(Photo: Sidney Lee Lopez)
I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s. It was a different time. My mother left me to my own devices to play outside all day, only requiring that I come home when the streetlights came on, we didn’t put on seatbelts and often rode unrestrained in the back section of the station wagon and people lit up cigarettes whenever, wherever. We did lots of things then that we now have the information and knowledge to know were not good ideas, including slathering my incredibly white skin with baby oil and “laying out” to get a tan. I’m 58 years old now and I just had a patch of skin cancer removed from my face. Luckily, its an easily treatable type of cancer, and I also had the good fortune for it to be in a spot that is covered by the way my hair naturally falls. But it is a disfiguration of my face, nonetheless, and of mild concern to my psyche. It was removed by a minor surgery in my dermatologist’s office. When he was finished with the surgery, he discussed with me that I should come back for a follow up in 4 weeks, and once we determined that the cancer was gone, we could discuss the “fun” stuff. When I probed further as to what he meant, it became clear that he was suggesting cosmetic treatments that included Botox and fillers. It sent my psyche into a tailspin.
I lightly joked that I wished I had a degree in psychology so that I could have a better understanding of women’s beauty and self-image beliefs. But I really wasn’t joking, I really wish that I did. I wish that I really, really understood these things, because, you see, as a photographer, I am confronted with the challenge of women’s self-image issues on a daily basis. Just this very morning I woke up to a request to “please just photograph my children. I don’t look good in photos so I’m not going to be included” which I find a little heartbreaking. Do you really think in 20 years your children are going to say “OMG, why did she get in that photo with me … she had lines on her face??” That kind of sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Your children are going to look at you and remember the love … that’s it. I am constantly walking the fine line of how much retouching should I apply to a client’s face to keep her image true to who she really is and yet to show her the best version of herself. We, as a society, are obsessed with perfection and, lacking a professional degree to tell you in fru-fru psychological terms what this is all about, I’ll just tell you that I don’t think this is mentally healthy.
You, my client, will often hear me click the camera and exclaim, “Beautiful!!! You look amazing!!” and you know what? I’m not kidding! You, my client, are beautiful! You may be a bride on your wedding day and you are glowing with anticipation and love. You may be the mom of a couple of awesome teenagers, and you, mom, are beautiful AND you have successfully brought human beings into this world who are getting ready to go out and do amazing things! Kudos to you. It didn’t happen by accident and you are beautiful for having made that happen! You may be a single mom who chose to open your heart and your home to adoption and although you are tired, you are so filled with love for your family I can see it on your face. You, mom, are a beautiful person! You are all human, and imperfectly perfect and the people in your life who love you love you just the way you are.
So I got in my car and kept thinking about the suggestion of cosmetic fixes as I was driving home. My mind whirred and buzzed with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. I do wear makeup to enhance my features, but I do leave home with a clean (now suncreened) face on many a day, and I’m OK with that. Would it be lying or cheating, to partake in medical intervention to help stop the clock on the natural process of aging? Just where did all of those lines come from, anyway? There are lines around my mouth that are there from years of open mouthed laughing. (Really, my mouth is ALWAYS open) There are lines around my eyes because they wrinkle up around the corners when I smile. There are even lines around my brow because it furrows when I am worried about my loved ones. Those lines are a roadmap that tell the story of all that is me and I wouldn’t trade one of those lines for anything in the world. I am privileged to have 58 years of wear on my face, because some are not so fortunate to have been given that many years. I am honored to have loved so much that I literally have it written all over my face.
Coincidentally, today is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. A day to honor and celebrate women’s achievements … shouldn’t this happen every day? I would love to see us grow as a society to where we place a larger emphasis on a daily basis on women’s achievements and less emphasis on their physical beauty. And then maybe women will stop being so hard on themselves, stop being obsessed with perfection and start loving themselves for who they are.
I turned onto my street and realized that I was so involved in my own thoughts that I hadn’t heard the radio for the last couple of minutes. As my awareness kicked in I realized that I was humming along as Bruno Mars sang to me … “girl you’re amazing, just the way you are” and my face crinkled up as I smiled. Smile today because you are alive. Smile today and give yourself permission to not be perfect. Smile today because you are amazing, just the way you are … but please don’t forget to put on sunscreen!