Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and well, every social media site out there, self-portraits have been receiving a ton of press—especially lately in the yoga community.
Too much ego? Too little? Why do we care?
How many transition/coming-of-age stories start out along the lines of, “I was a chubby kid; I was unpopular; I wasn’t athletic; I had no self-confidence; I was/am an introvert, etc.”?
Well, this one starts out the same way. I was all of the above. I’m still an introvert; I still prefer spending my leisure time with books. What’s different? I discovered an inner strength, an inner athleticism and grace, an inner beauty through yoga. Cliché? A story that’s been told before? Eh, maybe.
Photographing myself began when I began teaching; I needed a tool to examine my form. My teacher was half a country away and there wasn’t anyone else with whom I resonated; so I became my own teacher.
Visual aids are invaluable, especially in yoga. And that’s all the photos were. Until they weren’t. I remember the first day I looked at a particular photo and thought, “Wow. That’s me and I have transformed.”
Transformation—isn’t that what we’re all working toward? Well, I shared that photo on my studio’s Facebook page which, let me tell you, took courage on my part. I almost deleted it at least 12 times.
That kind of exposure makes us vulnerable—vulnerable to criticism, which is what I expected. I didn’t expect praise, not at all. But it came. I got comments that I had inspired people in their practice. That was huge; it was a gift and it’s why we become yoga teachers in the first place. I was humbled by the response.
For the first time, I felt as if I belonged in front of the class. I had crossed some kind of line, finished one leg of this enormous journey and I marked that point, damn it. I deserved to mark it.
That was the beginning. I continued to snap photos, posting the good ones, sure. But also posting the ones where I fell out of poses or landed ungracefully. You have to understand, photos are a huge part of my business and taking them by myself and of myself is just easier, more rewarding, and more personal. The personal is where people connect.
Practically, of course, I have enough patience to set up the camera and snap hundreds of photos, trying to capture the “it” I’m going for that day. I would never ask someone else to sit there and do it for me. And models are great, if I can get them, but the photography and the yoga has become my practice—a live, visual journal.
And, yes, it’s a practice. We practice yoga. Why? To boost our ego? Maybe sometimes. But we really practice to build strength, to know ourselves better. There’s a reason for the myth of photography stealing the soul. You can lie to the camera, but not for long. Eventually the camera captures, with its objective eye, your “ugly” side. And, well, you have to come face to face with that, acknowledge it, or stop taking photos. Stop looking.
Sound familiar? It should. Yoga does the same thing—holds up the mirror and shows you your darkness, your light, and you celebrate and accept both. Or neither.
Self-portraits are a way to express ourselves, to celebrate our accomplishments, to share our journeys in one photo, one image, rather than in thousands of words.
Do people do it to show off? Sure, of course. But we can’t judge that; we have to remember that somewhere inside that person who seems to be flaunting and fanning her ego, is someone who needs that attention right now. Someone whose self-confidence is rock bottom and, one day, will have nowhere to go but up.
Do we need to acknowledge them? No, of course not. But we also don’t need to criticize them. Let them be; they’ll find their way. Or not. But it’s not your journey. If self-portraiture isn’t part of your practice, I respect that.
We have to find our own way. Whether you think this gives self-portraits too much weight or not enough doesn’t matter. What matters is that the people taking these photos are showing us something deep, exposed—their bodies and their journeys. All we can do is travel with, alongside them or discover our own path.
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Ed: B. Bemel