos of Hannah, a girl whose soul is as beautiful as her photography, and my breath was taken away. Tears leaked from my eyes along with hurt - because I understand how she feels. I understand her disbelief upon seeing those pictures, of her saying in wonder, 'I'm...almost...beautiful.'

She is. I, and all others who see her work and read her words know this. But I know all too well the stifling sense of self-doubt as a photographer in regards to one's own beauty. 

We know how to capture others, become so used to hunting for the expression that makes their face light up with joy, with light. We are masters at making others feel beautiful, at garnering that response from them when they see the final pictures. 

But who photographs the photographer? Who gives the woman behind the camera that same grace, that same gift of showing their beauty and hidden light? I cried at those pictures of the beautiful girl in the red dress, because I see myself in her - I feel the same disbelief towards myself. Understand, I know I am beautiful. It is rare though, that I truly feel it. I try so hard to hide my body. I am not proud of its entirety

I miss feeling beautiful. I miss feeling like me. I miss actually liking the skin I am in. I miss feeling that for once, I can relax because there will be few "bad" pictures. 

The tears surprise me - they come late at night and without warning, suddenly provoked by breathtaking images of a real, raw girl standing in a dark lake and clad in a crimson dress. She is beautiful - and I understand. And so, I am fiercely, triumphantly happy for her.

I too, once felt that beautiful. In a red dress also, no less. It was many years ago, and my body has changed since then. Perhaps one day, I will feel that way again. I think I am on my way.


  1. This is absolutely beautiful Grace. I don't know how I missed this post, but I love it.