By Heidi Wachter |
“I am not a pretty girl.That is not what I do.I ain’t no damsel in distressand I don’t need to be rescued.”— Ani DiFranco
Last night I spent the evening with five of my awesome co-workers at the Esprit De She 5k event in Edina, MN.
Our team decided to attend some events this year in order to meet and create awareness among non-readers and mingle with those that are already loyal readers. Last night, we met both and it was really fun and interesting on both counts.
This time out, we set up a photo booth and created a fake cover shoot on the side. Note: It really pays to have a talented creative director and graphic designer on staff! Thank you, Lydia and Steph.
It didn’t take long — thanks to my friend Karen who showed up to be supportive — for Steph to get some test shots for lighting.
Some people loved the idea and were excited to participate. Others needed a bit of convincing and many opted out. Once we got rolling, we generated a lot of enthusiasm and even had a bit of a line going for a while.
Since I’m fascinated by sociology, what I found really interesting was that it didn’t matter whether the photo was of an individual or a group, just about everyone wanted to see their photo on Steph’s camera. Or, they were concerned with what it might look like once she was done turning it into a mock cover. Some people didn’t want to take off their hats or sunglasses because their hair might look bad or were concerned they might blink or just not look acceptable.
It’s a common reaction, but I can’t help but wonder why we are so fixated on how we look. The goal of our photo project was to create a positive real-life and an online/social media experience for the participants. On a deeper level it was a way to explore the notion that only certain people are “cover pretty.”
For example, when I shared my own test photo on my Facebook page, I wrote:
“Turns out I am cover pretty after all. Come visit me at the Esprit de She 5K at 50th and France in Edina on Thursday night and get YOUR picture on the cover of Experience Life!”
I think some of my friends thought I wrote what I did because I didn’t think that I was pretty. It’s true in my younger days, I would never have looked at myself as someone who was pretty or beautiful. In fact, I wore being “not a pretty girl” as a badge of honor.
Of course by defining myself as “not pretty,” that meant that I had to have some definition of “pretty” in the first place. It’s true, I really didn’t consider myself beautiful for the longest time. There are many reasons for this belief, but that’s a different blog post. In short, when I turned 40, I decided to stop caring much about how I looked. I just decided to accept and deal with what I saw and felt no matter what. This takes a lot of work, I admit, but it is good work.
I can’t help but find it a bit ironic that it took me — someone who has two degrees in Feminist Studies and read and written a lot about this topic — so long to really accept the image in the mirror or the photograph as simply that. An image.
My image is whatever I say it is at any given time. It changes as I change. I get to define myself. I choose NOT to define myself on how I look or based on any other specific part of my identity. I am gay. I am a feminist. I am a female. I am smart. I am a friend. I am a sister. I am white. However, none of these are all that I am.
I believe we are all “cover pretty.” The challenge is to investigate our own beliefs of what beauty means, how they are shaped, why we have them and whether or not they keep us from being happy.
I still adore Ani DiFranco’s feminist, grrl-power, DIY anthem, “Not a Pretty Girl,” but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that it’s ok to ask for help sometimes. Now at 40, I believe that being strong is beautiful, but so is being vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other. What I really figured out was that calling myself beautiful makes me feel vulnerable, but it also makes me feel powerful.
So next time someone asks you to get your photo taken, I challenge you to put yourself out there and do it. Don’t fix your hair in the store window before you do it either. Don’t fix your lipstick. Don’t straighten your tie. Just say ok and go with it. Tell yourself you are “cover pretty.” Because you are.