(Before I go on, take a second to go and join our mailing list for a chance to WIN FREE THINGS! Also, you know, so you can stay on top of all the awesome stuff happening here at SOAM this year.)
(And one more thing – go check out this announcement for details on the main project of SOAM’s anniversary year!)
One of my favorite things I’ve encountered while working with SOAM is the different interpretations people have on things. Last week’s theme in the #soamweeklyphoto was Imperfection and while I spent all week trying to figure out how to get an artistic photo of some body flaw I haven’t spoken about here before with only an iPhone, other people were going deeper into their psyches for something maybe more meaningful.
“I would say the imperfection that bothers me the most about myself, is my lack of self motivation. I allow to many things get in the way of the things that need to be done. Living with anxiety and PTSD don’t help. My best imperfection is my body, I am doing my best to change my mind. I want to look at my body as a tool and vessel to teach my children love and acceptance.” – @sublimelypassionate2
“I thought this topic would be easy if I could photograph my skin, since acne is coming back and it has been emotionally and physically painful to deal with on and off for 20 years. I’ll just go deeper than that, because today just ‘went there.’ I have a recurring fear that I am not good enough for my family, not stable enough, not whatever… and when I get on that path of thinking it just gets really ugly. My imperfect past (as a recovering alcoholic can only know) is one I have to reckon with when I get these insecurities. And as debilitating as insecurity can be, must take the next indicated step, in order to be the best mother, wife, sister, friend that I can regardless of fear or other challenges.” – @catnamede
The women who have taken part in this project have continuously astounded me with their beauty, strength, and their willing to be vulnerable. I feel so lucky to be a part of this project. I can’t believe we are nearly at the end of the winter run – just a few more weeks until we break out the spring prompts! If you haven’t joined us yet, don’t hesitate to jump in at any time! The more the merrier!
Today my son – my littlest baby, who is about to be eleven – got home from a school camp trip. It was a huge thing for him, because I think this type of thing always is, and because he has some mild special needs so this was a big dose of independence for him. It challenged him in a lot of ways – being away from home, climbing higher than ever before on the ropes course, having to manage his time and emotions largely on his own (within a wonderfully supportive environment, of course). He had a blast. But he came home with some concerns, too, and so we had a talk about bravery and how people think that being brave means that you don’t feel afraid, but in reality you cannot be brave if there isn’t anything to fear. I think that bravery and strength are very closely related. And you cannot have strength without having first felt weakness.
This week, I learned so much from the women who participated in the photo challenge so I’ll let them speak for themselves below. I hope you join us next week! It’s super easy to join in. Read more here.
“Being a parent tests your strength in so many literal and figurative ways. But to have a body capable of creating a human, feeding him, and caring for him… that’s amazing to me every day.” – @sumrtime328
“Over the past few years since I have started martial arts training I have learned that there is physical strength and mental strength. Physical strength is fine. We can easily observe it. Mental strength is so much more and often so much harder to see. Mental strength is the ability to endure, to pick yourself up when you fall, to make good judgements under pressure, to make the choices that are not easy but right.” – @this_girl_kicks
“In those four years I can’t pinpoint a specific moment that I started feeling small, weak, controlled, and eventually, entirely hopeless. It was a gradual erosion of all my best qualities, until I was a shadow of who I had been. The day that I ran, I was terrified. But I found out quickly that I had more strength inside of me than I had ever known.” – @irishgirl1379
“Some days strength looks a whole like like vulnerability and exhaustion.” – @laurenlolo7
Valentine’s Day isn’t my holiday. No real reason, it never really has been. That said, I’ve loved seeing all the love in the photos this week. Puppy love, the love of a new nursing mama, siblings, families, cuddle puddles – it’s all here this week. Thanks for joining in guys!
This week’s theme is strength. What makes you feel strong?
For this week’s #soamweeklyphoto theme of #love my first thought, naturally, was of my children. But I wasn’t sure how to encompass all of that emotion and experience of these two small people who have so utterly changed me and capture it all in one meaningful photo.
I considered a screencap of me face-timing with my boy while I was on a break from my Spanish class, to say that I loved being able to make this awkward situation work for us thanks to technology. But I realized that what I was really trying to say is that I loved my life. I love how I’ve built it up from various piles of rubble over the years.
