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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Time The Jersey Dress Betrayed Me (How I Came to Love a Picture That I Hated)

An example of the crazy wind that day...
Photo by Rachel Kaye Photography, 2014

The Time That Jersey Dress Betrayed Me 
(How I Came to Love a Picture That I Hated)

I knew when I felt the wind that I should have prepared myself more thoughtfully. 

It was only a few short weeks ago, and though the ground is now whitewashed as though the sky had something to cover up, Michigan, at that moment, was still resonating with autumnal weather. Thirty-mile-an-hour winds and dark skies encroached upon us as my fiancé and I embarked on a “save the date” wedding session with our wedding photographer, Rachel Kaye—one of two sessions we had planned before our wedding next September.

I, myself, was also photographing a session that day on a windy rooftop in Muskegon, and I had hoped Rachel might join us to capture some industrially romantic snapshots. She happily agreed to meet us on location and I was excited to think about finally having some official engagement style portraits done with my soon-to-be husband.

Prior to arriving, the afternoon had been rushed, but I felt pretty confident about my outfit selection; a grey jersey dress with a cotton moto jacket over tights and black combat-style boots. I curled my hair meticulously, outlined the cupid's bow of my lips in red, and hoped for the best.

I really hadn't been prepared for the windiness of the rooftop. I had expected a breeze, but what was happening near the lake that day on top of the four story building was more of a hurricane. Tears were literally blown from my eyes as I photographed my clients first; the whole time Rachel tagging along and anticipating our own session.

Every single curl was blown away from my head and my hairs were straightened with the cool wind tunnel power of Lake Michigan. The sticky air coating every strand reminded me of childhood motorcycle rides, and running my hands through my mane with popsicle fingers.

When it was time for Ben and I to be photographed, Rachel ran around on the rooftop like a kid at a candy store. “Stand over here and do the 'Rachel Pose'”, she laughed. “Do you guys kiss? Is that, like, something you do?” She had a fun and infectious energy and we felt totally comfortable playing along as we tried to milk the last 45 minutes of precious sunshine left in the day. My hair blew sideways and my nose and cheeks were bitten with the cold wind, but I loved the overall feeling of our setting and I had fun being photographed.

We wrapped up our meeting with a couple of beers and a glass of wine, and concluded that things had felt great. I couldn't wait to see the images and I knew Rachel was going to do a phenomenal job.

The next morning, I logged in to Facebook and was served with a notification.

If you’ve ever struggled with body image or any sort of negative feeling about your physical appearance, there’s something to be said for that trepidation that wells up inside you when your social network alerts you that:

“_________” tagged a photo of you.

At times in my past when I felt less strong, my inner dialogue would go something like this:

“PLEASE let it be from the waist up. Not an underneath angle. I hope it was my good side. Not a close-up of my crooked smile. Dear God.”

I’ve grown since then and usually, I hope for the best and click without giving it too much thought, so that morning, I bravely explored the tagged photo with excitement. Only a moment’s time passed before my heart sunk, because the very first thing my eyes were drawn to in the image was my POOCH.

What I originally saw in the picture with my exclusive tunnel vision

THE pooch. The oddly asymmetrical, saggy, poofy trophy that I won post-partum; the pregnancy parting gift that I’ve tried to give back with diet modifications and 6-day-a-week workouts for years. And then, the fabric of my skirt, which blew sideways in an illusion of elephantitis—my calves appearing wider than they even were (which is pretty wide).

I felt like Sallah in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: why was my jersey dress betraying me? It had suddenly transformed into a hateful Aladdin pantsuit, and that was all I could see when I looked at the photo.

Of course, Rachel had done an amazing job with all of our photos—they were lovely. The problem didn’t lie in the photography, not in the least. Yet, a few days later, as I looked over the entire session at some of the full body photos of me in the grey jersey dress, I couldn’t help but feel a lump in my throat. Runaway tears escaped and I told my fiancé in a shaky voice, “I just thought I would be so much farther by now. All the work. All of the healthy eating. All of the exercise. But all I see is fat.”

He hugged me and told me I was beautiful, but after listening to my self-sabotaging talk for a day or so, grew weary of it. “Look,” he said gently, “I can’t stand to listen to this anymore. You’re offending my sensibilities. When I tell you I see beauty, and you tear yourself down, you are essentially saying that what I see isn’t real.”

That shut me up for a moment.

I’ve heard it all before—every word of enlightenment, every pat on the back, every bit of encouragement. Though I’ve appreciated any and all of it, when the self is hurting, sometimes words of encouragement are like seeds through sieve; they can’t get through.

Perhaps it is because I feel so entitled to a different body some days. I eat moderately and incredibly well, lift weights five days a week and run or perform some other cardio for the same amount, if not more. Though I’ve lost weight since delivering my son, I’ve hovered at my current size for a few years, despite tremendous work. A strong family history of hypothyroidism, including my mother, had led me to years of inconclusive testing, which is still ongoing, but all of those facts are nothing more than dandelion seeds, blowing away from me in a slow haze. I’m still standing here, holding this flower, being myself. I can’t escape it.

And I can’t convince anyone that, I am who I am. They have to just believe me. Trust me that I’m a runner. Take stock in the fact that I eat a whole foods diet. Because my body doesn’t look like it. At least, not to me.

“You look loved,” a good friend of mine told me, regarding the photo in question. At that moment I realized, I had completely ignored my fiancé in every image. I had missed his sweet eyes, his smile, his gaze upon me, and the obvious body language that was speaking in every possible tongue: “I love you, here in this photo.” I felt like the worst, most horrible person on the face of the earth.

I looked at the photos again.

In the cold skyline and the rust-eaten smokestacks I saw something burning beneath the photo session that was so much more than my clinging jersey dress. I stared over and over again at the particular images of my body that I hated the most, letting it sink in. I looked at Ben’s face and his postures. I began to ruminate over the real reason behind my self-harm.

As a person who hasn’t always accepted love easily, I tend to run away from intimacy. Feelings of self-worth, the terror of being exposed, and the fear of abandonment after submitting to love can easily choke out a moment of happiness for me. I began to wonder if that might have more to do with meltdown over the pictures than any particular ensemble I was wearing.

“You have permission to be present in your own life,” a friend had told me that week, prompting a lump in my throat and stinging eyes.

As I gazed upon the picture that had initially triggered my emotional breakdown, I noticed for the first time the colorful bricks behind us, covered in peeling tar. I saw the patterns in the dull, marbled clouds in the backdrop. The tightness of our grip as we held hands, and the way we grinned at each other. Instead of gazing upon my stomach or scanning my full-body image, I interpreted the picture as a whole, finally understanding it—as if it were some type of hieroglyph, or a calculus equation.

In that moment, I was looking through the lens of Rachel’s camera. For that second, I was seeing myself with Ben’s eyes. And in that instant, I perceived the true image before me for what it actually was: a snapshot of love.

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