Beauty is a mysterious thing. We know it when we see it, but most of us can’t when it’s familiar to us and perhaps especially so when it’s closest to home in our own faces and bodies. It’s something I struggle with, and I’m betting many of you do as well. It’s important to learn how to recognize our beauty though, and not just in the manner of seeing the beauty in one’s inner personality and spirit. Vanity and pride are often considered sins but liking, even loving, our appearance is a part of self-confidence and valuing ourselves. Besides, what girl doesn’t want to be seen as pretty, wants to believe that she is? Not thinking so can be as harmful or more than being too certain of being able to trade on one’s looks. Like, I said, it’s an area I personally find difficult, and I recently did something really scary to face it. It helped me, and I’m hoping you’ll consider trying the same thing for yourself.
My friend, Jessica, is launching True You Photography, a boudoir experience aimed at helping women see themselves through the eyes of the people around them, and showing them how beautiful they really are. Instead of focusing on creating images to share with a lover or partner, although those may result from a session, the idea is to reflect into a camera lens that gorgeousness that other people see when they look at you, so that you can see it too. Looking in a mirror isn’t the same because those images are fleeting, while a still photo captures your beauty forever and lets you look at it even when you aren’t feeling your best. Plus, perhaps more importantly, the entire experience of working with someone like Jessica and her photographer, taught me a few things about being pretty that made it a little easier to like the skin I’m in.
It’s easy to think of beauty as some immutable quality of the features of the face, a story of the proportions of the body. It is not. Or rather, it is not only that. It’s not so simple as to say it is what shines from within, but it is what is reflected in expressions and body language. It is the emotions in your eyes, the way in which you hold your head, your torso, your limbs, your hands, even your feet. The people who love us can see that, but we often can’t because of how aware we are in the mirror, how conscious we are of the camera. While boudoir is in a studio so you know the photographer is right there, Jessica was a distraction and a guide to help me ignore the camera. Somehow, it’s different when a person in front of you tells you to smile at her, and not a voice behind a lens. More, she taught me some of the tricks models use so that the pixels and film pick up what looks natural to us in real life. Turns out there’s a reason most of us look like awkward baby zebras in pictures, and it’s because the camera doesn’t capture exactly what the eye sees unless you help it along a little. An excellent photographer makes a difference, but how the subject holds herself does too.
Celebrities and models can be intimidating. We use them as standards of beauty, and then despair of being able to meet them. Much of what makes them attractive even unposed, though, is their clothing and hair and makeup. We forget, I think, that they often have teams of helpers to create those looks and, more importantly, that putting all that together can be learned skills. Natural talent is unnecessary, and my experience with Jessica helped show me that as she guided me through the process and shared with me how she learned it, is still learning it even as a working model. Applying makeup and arranging hair and accessories can be learned from YouTube, a friend, or a hired professional if you’re willing to ask for the lesson. Outfits can be copied from the Internet, and there are thousands upon thousands of websites, blogs, vlogs, and social media accounts that can help you learn the principles of the style you want to have for yourself. Some online retailers will even sell you the complete look, or you can go to a virtual or in-person shopper or stylist and tell them who or what you want to look like.
True You wasn’t just about capturing the me that others see, though it’s helpful to have those reminders when I’m feeling like an ugly girl. Like the candid portraits Tamara Keel has taken, these more composed shots are a way I can see and I can show others me at my very best, but in a more deliberate way that takes away some of the luck and serendipity element in favor of intentionally bringing together the elements of good photos. It was also a journey and an insight into how beautiful images – both in photos and in life – are created. Not only do I have a way of comparing apples to apples when I put my pictures next to a professional model’s, I know and can appreciate how much work has gone into both sets of pictures. Having an introduction to the skills that are involved, and the resources that are available, makes looking in the mirror so much less discouraging because the idea of me being pretty is now so much more accessible. It might not be easy, or easy yet, but the tools and the skills can be had and learned and applied to me.
I’m not saying that everyone should have the goal of being conventionally attractive, but it’s nice to have the tools to do so when we want to be. I’m also not saying that you need a boudoir photography session that reflects conventional beauty, just one that shows off your individual, unique beauty, fully and completely. It might seem like a frivolity, a vanity, but I suspect more of us struggle with remembering and believing how gorgeous we are than with wasting time preening in front of a mirror or selfie-cam. Because that’s so, I’d argue to you that it’s important – even vital – to have tangible proof that you can pick up every time you doubt that you are, in fact, beautiful. And if you’re still having trouble with the idea, well, you’ll know it’s not opaque magic because you’ll know what kind of effort you’d need to get closer to the ideal you have in your head, then be able to decide if it’d be worthwhile or if that knowing is enough to make you realize how pretty you are after all.
PS – Want the exact same experience I had? True You has open books in the Pittsburgh metro area! PM me for contact info. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some other images from my shoot over on my Instagram stories for the next few days.