Recently, I unearthed an entire bin of artifacts from the first 20 years of my life or so. It included letters and cards and awards I won for making the honor roll in middle school. And it also included most of the photos that I took during my freshman year of college.
In that 1988-1989 year, I enrolled in a beginner’s photography course where we used real cameras, real film, and developed our own photographs. My camera of choice was my dad’s old Minolta and my film of choice was Tri-X Pan, which was used exclusively for black & white photography. During the course of the semester, we were challenged to hone our technical and creative skills while completing specific but typical photography assignments: silhouette, landscape, self-portrait, etc.
While going through my bin, I uncovered all of these photos, printed on glossy paper and matted on backer board for the art show. But it was seeing the self-portrait of myself as an 18 year old girl that got my wheels turning about how much life has changed, photography has changed, and how I see myself. I was not an Instagrammer in 1988. I didn’t have filters and PhotoShop and the feedback of the world wide web to tell me if my photo was good or not. It was simply a reflection of me and how I saw myself at that age. And dare I say, it’s a far cry from the teenage selfies we see plaguing our timelines these days.
I remember this photo so well. I was sitting in the common area of my dorm suite. The dark hallway behind me was lined with six individual bedrooms, one of which was mine. We had an interesting mix of six young women who mostly got along. Two of the roommates later moved out as we were all searching to find our own people in a sea of college students from all over the world.
I was sporting a growing-out perm and hadn’t yet learned the joys of plucking my eyebrows. And I wore one of the biggest, baggiest sweaters I owned because, even though I was at my all-time thinnest, I couldn’t bare to have my body exposed.
I look at this photo and I remember this moment and I remember being that girl and yet it’s hard to believe that same person is me. I wondered how I really saw myself today. So I decided to recreate this self-portrait nearly 30 years later.
Now, I sit in the only hallway I have where I live. Instead of being surrounded by boys and girls that will help shape who I become, I’m now surrounded by the bedrooms of my family – a son who loves me more than I ever thought possible and a husband of almost 18 years. In between those rooms are the furry creatures I call pets that only add to the chaos of my life.
Ironically, I have another growing-out perm in my hair and my eyebrows have finally been tamed. I wear a little more make up and I’m definitely more comfortably in my skin. I still have body issues though. And I still have self-esteem issues. But looking at the two photos, I can’t help but feel grateful for where the past 30 years have led me.
Yes, we earn every wrinkle on our face and hopefully we have more laugh lines than frown lines. We have bigger bellies because it was from here that we bore our children. We’ve probably made many mistakes along the way but every single one has led us to exactly where we are right now. The good news is that we will still keep moving forward and we get to choose which direction we’re moving in.
The Women Over 40 Self-Portrait Project
I’d like to invite you to travel on the same journey I’m on. Learning to love who we are is a difficult task for many women over 40. We’re not millennials and our lives aren’t like an Instagram Story. I’d argue that they’re better because they are full of experience and substance and a whole lot of life lessons.
Do you want to capture who you really are? Do you want to go beyond the selfie? Do you want to challenge yourself to expose the real you – whether it’s glammed up or dressed down, serious and melancholy or as silly as they come, dressed to nines or wearing nothing at all? Think about how others see you. Now think about how you see yourself. If you don’t have a clear picture, maybe this project is for you.
For inspiration, take a look at a few women who are bold enough to photograph themselves in