And I realized: that’s a new thing for me.
I struggle with depression. A childhood of abuse means that I probably always will. Five years ago I made the biggest decision of my life and the universe responded with an emphatic “LEVEL UP!”. By which I mean that I grew, made a choice, and then life got more difficult. I guess at a time like that one is supposed to rise to the occasion but if I am being honest, I chose to greet it with much grumbling and self-pity. And that’s okay. I had a lot of grief to deal with. Self-pity is necessary sometimes. But life has been unceasingly difficult since then and I am just so so tired and done.
Last semester wasn’t the darkest period of these five years for me, but it was close. My depression and anxiety were roaring, there was a lot of loss in my life, and an unusually busy school schedule with what approximated to 17 units (that was dumb). All I could do to get through it all was to put one foot in front of the other and expect nothing more from myself.
I can’t tell you what changed. A chance to recuperate over winter break surely helped. But something small cracked in my jaded armor I built during the turmoil of these last years and I was able to think positively.
For the first time in a long time, I decided to put my intentions into art. Sometimes I make vision boards at the new year. Usually collages arranged in a way that pleases me and means something to my intentions. This year I took an old, irrelevant one, and painted over it (the funky square bit is where something had been glued down). I wanted to allow it to speak for me so I simply chose two colors – shining gold, rising out of the darkness – and I allowed myself to let it decide what to be. It became a sun, a star, spinning amongst multi-colored stars out in the universe. I let it sit for awhile and eventually it became clear that it didn’t even want to become a collage. The idea was simple: my vision is to allow lightness back in.
I feel great and have for a record-breaking month and a half now (KNOCK WOOD. OKAY, UNIVERSE, YOU HEAR THAT? I AM KNOCKING WOOD). I am able to accomplish all my tasks during the day, phone calls and errands aren’t paralyzing, even my social anxiety is lessening and I can talk in classes again. I am constantly terrified that this will come to an end as mysteriously as it arrived, but I am reminding myself of my intention for this year: allow the light in. I remind myself that everything comes and goes. If another darkness descends, it will also dissipate.
The thing about clinical depression is that the words don’t always work. Sometimes I tell myself these things and I cannot hear them. Like auto-correct for my brain. But for now I am am loving my mental clarity, my children, and I love the life I have built for us.
A silhouette is our shadow, but with substance, with ourselves not removed. We can look at our outlines only, at those parts of ourselves which touch the reality that surrounds us. To photograph our silhouette is to focus on the lightness beyond which highlights our own darkness. This might sound like a big downer, but it’s really not. We have no lightness within us without our own darknesses. We must face our own darknesses to allow our lightness to shine on who we really are. And, often the darkness within us isn’t evil or bad, but simply quiet and sleepy. A silhouette allows us to focus on our lightness perhaps ironically while highlighting our darkness.
I loved the photos this week.
When I began thinking of my own, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I considered an old shot of me against the Winter Solstice sunrise, but I wanted to put intention into this week’s theme so I decided to purposely take a new one. And since I weigh rather more than I did when I took my favorite silhouette self-portraits, I decided I would make my new, larger body the subject of this piece of art I wanted to make.
Putting intention into art is like a prayer, or like magic. So I created a whole process for this piece so that I could really focus on this magic of making me into art. I set up a tripod, I created the lighting, I took the photos, and then I edited them together into one. Both of those are me. Where I started with intention, the art took over and completed the message: Me, dancing slightly out of sync with myself, but still in harmony. I tried to put this into words when I originally shared it on Instagram, but I had none at the time and decided to allow the photo to speak for me.
All selfies are art. Anything that you put out into the world, where you share your you-ness, is art. Snapping a quick pic in the carpool line at the elementary school is art. Snapping a makeup-free bedhead is art. All art is magic. But sometimes you need to take the moment to put a little more intention into your art. Make the magic a little stronger.
Thanks for participating, guys! This week’s theme is love.
What a beautiful week this was! I don’t think I can say it any better than the women who participated did so without further ado…
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I love my body. It’s done so many amazing things, like birth two big babies away from any hospitals or doctors, like stop making cancer cells for malignant melanomas and polyps in my colon, like walk me so many places I’ve wanted to go, and run me away from a few places I should never have been. My body has witnessed miracles, made art, created life (those last two are redundant), and given of itself to this Earth and Her people in wise and foolish ways, both. I’ve loved it all.
