A couple of months ago, I was headed to Denver to participate in my third women’s empowerment conference, called Emerging Women Live, and this year I needed a photo of myself. While I had flexed my event management muscles as a part of the volunteer staff the prior two years, this year was going to be different. I was going to be offering myself in a new way, in a new role, with a new mission. I did not hesitate to turn in my application to be a coach and then I felt affirmed to be accepted and then I realized I needed a head shot to accompany my bio.
I had begun transitioning from coordinating patterns in interior design work into the inner workings of behavior patterns and this event gave me a deadline, around which to organize my new to do lists. They had also asked that I help manage this area of the event, the Coaches Corner and so those organizational, event-related tasks took priority over the personal participation requirements until the irony of my being among the last of the coaches to turn in their bio and pics, to me, hit home. I am a “word” person and so the write up was easy to pull together from existing sources, but the picture… that was the true irony. In no longer being willing to accept the world around me at face value, I had discovered my worth… and there was not a picture in my phone, on my computer, in an album or in my head that I thought captured that. Because at 55 years old, my life shines with a reflected richness because of how I look at it, not because of how I look. I mean, isn’t that the very basis of the women’s empowerment I was promoting through this event?
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Emerging Women exists to support the integration of business and feminine power to make a positive impact on the world. Recently praised by Forbes Magazine as a forum for the creation of a new, collaborative business paradigm, it reveals itself in its framework that is not just about supporting women, it IS a woman, of sorts. In attempting to create a platform for women’s voices and experiences, the founder, Chantal Pierrat, created a living, growing, nurturing embodiment of a woman. A woman that is a collaborative feminine effort and a deliberate ensemble of the the innate skills and intuition women need to navigate the business world while not negotiating her spirit in the world, at large. While a corporate entity is symbolic and, technically, faceless, this Emerging Women “woman” is the incorporation of a value and belief system that is an amalgam of women’s faces across the globe. These women show up at this conference — as participants and speakers, authors and teachers, mothers and leaders and sisters and seekers, all facing a stage and facing their fears. It is a place where even the oldest women are willing to try something new and so an old picture wasn’t going to do.
But to do’s mean to do lists. I have heard that it’s an organizing principle for some but as an adult-diagnosed, life-long dancer in an ADD tap number, I pretty successfully manage my life like a giant connect-the-dots puzzle. Some of those “dots” are actually sprays of post-it notes and stacks of journals and calendars and, yes, written lists and so the best way to get something done, for me, is simply to do it. And so I messaged an old friend who is an accomplished photographer and simply asked if he did head shots and if he did, would he be willing to do mine. He listened to what I was looking for and he bravely agreed and we set a time. While my procrastination meant I wouldn’t have it in time for this event, it allowed me to think through what I wanted and how I wanted to portray my “self” in this portrait.
I thought it over and I overthought it. Portraying my self in photos is a topic I have already covered and not something I had been doing in the recent past until I realized, as a single woman and the mamarazzi on my children’s lives, I had no witness on my own life other than my words. That is why I must journal for myself and write this blog to help you — because I am more at ease capturing my perspective in words than seeing someone else’s perspective of me. The pictures of my past are overlaid with a narrative that was not mine and since that story of me was given to me by people I trusted and loved, I believed them. So when I was told I was pretty, I believed them. And
then when the messages were about what I had to do or be or say or play along with, I believed those, too. Until I didn’t anymore. A life spent writing became a collection of facts that became a connection of dots for an undeniable picture of truth. It reframed everything I knew about everyone else but, most especially, what I knew of myself. And now that I was so thoroughly clear on who I was on the inside how could I NOT look different on the outside?
Once I dropped the illusion of how I should look, I began to believe in how I see, even if I don’t want to see it. Aging, like learning, is an ongoing process in which there will be joy of experimentation and because its about learning, there will be no failure. So, there was no way the photographer could fail at this task. Even if I cried at the result it would not have been because of a lack of his expertise . I had asked him to not airbrush or touch up or remove one line or wrinkle because I needed to see what everyone else sees when they look at me because no longer carrying false narratives within means doing away with illusion from without. And in doing me no favors, he gave me a great gift. He allowed me to see my truth.The truth is, I was nervous about what I was going to see and whether I would still be willing to show up for people looking like “that”. I am happy to say that there was nothing that surprised me about what was there except… it was not a “new” me, at all. All that internal work and there was nothing tangible to show for it. It was the me whose eyes I have looked through my whole life and when I looked back, I found photos that had the exact same small smile and head tilt. Whether sitting on my grandfather’s knee at 5 or holding up the cliche’ senior-picture-tree at 17, hanging on by an air-brushed thread at 48 or holding down the fort as a mother at 50, she was always me.
And then I understood. I had been consistent, even when my life was not. The old me knew me — She just didn’t know it yet. The lines on this face are deep enough to hold love for children that are not even mine. They are angled, just so, to carry the tears and fears away instead of further into my heart. There is a paradoxical beauty in a truth that unfolds — richer and clearer as it settles into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
What is new , and noticeable to me, is the sparkle caught in my eyes. I hadn’t expected that what I feel these days could be captured in a way that not only met my standards for reality but raised my hopes. It’s a realistic picture of a face that has chosen to face the world with an unrealistic joy from within. The lines on my face will continue to appear — just like the lines I write on a page. But it’s in between all of those lines that you’ll find the story. An epic, ongoing journey without, yet, an end, because, today, I am happy even after.