“There she was my new best friend
High heels in her hands, swayin’ in the wind
While she starts to cry, mascara runnin’ down her little Bambi eyes:
‘Lana, how I hate those guys.’
This is what makes us girls
We all look for heaven and we put our love first
Somethin’ that we’d die for, it’s our curse
Don’t cry about it, don’t cry about it
This is what makes us girls
We don’t stick together ’cause we put our love first
Don’t cry about him, don’t cry about him
It’s all gonna happen”
– Lana Del Rey, This is What Makes Us Girls
It’s really hard being a woman. Not only are there a million eyes on us at all times, but our eyes are always on ourselves. I have a strange secret: I hate looking in the mirror. Mark redid our large bathroom and built me a shower with different jets and lights installed with a dimmer. The dimmer is what I use 99% of the time. The only time I turn on the bright light is when I’m putting on my makeup and have to really see what I’m doing. This is why I had a mini nervous breakdown this morning while getting ready for my personal photo shoot with Michael Ash today.
We’ve already discussed how I fear being in front of the camera, how I fear people even looking at me, how I fear the hugeness that is my thighs. Or rather, MY skewed perception of my CURVY thighs. Today I broke through a wall, like falling in love, “slowly, then all at once.”
I had another photo shoot booked with Michael in San Francisco today, and this time there was no Mark for me to hide behind or crawl inside of. You’ll see in our photos that I often hang on to him, that I nestle into him like a baby bird, hiding from the world. It’s easier with him there because I can do that, and because he is my constant drip of courage. (I’m aquaphobic, but I can snorkel if Mark is next to me.)
This time it was going to be just me in front of the camera. I barely slept (of course), and I was freaking out from the insomnia bloat, sucking down hot lemon juice, doing makeup and trying not to cry, redoing the eyeliner again and again, thinking, “Is it even? This side is a little longer… No wait… MOVE ON IT’S JUST EYELINER FOR GOD’S SAKE!” I had to look at myself. I had no choice. This wasn’t dinner with my girlfriends or shopping in the city. This was beauty shots of me, close up shots of my face, far off shots of my whole body. I needed attention to detail. But I was scrutinizing every little thing.
I texted Michael when I was close to leaving, 45 minutes late (I’m a horrible client), and said that I was sorry, but I had a mini nervous breakdown while getting ready. He assured me he understood and everything was going to be fine. He knows about my eating disorder and my fear of the camera, having just photographed us earlier this week. He is incredibly kind and professional, and generally chill, which makes things easier.
When I arrived at the space we’d rented, I said, “Is it HOT in here?”
“No, it’s freezing, actually. It’s your nerves.”
When I was changed into my fancy outfit I came out of the bathroom and saw myself in a huge wall mirror and said, “Oh God… I don’t like looking at myself.”
“Don’t,” he said. “Don’t look at yourself.”
I set up my portable record player and put Arctic Monkey’s AM on because I know all the words and I can’t help but play air guitar to Arabella, so it relaxed me and I was able to pose, smile, and laugh. After about fifteen minutes, I felt great, because I could see that he was shooting with flattering angles. Then he took some Polaroids and showed me, and I couldn’t believe how great I looked. It was like, “Oh my God, that’s ME?” (Can not WAIT to get all this film back from this incredible genius.) When we were done he gave me the Polaroids and kept the negatives to scan when he gets home to PA. I kept looking at them, and … I wanted to cry. It was bubbling at the surface, an emotion that is like two parts relief and one part joy.
We talked a lot of shop today, and he taught me loads of amazing techniques, double exposure, 3000 ISO Polaroid, old school Holga … Oh to watch him work… I want to be him when I grow up.
We talked about body image, and I explained anorexia like a row of dominoes. Remember lining up rows and rows of dominoes as a kid? Anorexia is like tipping over the first one, and they all fall so fast, and you can’t stop it. Anything can trigger it. Earlier this week I wrote about that little voice in my head: The Little Voice Named Anorexia
I said, “I talk back to that voice now. I say NO. No, I do not have to be a certain size, like a model or actress. I mean, think about Botticelli, the Romanesque women with the long red flowing hair. That’s how I’m looking at myself now.”
He said, “I know! It’s really only been the past forty years that women have been expected to be thin!”
After we parted ways I had a lot of time to think as I walked Vallencia in the Mission, buying expensive chocolates and drinking overpriced, organic, Hipster smoothies. And I realized that so much of my nervousness of people looking at me, and so much of my trepidation of being photographed by a male photographer was because of a really hard time I went through in my early twenties, when I was thin and objectified by men, used and thrown away like trash. Guys that would literally shove me out the door because their girlfriend was coming any minute. And I let that happen. I did that to myself. And even though I’ve been working for years on repairing that, there are scars that I will always wear, like a war vet.
Then I had an hour and a half drive home, listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” CD over and over, which makes me think hard. The lyrics about the inhumanity that women face – the pain of growing up; the empty, wanting life of a Vegas call girl; the boy who chooses video games over his girlfriend; the dark paradise when she wishes she was dead. And I knew I had to write this out, purge it and give it as a gift to other women who will receive it. Because at some point in our lives, as women, we have been objectified. Or even worse, we do it to ourselves.
Then it happened, all at once. I burst into tears, sobbing and laughing at the same time, which felt pretty great. Today’s experience of being in front of the camera by myself had made me feel beautiful, accepted, and not judged. I have not felt that way in years. I thank Michael for that, and I thank myself.