My #favoritebodypart (plural) are my legs. They’re strong. They’ve supported every great and silly thing I’ve done in life. From birthing my babies, carrying the weight of my whole world really, to allowing me freedom through running and walking. I love them. They never, ever let me down. And they even look good in a dress
I’ve been dreading this week’s theme, to be honest. I don’t really have a favorite body part anymore but that’s not something that bothers me as much as the feeling that I *should* have one. I’ve had other people compliment parts of my body (both appropriately and otherwise) but there’s not really a body part I dress for or try to accentuate. However…I’ve always loved my eyes and my smile — crooked tooth and all — no matter how much my weight has fluctuated. People tell me I can’t hide what I’m feeling because my face always expresses it in some way. Professionally I know that’s something to work on, but, it works for me tremendously as an artist, an empath and a mom.
My favorite part of my body is my hands. I’ve always loved the way they look and feel. It’s the part of my body I see the most. I’ve had arthritis for two years now and know my hands will not always be able to do for me and will not always be so pretty, and that makes me grateful for my body as a whole and all that it’s does and has done for me. My hands also show all the bumps and scrapes that come along with caring for three young children, such a hands on job.
Ok so this one has been hard for me! Not because I don’t like my body parts, but because I couldn’t decide! My hair? My hands? My tattoos? My freckles? Ultimately, I decided on my eyes, laugh lines and all. I love my hazel eye color, I love being able to see the world around me, and I love that, as I age, there’s evidence of a life well lived.
Wow. Such a beautifully powerful week. I love watching people grow and learn to love who they are and the skin they are in.
I was going to write a post for this, but then I remembered that years ago I’d already summed up everything I wanted to say today when I was writing for BlogHer’s Own Your Beauty Initiative. So I’m reposting it below, you can read the original here.
The Story of You, Perfectly Imperfect
As women, we are bombarded by ads and advice for products or remedies designed to cover gray, lift your butt, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, make scars go away, make your boobs look bigger, flatten your tummy, and in every possible way, minimize your imperfections. As mothers we must consider a whole other list of “must-have” products to minimize stretch marks and other pregnancy-caused changes. We worry our lives away about all these imperfections, each mark upon our bodies, never once stopping to consider them as the story of our lives, of who we are, etched into our bodies by Mother Nature herself. We are told through visual images, subtle words and sometimes even outright statements that we must fight against these things because they make us imperfect.
The fact is that we don’t have to fight this implied war. Because there isn’t a problem to begin with.
Every mark on my body tells my story: The scar on my forehead speaks of the time when I was two and needed stitches for running into a wall at full force. The stretch marks on my inner thighs tell of my incredible growth spurt when I was 14. The scar on my wrist tells of when I had surgery to remove a small ganglion cyst. And the stretch marks, well, everywhere else, tell of my first pregnancy, the one which changed every aspect of my being from soul to belly. They tell of the water I retained, and the amazing little girl who grew inside me. They are a part of me. Imperfect. Beautiful.
I recently watched Babies with my kids, a documentary chronicling the lives of four babies across the globe from before birth to toddlerhood. It was incredible. Honest, heartwarming, cutest stuff on the big screen, ever, and, most of all, enlightening. One thing that struck me was how the mamas in Namibia, who were always shirtless, looked like so many mamas I’ve seen on The Shape of a Mother, and not unlike myself in some ways -– but they carried not even a hint of shame. Pendulous breasts, swinging, yanked around by the baby -– and it was normal. Because it is normal! Their bodies tell their stories. They haven’t been told to live to the the standards to which we hold ourselves. Because no matter what, our bodies will change as we grow older gracefully. These mamas just sit there in all their normal beautiful imperfect selves. All women –- those who have birthed or mothered children as well as those who haven’t –- should strive to live that free.
