Updated: Dec 20, 2018
For Women Everywhere – The Thing That Keeps Us Playing Small
Let me first say that I am aware this is a boudoir photography blog…and yet this post is not technically about boudoir, or about photography at all. It is, however, about women. And for me, that makes it about boudoir. How so, you ask? Because women are my why. Greater self-love is my why. Embracing femininity in all its glory is my why. This post, while it contains no photos, boudoir or otherwise, explains exactly why I became a boudoir photographer, why I am passionate about my work, and why I will always walk my talk.
A little personal back-story about this post: It was inspired by a conversation with a man I had been dating, in which he confessed to me that a few of his friends (both male and female) had expressed concern for him when we first started dating… because I appeared to them to be “an attention-seeker.” These comments did not come as a huge surprise to me, and they sounded so much like comments I had heard throughout my life — comments that came from everyone from little girls on the playground, parents and grandparents, men who I had turned down for a date (or a second date), and so on… When I was little, those words got deep inside me and hurt me. They affected me in myriad ways as I grew into the woman I would become… But now, knowing what I know and being who I am, they honestly sting a little less each time I hear them. In fact, this time the sting was very faint and short-lived… but it did get me thinking about the younger me…and about all the women I know who are still hearing these words in the backs of their minds every time they even consider opening up and sharing their gifts with the world.
This blog is for my younger self… and for all the other women out there who I know need to read this right now.
“Don’t be a show-off.”
“That girl is an attention-seeker.”
“She’s too in love with herself.”
“Try to be more modest. Nobody likes a braggart or a know-it-all.”
“Who are you trying to impress?”
“Oh, he grabbed you? Disrespected you? Assaulted you? Well, really, what did you expect, wearing THAT?”
“Who the hell does she think she is?”
“What an attention whore. She should be ashamed.”
On the surface, those statements mostly look different from each other… They may come from men or from women. They may come from strangers on the internet…from your teachers, your bosses, your competitors… even from your friends and family… But in reality, no matter the source or the exact wording, they are all said with the same meaning and the same intent.
The meaning behind these phrases is “How dare she be herself? How dare she revel in all her multifaceted feminine glory? How dare she shine so brightly? How dare she act like she’s worthy of more (I mean, it’s not like she’s a celebrity)? How dare she be proud of who she is as a woman? How dare she be something that makes me feel less-than or threatened or uncomfortable?”
As for the intent behind uttering these phrase, it is even simpler: to make you so afraid of judgement and shaming that you play small. To make you scared to move, to speak, to shine… To make sure that you stay in the tiny box (with the narrow and smothering label) that the world wants to keep you in. No, the intent is not always conscious on the part of the speaker. Often, it is just a thoughtless regurgitation of what they’ve heard a thousand times before. But the underlying intent is always there, and the outcome is usually the same: We shrink. We hide. We dim our lights.
I’m here to tell you right now that this is all Grade-A bullshit. Because you know what? It’s okay. Say it with me: It’s okay.
It’s okay to feel beautiful. It’s okay to share your beauty — with a selfie or a professional photo shoot or just by putting on a fabulous red dress and walking confidently into a room. Human beings are wired to seek and enjoy beauty. No, you do not have to fit someone else’s standard or definition of beauty to celebrate what makes YOU uniquely beautiful. You do not have to hide your beauty so others won’t feel threatened. And you most certainly do not have to apologize for your beauty or play the false modesty game or deny that you even see it so you can be known as humble. Fuck that. You’re beautiful. Own it.
It’s okay to want attention. HUMAN BEINGS have a deep emotional need for attention: Men, women, children… Come to think of it, animals and even plants need it too. It is a basic need of all living things. Please stop letting yourself feel ashamed of being a person with basic needs. Please stop pretending you don’t even have them. Is it good to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy attention-seeking? Of course. But don’t let that difference be defined for you by people who are filtering their perception of you through their own projections and biases.
It’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to be successful. It’s okay to brand yourself and OWN your field. It’s okay to know your value — to speak it out loud and command respect for it. And… wait for it… it’s actually okay to do all of these while having a vagina. (I know, crazy, right?)
It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments and your gifts. In fact, I submit to you that it’s actually disrespectful to NOT be proud of these things. Because, in a way, not being proud means not being truly grateful. Not sharing those gifts and accomplishments with other robs THEM of the opportunity to learn from you, to be inspired by you, to see what is possible for themselves.
It’s okay to be a sexual being — to ooze sensuality and unapologetic sexiness out of every pore. It’s okay to want sex, to like it, to love it. It’s ok to talk about it, to joke out about it, to think about it as much as you like (as long as you leave enough time to care about all the other important stuff too). It’s also okay to just not be that into it, if that is your truth, by the way.
It’s okay to be socially conscious, to disagree with others (yes, even out loud if you are so inclined). It’s okay to speak up for yourself and for others who aren’t strong enough or empowered enough to do it for themselves. It’s okay to be religious, or spiritual, or neither.
It’s okay to be both a girly-girl and a feminist. No matter what “they” tell you, you CAN love men (and lipstick and mini-skirts and furry boots and glitter) and still march for women’s rights and donate to women’s shelters and teach your daughters to stand up for themselves (and teach your sons the meanings of the words “respect” and “consent”).
It’s okay to be white and still believe that black lives matter. It’s okay to be Christian and still love atheists. It’s okay to be full-figured and still give love and props to skinny girls, and vice-versa. It’s okay to be heterosexual and still want your gay or lesbian neighbors to be happy, find love, and be able to get married.
The most important thing I suppose I’m trying to say here, is that it’s okay to be ALL of the things that you are. Being smart and being sexy are not mutually exclusive. Being ambitious in business and loving your family are two states of being that can and do peacefully coexist all around us. Believing in personal responsibility can be balanced with having compassion for those less fortunate. Expressing a momentary sadness does not invalidate your gratitude for all your blessings. Being silly or watching mindless TV and eating cheese-in-a-can one night does not mean you can’t have a soul-deep, life-changing conversation with a stranger over kale smoothies the next day. Evolving in your beliefs and ideals over time is a healthy, mature thing. It doesn’t make you “fake” or “wishy-washy.’ It actually means your mind and heart are open, and that is a good thing.
Resist, defy, and shred labels. “Madonna” and “whore” are not two separate categories into which we need to force-fit women. There are bits of both archetypes in each of us…but… here’s the important part: There is SO. Much. More. You are more. I am more. And for the women who don’t yet BELIEVE you are more – YOU are why I put myself out there every day doing and saying the things I do and say. Some will hate me for it, others will love me for it. Some will chide me to my face, others will deride me behind my back. I have to be ok with all of that. I have to turn a deaf ear when necessary to carry on doing what I know deep in my gut to be right. Because I know that for each person who has contempt for what I have to share, there is another who will be slowly turned toward the light of greater self-love, and another still who may be immediately inspired to do something amazing for themselves and then go and share it with the world. I am not Mother Theresa by any stretch. I am not Ghandi. I am me. My message is different. I can’t say if it’s lesser or greater, but I know it has value.
Thank you for listening. And remember: