Getting Good Part 3 (Reflection)

Welcome back, Women Who Swear!  I’ve given you a few days to digest the first two chapters of our Getting Good series – – – you’re welcome!  Just kidding;  it’s taken me all this time to digest it myself and to assimilate the feelings attached to the last two posts.  To consider the whys of it and the where-do-we-go-from-here next level questions. Oh, and the weekend.  I had a weekend.  So sue me.


She wants to see the photos before we leave the shoot. Like, sooner than immediately.


I watch her look at the photos.  She’s cringing but stoic. “Oh, Lord in heaven.”

After the photo shoot I was able to sit down with our subject to see how and what she was feeling about her experience thus far.  So here is our post-shoot conversation pretty much verbatim:

Was this photo shoot difficult for you?

Yes.  You know, you don’t actually know what you look like.  I mean, you have an idea, a hope, an expectation – – – and then there’s the actual thing. This whole thing was uncomfortable, start to middle to finish.  Uncomfortable.

Do you feel at all empowered by this experience?

No. it was like my worst fucking nightmare seeing those photos. Oh my god.  I feel sorry for my husband.  I am not empowered by this. Not yet.

Did you feel vulnerable of self-conscious during the shoot?

Umm, yeah, duh.

What do you hope to accomplish by sharing this much of yourself? I mean, what do you think will happen after these photos are posted?

I think some people will be repulsed, some will understand and relate. I mean, you’re looking at a confident, professional, married person. People would think i’ve got it all figured out.  Not the case. This is a huge betrayal to everything I’ve done and thought my entire life.

Is there any part of your body that you are most self-conscious of?

My stomach.  It’s never been amazing or flat.  When I was pregnant I gained a lot of weight, then I had a botched c-section. I feel like my belly is my phantom limb.  I’m so conscious of it all the time. I wish I could get it fixed! Would that make me happy? hmm.

Does that part of your body hold any positive feelings or memories for you?

Unfortunately no.  No warm fuzzies around pregnancy.  My kids are great in spite of my stomach.  I live my life disconnected. Mind, body, spirit, heart.

Are there things you tell yourself about your body that you know are not true?

Unfortunately not.  I believe all the horrible things I say about myself.

What do you think people will say about your body?

I’m afraid they will say all the things I’ve said to myself.

What would you say about it if it wasn’t yours?

Probably nothing.

That’s interesting.  You know, I think most people are pretty kind and choose to see beauty. Is there any part of your body that makes you feel powerful or strong?

I mean, gosh, I don’t know.  No.  Nothing.

Do you have any physical limitations?

No.    How messed up is that.


 

Thanks for reading!  More in this series to follow soon, but I know better than to give you a date to hold me to.

Melissa

 

Photos courtesy Georgette Photography

 

 

Advertisements

Getting Good Part 2 (Exposure)

WWSA-13Fast forward to the night of the shoot.  I arrive to the photographer and her subject talking over drinks. Everyone is nervous, the fear palpable. Everything about this experience is awkward.  We talk openly about expectations, fears and also get down to the details; what body parts will be shot first, what the lighting will be like, how this will be presented.  All of the talk is delaying the inevitable.  That moment when things start to happen. When the clothes will come off and the focus is on the body.  Her body. The object of so much judgment and self abuse.  The physical burden of spirit itself.

The moment comes, as it always does, too soon.  The pants come off quick, like a band-aid off a skinned knee.  She winces, but like the mothers we are, we are there to comfort and assure my friend that we are there for her.

“You just tell me if you want me to stop.”  says Georgette (the photographer).  We are all moved by this statement.  Imagining having been given that permission more often in our lives.  How different we would all feel about ourselves, our bodies, if we had owned them with more power.  

“No, I’m fine.  Where do you want me to stand?”

Georgette takes a few photos of the legs.  She has already shot the feet and is now focusing on some pale stretch marks.  As my friend laments her cellulite I am thinking about how good I think she looks; about how I wish my legs looked like that.  How I haven’t worn shorts in public since I was prepubescent.  What is she so  worried about? What are any of us worried about?  How did we come to be so preoccupied with some slippery notion of perfection?

Sitting cross-legged, her pubic area covered by a tea-towel, my friend sort-of talks as Georgette shoots.  She swings wildly between manic chatter and awkward silence the whole time we are there.

“I feel like I’m being examined by a gynecologist.  Like, a nice gynecologist.”  We laugh.

“I feel like I would like to look like somebody different.  All I ever see is fat.  Will the camera change how I look?  I wish everything was higher and firmer.  All I see is lumps and bumps. I always wear a bra; I’m not wearing a bra right now.  I have a botched c-section, it’s just a disaster.  It feels like a disaster.”

Now, her top is coming off.  Or rather, being pushed aside. I’m trying to imagine doing this myself, but I can’t.  I wouldn’t.  I won’t.  While I was nursing my son, I couldn’t have cared less about breast exposure, but now, even looking at my own by post-mat boobs is super uncomfortable.  And here she is, obviously uncomfortable as well, but bravely baring it all to fulfill this mission of her own design.

WWSA-10.jpg

It is very interesting to be a bystander in this odd tableau.  I was not looking as much listening during most of the shoot and I really felt the disconnect between what she felt about her body and what I saw with my own eyes.  I did not see a supermodel but I definitely didn’t see the monstrosity I have heard about for years.  I saw a woman with a woman’s shape.  Nothing more, nothing less. I saw my friend’s simple beauty.

“I’m worried about my tummy. I don’t want to show it yet (from that angle).”

To be continued…

 

Melissa

 

Getting Good Part 1 (Inception)

Recently I had the opportunity to bear witness to a nude photo shoot of a dear friend. When I was invited, my friend explained that this was not to be a boudoir-style shoot, but rather an examination of her body, a documentary of the road map of her life; her battle scars and her insecurities would be in focus. She was planning to turn my own personal nightmare into her living reality by choice.

My friend is, as she says, a “lightly-recovered” bulimic.  She has struggled with body image and self-esteem issues since childhood.  The only relationship she seems to have had with her body is one wracked with fear, loathing and betrayal.  She says she has lived her entire life disconnected; her heart, mind, spirit and body seem to exist separately, in spite of each other, and somehow all survive.

When I ask the obvious question – why? – I am told that this is her way of trying to “get good” with her body, to see it as it is without her brain getting in the way.  I have concerns about this.  What if this experience is a trigger for her eating disorder?  What if instead of feeling honest and empowered she feels diminished and alone?  After discussing the fact that these images never need to be shared for this post to be written, she says she feels that she wants to do it anyway.

What made you want to pose for this shoot?

“I think mainly about the fact that I want to be OK with what I look like. It’s all going to be there (in the photos). I’ve always hated my body, but I think that coming to terms with myself means that I have to be OK with my body. As I am now. So I can tell you to be OK with you. And maybe have you believe what I tell you because it’s because it’s my truth.

My value has always been diminished by what I think of my body. It shouldn’t diminish the value of my other qualities, but somehow, to me, it does. I don’t want to give my idea of my body that kind of power any more.”

What do you hope to accomplish by sharing this much of yourself?

“I hope to share that what I look like is not so different from what most real women look like.  That as long as you’re healthy it’s OK to look however you look.  I’ve done a lot of scary shit to be thin;  from starving myself to purging until my enamel was eroding and I was losing my hair.  The impulse to purge is not something you just get over.  People don’t understand eating disorders and everything they take away from you. I want people to know that the ugliness inside reflects on the outside always.  I feel like I have to go through the discomfort of sharing all of myself to get good, so maybe I can help someone else face their own issues.  I want someone to feel better about themselves because they can relate to me and to my body.  You can never be perfect but you can be healthy. And start to love yourself.”

WWSA-7

Whoa.  Better you than me.

 

…to be continued.

Melissa

Photo credit Georgette Photograpy

On (Not) Doing it All

Women have come a long way in the last century.  From wife & mother to wife/mother/worker to wife/mother/worker/entrepreneur.  Fast forward to present standard; we struggle to attain the holy grail combo of Stepford wife, super-mom, bread-winner and successful side-hustler. We somehow feel the need to achieve it all without sacrificing our unique self.  The juggle is real, the guilt we feel when we drop one of these balls can be paralyzing.

When did this pressure begin?  How did we (rather, you) develop the ability to add hours to the day? Because, ladies, I can’t imagine any other way to get all my shit done. Magic?  Maybe.

I hear a lot these days about mom guilt. I definitely feel guilt but it’s more of the wife, career, and neglecting the side-hustle because I’m too-damn-tired-to-hustle-at-all variety.  I have always had a “side-hustle”, a gig that takes me away from the rest of my life because I need to express myself creatively  and I love to make a little change on the side.  The reality has always been that the energy I put towards music, art and writing takes away from another aspect of my life.  Though you make it look easy from the outside, I’m guessing that all you over-achievers struggle too.

For the last five years, the bulk of my energy has gone to raising my child.  I love being a mom.  I love watching my boy grow smarter, stronger, funnier and more independent by the day.  I have been committed to him more than anything else.  Over this time I have learned (the hard way)  that a  woman is like the sun;  her attention nourishes, her inattention causes the things left in the shadows to wither. Houses get messy, relationships become fragile, careers become stunted, children act out to feel noticed.  Hobbies?  Exercise?  Are you kidding me?  If I don’t get paid, it doesn’t get done. This is a lot of responsibility for anyone to feel, let alone take care of.

I sat down to write this post this morning (5:37 am because this time usually belongs to me) and within a span of 15 minutes I was required to let the dogs out, deliver toilet paper to the upstairs bathroom, make a lunch and convince my son that it is not actually morning yet.  My side-hustle becomes more like a side-meander.  I am interrupted from everything I do so frequently that the flow changes entirely; I lose track of my ideas and type a bunch of head-scratching, “what the fuck is she trying to say” shit.  Where was I?

I can’t remember. Just keep hustlin’.
Melissa

 

Death and His Gifts

Over a span of four days this month, two strong, amazing women I know lost their fathers.  These two dynamos have been in my life forever, and almost forever, respectively. I love them utterly and am gutted to think of the pain they are in, having to now live in a world without their fathers at 40 and 38.

Though the fathers differed greatly in age, stage and demeanor, these men were both lost suddenly. In an instant.  One after being lost, found, now lost again too young;  the other after living a very long life as a fixture in the lives of his family.  Both will live on in the spirits of their daughters (and son) and grandchildren forever, but the tangibility of their physical presence, the promises of “see you later!” have gone with the wind.

I have been thinking of these losses so much this week and am really beginning to understand that I simply cannot begin to understand.  The loss of a loved one is individual and can’t be compared to anyone else’s experience with loss.  So how then to offer comfort?

When looking on the website of the funeral home where my cousin’s father was laid to rest, I was genuinely surprised and very happy to see a page outlining tips on how to behave when attending a wake or funeral and when offering condolences to the bereaved.  Some were obvious: send flowers, deliver food, dress nicely and introduce yourself to the whole family.  Other tips were a little unexpected, namely the one suggesting you never take a selfie during a wake or funeral.  Whattt??

But really, aren’t we all a little awkward when faced with death or an illness which reminds us of the inevitability of our own departure?  It is difficult know how to offer comfort when there is no changing the absolute reality of the recent loss. Words can’t change anything, though we recognize that our presence is the most precious thing we have to offer.  A phone call, a hug, a shared memory.

While I was pondering this post I was half watching “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix with my son when Claus Beaudelaire spat out this Proust quote: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”  That would truly be cold comfort at the present moment, but I remind myself to ask at a later date.

Though a loss is always a loss, death can also give us many gifts.  We come away from whatever ritual or ceremony the family observes reminded of our mortality; that life and time are but fleeting gifts to be cherished.  We emerge from the shadow of death  with a renewed sense of LIFE.

My own husband lost his father at the age of 14.  Even though we have discussed the experience, I really cannot imagine a child processing a loss of that magnitude.  Children do it all the time, but it seems unfathomable.  I can only imagine the things he didn’t learn, the memories he was robbed of. It’s hard to think about what the gifts might be; how the powers of the mind were “developed.”

At the age of 25, I lost my maternal grandfather.  Because my parents separated for good just shy of my tenth birthday, we moved from Alberta to Ontario.  I spent that summer with my grandparents. After a few months living in Toronto, we landed in Gananoque for good, staying with my grandparents once again for close to two years.  It was in this manner that my Poppa Barrie became like a second father to me.  In fact, at the end of his life we were literal neighbours, separated by one town block. When we lost him too soon at the age of 68, I mourned hard.  Though I still have my own Dad who I love dearly and have the opportunity to see and speak to fairly frequently considering our distance, I missed my Poppa’s regular presence in my life terribly.  I missed having coffee with him while my Nana bowled (these were our “dates”), I missed hugging his big body while he laughed and told me to “give over.”  I even missed our arguments and his constant teasing about my hair.  Even though I have lost many people in my life, this one affected me more profoundly than any other. He was just so present in my life. He stayed with me for a long time after his death. I still hear his voice once in awhile and he visits me in my dreams when I need a little strength.  And it’s been 13 years. And I’m crying as I write this.

I recently had a conversation with a client, a man around age 60 (the age of my cousin’s father at the time of his death) who somehow got around to talking about the passing of his own dad.  He expressed his gratitude for having been with his father at the time of his death. He told me that after his father died he stroked his hair. (At the time of this conversation, I was cutting his hair). He said he never remembered touching his dad’s hair before and was amazed at how soft it was. He explained that though they were close, his father was a strong, shake your hand kind of dad.  He told me that as a father, there is never a greeting or a goodbye with his own grown son that does not include an embrace.  If that is not a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

When we have lost, we think about what our loved ones have left behind. For good, bad or otherwise, they leave their mark on the world.  For some, it is their remembered words, turns of phrase, their ability to embrace change and to have fun. To forgive. For others, like my friend’s father, it is much more physical. As well as having been a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend to many, Charlie left in his wake a legacy of boats and shared expertise. Skiffs and wooden motor boats that were built by his hand or those of his employees and students are still enjoyed by many. These boats remain, bearing his name, spanning a career that stretched longer than a lifetime for many.

Maybe this is the lesson: immortality lies in the love that we share, passed down in our emotional DNA as much as in our family albums.  That our mind develops as we come to understand the gifts and lessons left behind by those we have loved and lost. This is an incredible thing.  I often wonder what I will leave behind for my son when it is time to take my final journey.  I hope it is the feeling of being loved fully and unconditionally,  the joy of being silly, the art of embracing mistakes and getting the hell over them, the knowledge of kindness and it’s importance and maybe a few of my songs.

Until I ramble next time,

Melissa