I love taking photographs of special events in my life. My collection of photos includes happy moments of family and friends playing instruments, laughing, or having playful conversations at cookouts. But the moment someone else takes the camera, I freak out. This isn’t just because the camera is my own and is something I have worked hard to earn. It’s because it’s pointed at me.
What if they don’t capture my good side? What if they zoom in too closely?
How many of us nervously grab a phone or camera immediately after a picture has been snapped to see how we look in it? That was me. I had gone so far as to warn warn my friends not to post photos of me on Facebook or Instagram unless I approved them first.
I wasn’t always like this. As a teenager and college student, I knew how to work the camera. I was unabashedly confident. But as I hit my late ’20s, I became increasingly self-conscious. I no longer looked like the younger versions of myself when I felt effortlessly beautiful; I didn’t measure up to the women in my Instagram feed and in magazines.
Soon I refused to ever have my photo taken except when I was having a good hair day, my eyelashes were curled, and my eyeliner rimmed my eyes perfectly. Of course, a face-flattering filter was a necessary part of the process before any photo was posted.
One day, I arrived to a church meeting sans makeup, with my thick-framed glasses on and hair au natural. An acquaintance stopped in the middle of telling a story to exclaim, “Wow, you look so beautiful without makeup!”
Bam. Her gracious burst of affirmation shocked me, and I was taken aback. Had I been judging myself too harshly? I don’t know how I picked up on the lies challenging my self-image, but one casual remark from a stranger reminded me of the truth: I didn’t need to edit myself in any way.
I’m certainly not alone in my fear of impromptu photos with friends. A whole genre of portrait photography, known as phototherapy, has emerged to help those being photographed discover what makes them beautiful or unique. It’s a therapeutic form of photography that allows the subject to accept their body as is—no Photoshop or airbrushing included.
Pioneers in phototherapy include Ashlee Wells Jackson of the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project and Jade Beall of A Beautiful Body Project, both of whom photograph pregnant and postpartum bodies in all their glory. “The project exists because women are judged too crudely on the way we look and are often told we don’t measure up,” Jackson states on her site. In these photographs, stretch marks are treasured as trophies, and every line in a woman’s face represents the joys or trials she has experienced.
In her book, The Body of Mothers, Beall beautifully captures stories of pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, and parenthood through photography. Her subjects include pregnant women with growing bellies, mothers breastfeeding their babies, and women proudly showing off the scars that have become a testament to their stories.
With over-edited models on magazine covers and ads, it’s no wonder more and more women may feel self-conscious, adding on extra makeup, hair extensions, or even plastic surgery. One cosmetic company in Michigan, for instance, tells women to “go confidently”—by getting plastic surgery. The ads set off a chain reaction among women in Grand Rapids, who joined a local photographer in capturing individuals of all ages and life stages—without digital enhancing. The response campaign, “Go Boldly,” has inspired men, women, and even children to love their bodies as they are.
“We don’t want an ad staring at us from the air on a huge billboard reminding us of our body’s imperfections,” said photographer Bri Luginbill. For the past year, she has been reminding women of their inherent beauty by hosting photo shoots and small group sessions to boost women’s self-esteem.
After I was affirmed in my natural beauty, I began to post photos as they were taken. It was difficult at first—I recoiled at the idea of appearing without makeup or photo-editing, but after a couple of photos, it began to get easier to see myself as I am. The truth is, every woman is uniquely beautiful in her own way, and comparing ourselves to airbrushed images in magazines, or other women around us, only hinders us from offering the natural grace that we individually bring to the world.
Let’s encourage one another in this area; the simplest affirmation can do so much for a person! I invite you to see yourself through the eyes of those who love you. Instead of dissecting our own images and correcting every inch of ourselves digitally, let’s put away the photo editors and post the photos as they are taken: with genuine smiles, laughing eyes, wild hair, and a sprinkling of freckles.
All the things that make you your irreplaceable self.