Carl and I had our engagement photos last week, an endeavor that undid me completely.
For someone who has been the subject of photo shoots for most of my life, this reaction to the impending shoot was out of character.
My mom is, and always has been, a photographer. She has the lights, the backdrops, the fancy cameras complete with lenses. I know because I was the one carrying her heavy camera bag on every vacation we ever took. I know just how fancy that thing is.
This provided for many a beautiful picture of my life growing up, with especially lovely senior portraits that I still kind of love. It also provided me with an education—picking up little bits and pieces about shot composition and lighting.
But it also provided me with a lifetime of resentment and frustration at the woman pointing the camera in my face.
I’m not sure what it was about my mom and her camera that was so irritating to me, but picture time before school dances was the absolute worst.
While other people’s parents pulled out a point-and-shoot for their kids and their dates, my mom had us off in a corner, the perfect lighting warming our faces, her taking a few shots before lunging at me to move a piece of hair, then taking a thousand more.
While now I must admit that my homecoming and prom photos were pretty great (and perfectly lit), and while I can see my mom’s sweet love for me, and desire to photograph the moments in my life as they unfolded, I can still remember the particularly vicious brand of adolescent fury that would arise from me as photos took longer than I wanted them to.
And lucky for all of us, there are several photos from each dance in which I’m scowling through the camera at my offensive photographer.
But, her incessant photographing of me as a kid helped me become quite comfortable in front of a camera, something that’s proven exceptionally useful in my career as a storyteller and my schooling as a broadcast journalist.
All of that to say, my nerves about our engagement shoot were totally unlike me. Cameras don’t phase me.
But the day before our photos, I went on a frantic shopping spree to all of the stores in our tiny little town, looking for some outfit that would photograph well, or miraculously produce the photos that I wanted but didn’t even know how to picture, let alone describe.
And it was in one of those dressing rooms that I had a particularly horrible moment.
Can I just say that dressing rooms are one of life’s cruelest forms of torture?
Why in the world would stores that are trying to sell you on the fact that you look good in their clothes create such a tiny space with such a horrible mirror, and even worse lighting that brings out every single flaw until you’re crawling out of there, hands empty and insecurity dragging sadly behind you?
But that’s what happened in that dressing room. The body that I’ve been trying to care for, that I’ve been making do Pilates, and forcing to run three days a week, stared back at me and was imperfect beyond my ability to even really look at it for more than a second.
“It’s the lighting and the mirrors and the angle,” I tried to tell myself soothingly. But still, the body that stared back at me in the mirror did not reflect the progress I thought I’d made towards being healthy and strong, and did not reflect the kind of body I wanted to claim as my own.
Dammit, dammit, dammit.
And so as I walked out of the store, swimming in self-pity and frustration, I had one fleeting, possibly life-changing thought.
What if I never had a perfect body?
It was this daring thought, something I’d never really allowed myself to think before.
I’ve always been the person who is striving to improve, believing fully that there’s going to be a day at some point here when I look like a Victoria’s Secret model without even trying. I believe there will be a day when cellulite has magically disappeared, when I look absolutely perfect in every outfit, every mirror, from every angle.
And in that tiny, fleeting moment I wondered what would happen if I just gave up.
I’m not talking about health, I know the benefits of water, and broccoli, and exercise. What I’m talking about is the incessant pressure I put on myself to become perfect, like one day I’ll finally say the magic words and all of my physical insecurities will be a thing of the past.
Really, what would happen if we just gave up?
What if perfection wasn’t the target anymore? What if health was? What if we accepted the things about our bodies that are totally normal and totally imperfect? What if, instead of restricting ourselves from all of the delicious food in the world and exercising obsessively, we just accepted the hips that have a bit of womanly padding to them? What if we loved ourselves even with our thighs touching? And what if a lack of cellulite wasn’t the requirement for beauty and love and sexiness?
Every single woman has something they don’t like about their body. My skinniest, most stunning friends have qualms about their legs, and butts, and love handles.
And if they can’t feel confident, then I think we’re all just screwed.
Or, maybe we aren’t.
What if the bodies we fall in love with weren’t the strategically placed ones on the covers of magazines, and instead were just our own? What if we got over the fact that we’re short, or tall, or heavier in the middle, or too skinny up top? What if we just decided that good enough is good enough, and that we’re going to take care of our bodies instead of refusing them love until they conform to our idea of perfection?
What if we never had perfect bodies, but learned to love the ones that we do have?
(Maybe you’ve had this thought before, but it’s currently blowing my mind.)
Bodies do miraculous things. I’ve seen ordinary women create tiny humans — the cutest little darlings I’ve ever seen — seriously, a miracle.
My body is able to love Carl, it’s able to wrap its arms around his neck, able to slow dance with him in the living room, and able to kiss his perfectly soft cheeks.
My body is able to run a 5K (see how I slipped that in there?) and do Pilates and take long walks.
My body is able to sleep and digest food and heal itself when I’m sick, and look pretty darn good in a pair of jeans.
We are all different. We, as women, are all shaped differently, all molded uniquely, and all have quirks that make each of us unique.
And I just wonder what would happen if we if we gave ourselves a pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card, and allowed ourselves to just enjoy how we are?
Our bodies aren’t made to be statues of perfection. They’re meant to make babies, and make love. They’re meant to dance and to sleep and to snuggle. They’re made to eat cookies and eat icing with a spoon, and run, and be strong. They’re made to work and hold and kiss and love.
Our bodies are amazing, and I just wonder what would happen if we started treating them that way.
My body isn’t perfect, and I’m learning to get over it. Want to join me?