Not long ago, a photographer I know requested if I could be the subject of a photoshoot for his portfolio.
He had seen an image he liked and wanted to capture a similar composition with the simplicity of it coming through.
Being an artist myself, I agreed to take part. The specification was little or no makeup and a plain black jacket.
I analysed my reflection in the mirror before I left to head to the photoshoot location. My eyes did not have their signature winged eyeliner that I’m an expert at flicking across my eyelids, my lashes were untouched by mascara, my skin pale, eyebrows not pencilled in, and lips uncoloured. Ten years ago, I would have been so self-conscious about the way I looked without makeup; I certainly would not have even ventured to the shops without wearing it.
But I thought, “Well, this is my face. It’s not a perfect face, but it’s mine and it’s the only one I’ve got, so this is what I’m bringing to the party.”
We walked to the location which had been chosen specifically by the photographer; the setting was a field with moody clouds amongst grey skies, with an accompanying breeze to give my hair some movement in the shots.
As I stared down the lens, I felt content with however the photos would turn out. The photographer was satisfied with the shots he took, and I was glad to be part of an artistic endeavour.
When I saw the finished photos, it took my brain a few seconds to adjust to the images of my face. I was confronted with a slightly different idea of how my face appears to me in a mirror reflection. All my flaws were staring back at me.
There was a time I would have hated every piece of these pictures, in the days before I had worked on self-acceptance. In fact, it would not be too strong to say that years ago, I hated myself and the way I looked, from my head to my toes.
These photos were a snapshot of the real me—the authentic, no-frills, natural simplicity of a woman standing in a field on an overcast day. I didn’t love the picture of the face looking back at me, but I didn’t hate it either. I didn’t want to run off to the bathroom and cry because my facial features aren’t symmetrical. My reaction was pretty neutral. I accepted what I was seeing.
Then other thoughts crept in. What if I accept my face, but others don’t? How are other people going to judge this photograph? How many people would comment that I looked tired or unwell because I didn’t have the false colouring of makeup?
We put our faces out there on social media platforms to literally be judged with likes, comments, and other reactions. We crave the approval of others—even strangers.
Every human needs to feel love and approval, even if it is on a superficial level. Society feeds us a falsehood that we require filters, Botox, fillers, enhancements, makeup, hair extensions, breast implants, and liposuction in order to change the way we look to be approved of, accepted, and loved.
The market for changing one’s appearance is a billion-dollar business. Many of us feel we would be more accepted if our faces were more symmetrical, our lips were plumper, and our foreheads did not crease when we expressed ourselves.
But, we don’t have to buy into that belief. We have a choice, and once we learn to accept ourselves, we don’t feel the need to adhere to the illusions of what beauty is or isn’t.
Although I pondered what other people might think of my photos, the reality is that I don’t much care if someone were to make a negative comment about my appearance. This usually points to projection of their own insecurities. Am I really going to any lose sleep over the fact that Jane Doe doesn’t like my nose? No, sir!
We can choose to accept ourselves, our weight, our faces. The opinions of another person cannot bother someone who accepts themselves for how they are—and that is truly powerful.
Self-acceptance is something we can cultivate, and, once we do, it sets us free. However, that does not mean we need to love every piece of ourselves all the time—an idea commonly pushed upon us by self-development literature. A constant state of love does not honour the curving, winding journey of our feelings and emotions. Accepting how we are in all our states is much healthier than trying to force loving feelings upon ourselves.
We may not love every piece of ourselves all the time, and that’s okay! Self-acceptance is exactly what it says on the tin. We can choose to accept that we look the way we look. Some days we will love it, and some days we will not. I invite you to accept this fact.
Since the photoshoot, I have decided to have a lot more makeup-free days and wear less makeup in general. I suddenly feel a lot more like myself without the war paint covering my face.
The true gauge of a person is what lies behind the eyes, beneath the smile, within the depth of one’s soul, and the loving energy that pulses ever so modestly within the heart. As our outer shell inevitably wrinkles, fades, and marks with years of experience, will we look back and consider that the energy we spent on not loving the way we looked was a good investment?