Empowering Editorial Portraiture: Finally, The Result of Our Photo Shoot

Right before Covid hit, I shared the countdown to my photo shoot.  Lucky for me, I was able to get in the photo shoot and the photo selection before the shutdown.  So why have I waited so long to share the outcome?  Like so many of you, I was in shock, hibernation, and then adaptation mode for the past few months.  I just wasn’t ready to present myself too much.  But now I am.  

Who cares, it’s just a bunch of pics, right?  But for me, this was an emotionally complex process.  I’ve always felt uncomfortable getting my pictures taken.  I am a ham in front of a video camera, but when it comes to still photos, I freeze up and always look unhappy, uncomfortable, and unlike me.  And let’s face it, we are a visual culture now.  We speak in pictures.  They matter.  As a woman who writes about beauty, and relies on it somewhat — for better or worse, I really wanted my pictures to capture me at my best.  More than that, I wanted them to capture who I am and my personality.  I wanted them to express my growth as a woman, professional, and human being.

I held off for YEARS getting my next round of shots.  I was afraid to commit the time and resources to photos that could end up horrible.  But when I saw a post by a former advertising colleague, Rebecca Rehder, about her portrait studio, June4thstudio, I was intrigued.  Upon meeting and chatting about the shoot, I immediately knew she was the ONE.  She truly tried to understand my expectations, my goals, and how to showcase my best assets.  She recognized that I was on a new journey professionally, and how I wanted to “show up” as a mix of thought leader, creative and fun.  In a nutshell, she creates Empowering Editorial Portraiture.  So I went for it.  

Rebecca uniquely combines her background as an advertising strategist and her photography talent to create magic.  She tries to capture a person’s essence, her power, and her many layers of beauty.  To hear more about her special technique watch our chat below.    

For a selection of our shots, see gallery below:

The Other Side to Media’s Unrealistic Depictions of Beauty

Apologies for the break in posts over the past few weeks.  I’ve been cooking up a whole new aspect to my blog!  Stay tuned for the upcoming changes.

Courtesy of Numero Magazine

I was flying back from Paris last week and picked up the August issue of Numero magazine in the airport.  Though my French is terrible, my eye sight isn’t, so I relished in the magazine’s beautiful imagery.  But nothing blew me away as much as the amazing spread by Sophia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello.  Of course the photography was gorgeous and the fashion beautiful.  What stopped me in my tracks, though, were the striking images of young and older women (see pic above).  Despite my heavy load, I knew I had to carry that magazine with me all the way home.  This photoshoot elated me.  And it confirmed what I’ve been believing for a while.  Let’s not fear and reject media outright for it’s shaming of men and women.  Instead, let’s find ways to uplift it.

As a young strategic planner at DDB in the 90’s, I couldn’t escape all of the famous quotes from legendary ad man and founder, Bill Bernbach.  As you’d expect I barely remember most of them but a few have stuck.  One that has influenced me throughout my career, and frankly kept me connected to the marketing and advertising business as long as I have, was this:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Today, media, especially social media, is often vilified for projecting unrealistic, negative, stereotypical imagery of people.  And it can lead to the vulgar sides of society: body shaming, poor self image and crazy standards.  As a mother of girl entering puberty, I’m acutely aware of this.  Plus, I often catch myself measuring my looks against these standards.

But can we recognize the opportunity the media affords us too?

For better or for worse, we are visual creatures.  We are drawn to imagery, especially images of people.  Moreover, we are fundamentally attracted to beauty — beautiful people, beautiful images, and beautiful things.  Of course we have different interpretations of beauty.  But the truth they appeal to us… greatly.   And because we’re that much more likely to focus on a picture or video than sit down and read an essay, or listen to a pundit speak, we are likely to let these new notions of beauty and self-expression penetrate.

We could just bemoan today’s media or we could use our tendency towards beauty, and the media that leverages, it to “uplift”society, rather than “vulgarize it.”

How?

First, let’s use the plethora of imagery to spark a conversation with our kids.  We can ask them how they feel about it and how to view it all with a realistic eye.  Through that conversation we may venture into much larger issues of body image, aging, and confidence.

Second, we can influence media to push for more inclusive imagery.   And it’s happening already!  Media is starting to hear us.  A recent article in Digiday references the numerous examples from beauty and fashion magazines that are now reflecting the many different forms of gender, ethnicity, body type and age.

Finally, because we know we are attracted to such imagery, the world of beauty and fashion can be a vehicle for even greater social change!  This same article gave us two great quotes, one from Jenny Bailly, Allure’s executive beauty editor, and the other from, Cat Quinn of Refinery29, which summarized this well:

“Beauty is a great vehicle for driving conversations about social change, because it’s accessible to everyone,” said Quinn, of Refinery29. It’s a topic that many argue lends itself easily to the bigger picture. “When we talk to Halima or [trans model] Andreja Pejic, or [boy beauty star] James Charles, or a young woman on a reservation in Montana about hair and makeup, we’re also having intimate conversations about where they’ve come from, what they believe in and how they interact with the world,” said Bailly.