I’m a people watcher. I’m drawn to imperfections. I happen to find them unique and lovely. I remember being in middle school and admiring all the cool girls, even their imperfections. The way their hair didn’t cooperate, or maybe their small breasts or rounded belly, their sloppy handwriting or scribbles, a nose that might be considered long or large –- these were my ideas of beauty. Of course I could not apply these beauty rules to myself until very recently, and even then only by some sort of mental force. I’ve had to work at it. Every picture of me with bad posture, or where I am making some bizarre face, or which shows my double chin, I’ve had to make the conscious choice to shrug and tell myself, “Oh well. That’s who I am. And I AM beautiful.” No excuses for it. No ignoring it. My beauty encompasses my entire self. My beauty, inside and out, tells my story.
“No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.” One of my favorite bands ever, They Might Be Giants, taught me one of my favorite quotes ever in their song, Don’t Let’s Start. I’m sure the duo didn’t intend it to be about body image, and yet, the quote fits the topic. I’ve met very few people who are fully happy with how they look –- most everyone feels this frustration of wishing they had something else. It is beautiful –- in part because we are in this together and can support each other in our journey on this road to loving ourselves wholly. More importantly, and more simply, it is beautiful because it is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your story is beautiful. Your imperfections, particularly, are beautiful.
The entire act of living is imperfect (and that is beautiful), so why on Earth do we expect this aspect to be any different? But what’s more is that once one has embraced imperfection, she finds that it, in itself, is beautiful. Each little line that caresses my belly, the joy springing around my eyes, the strands of silver hiding among my ash-brown hair -– this is my road map that will show you my travels. And the path my story has taken has been twisted and difficult at times, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because it brought me to where I am now. And my body will show you that. And that is perfectly beautiful.
I feel like selfies get a bad rap these days. When I was in college (the first time) and taking photography classes, I discovered Cindy Sherman and her whole thing was selfies, although not known by that name. It was her job to take selfies. Frida Kahlo is also widely respected for her selfies. And, of course, these are probably referred to by the more serious name of “Self portrait” but what, really, is the difference?
Nearly a decade ago now I became a part of an online group whose intent was to create self-portraits on a regular basis. Some were silly, some were very clearly serious art, many were somewhere in between those two, and a few were really just the online equivalent of a wave to a group of friends. The group continued on for seven years and I made some of my best friends through my computer this way, but perhaps the most important thing for me was how much I learned about myself.
Too often we hide from the camera. My mom did, especially. She loathed having to see herself in photographs. I made a silent promise to myself that I would never hide from the camera, if for nothing else than for the sake of my kids. We have photos of all of us having fun. Someday they can sit and look through photos and see me and how young I was and they can remember all the good times, I hope.
But to purposefully turn the camera on oneself on a regular basis is a life-changing thing. I learned to see myself in all sorts of new ways. I learned that I could be pretty even when I wasn’t feeling pretty. I learned that I could also be not-pretty and that was really totally okay. I examined aspects of my physical body and aspects of my psyche. I took selfies to express something inside me, or I took selfies just to share an inane moment. Sometimes people on Facebook talk shit about seeing too many selfies, but I love seeing the faces of my friends when I cannot see them in person.
(Some of the selfies I took over the years.)
I think that a lot of the selfie-hate out there is misogynistic, really. After all, women are supposed to be pretty all the time, but they aren’t supposed to KNOW it. If we don’t look perfect, we are lazy and slobby. If we spend to much time in front of a mirror perfecting our look, we are vain. It’s another in a long line of catch-22’s we have to wade through as women. I’m so done with all that bullshit. Hell yeah, I embrace selfies!
So when I designed this new weekly photo project I tried to choose themes that were thought-provoking and body-positive. I also tried to pick themes that could be universal and not specific to just moms who have given birth. The themes I chose don’t have to be taken right now, and they don’t even have to be self-portraits (although you must have permission to post the photo, of course, because of copyright laws), but I think it can be a really powerful movement if you choose to participate. (You can see the themes for the whole year here.)
Besides, I loved seeing all of your faces last week!
This week’s theme is “scars”. I can’t believe that I’m about to quote Papa Roach, but there’s a line in a song that says “our scars remind us that the past is real” and I find that so relevant. We are told to erase or hide our scars, but they are the words of our stories written into our skin and we should never hide our stories. Show us your stories this week. If you didn’t participate last week, no worries at all. Just jump in any time!