Let’s not expect to shield our children entirely from the imagery around us, or even poo poo it.  Plus, we all know they find ways to see to it anyway.  Instead let’s embrace the imagery.  Let’s use it as a forum for discussion, and even encourage our friends and our kids to let media outlets know what they want to see projected.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of social media?  Everyone has a voice :).

Beauty, Judgements & Hypocrites: Enough is Enough

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That’s a picture of me when I was about 6 months old.  As you can tell I’m wearing a special shoe on my left foot.  That shoe, along with a cast, straightened (well, for the most part) the crooked leg I was born with.  I’m sure my parents were thinking that having a slightly crooked leg would hamper my movement as I grew up.  But I bet the biggest reason for the correction was that I would just look plain funny with a twisted leg.

So many of us have reconstructed some part of our bodies that we don’t even think twice about it.   Think about how many people have straightened their crooked teeth or in the case of Debora L. Spar, who recently authored “Aging and My Beauty Dilemma” in last week’s New York Times, reduced her breasts via breast reduction surgery.  Such procedures rarely faze us or compel us to judge people harshly because of them.  When a 13 year-old boy walks around with upper and lower braces in his mouth,  we don’t say: “oh, he’s so vain” or “he’s succumbing to social pressures, he should be above that.”  Of course not.

So why do so many of us strong, empowered women feel so damn insecure getting fillers or a boob lift?  Why must we think we are somehow being hypocrites or turning our back on feminism?

I have to hand it to Spar for putting herself out there and sharing her insecurities.  And bravo for the New York Times to take her words seriously enough to print them.  As president of an excellent women’s college, Barnard, Spar is certainly a model of feminism.  And yet, she, like so many of us, are fearful of looking old, and, at the same time, ashamed for feeling that way or doing anything about it.  It wasn’t so much that she was insecure with her changing looks (though she clearly is) but that she feels she is going against her feminist principles that really bothered her.

I get it.  The media or western culture in general can often makes us feel ugly and prey on our insecurities around aging.  And then, to make matters worse, it pressures us not to address those feelings lest we be called frivolous or worse, a hypocrite.

But, c’mon.  Getting a haircut, shaving our legs, and wearing Invisalign are such common behaviors now we don’t think anything of them.  And yet they are all part of our daily regimen to transform how we look.  Should we feel ashamed that we do them, no way!  And men do them too.  They don’t make us less powerful, brilliant or leader-like.

And the same should be true for fillers, botox, breast augmentation, you name it.  They will become so common one day that we will put them in the same bucket as teeth whitening.

So let’s stop wasting our precious energies on judging others for their beauty boosting behaviors.  And even better, lets stop wasting our time and effort feeling ashamed for partaking in them.

I applaud Spar for her article.  Good for her for having the courage to be so vulnerable and talk about something WE ALL feel in some shape or form.  But wouldn’t it be even better if all those “judges” just left her alone so she can feel confident about how she looks and what she does to keep herself feeling beautiful.  And that way she can spend more of her time writing about and sharing her valuable insights on women’s education and leadership instead.

Mirrors Aren’t the Bad Guys

A while back I wrote a post about my utter shock that a style and beauty-conscious friend of mine doesn’t own a full length mirror (Weekend Observations: Mirror, Mirror On The Wall).  After delving into the power of mirrors in literature (Sleeping Beauty anyone?) and in our everyday lives, I realized that mirrors may not be the best tool for our self-esteem.  I applauded my friend for relying more on her own interpretation of her appearance than that of a reflection in a mirror staring back at her.

This complex relationship we have with mirrors is felt so strongly by one woman, Kjerstin Gruys, that she’s swearing them off for a year and blogging about it.  ( See “Local Blogger Swears off Mirrors for a Year“).  After writing my earlier post I would have congratulated her.  And I still think that what she’s attempting is no simple feat.

But my feelings about mirrors have altered again.

Why?  Because mirrors aren’t just scary devices that reflect how bad we look.  That’s just our insecurity taking over.

Instead, mirrors can serve as a barometer of our strength, power and potential.  Patti Davis said it best in a More Magazine article I sourced in an earlier post (Why She Posed in the Nude).  When Patti finally decided to change her dire life from that of a scrawny drug addict to a powerful, confident, fit woman, it was her mirror that became her source of inspiration.  It reflected how far she had come to turn herself around.  The healthfulness of her body was a signal of overall health, and every time she viewed it via the mirror, she was reminded and reinforced by it.  Her words:

We bear witness to ourselves in mirrors… Whether we’re clothed or not, the vulnerability is always there — as is the awareness that there is also, deep within us, an internal mirror. We are never completely finished with who we once were, and we meet that person every time we stare at our own reflection.

Over months and years, I did get strong. My body changed, and I took note of the transformations I saw in the mirror. There were anodyne moments of healing when I’d dispel my fears by looking at the musculature of my body. How dare you feel insecure, I told myself — look at the abdominal muscles centering your body; look at your legs, which can run miles and push heavy weights. Look at the power reflected there and feed off that. The body I had once dis-respected, that I had ruined with drugs, was now my therapist.

I’m not saying we should be slaves to mirrors and constantly be checking ourselves out every time we pass an image of ourselves.  That’s just a major waste of time.  But I do believe we shouldn’t shun a view of our physical selves.  We should view our bodies as reflections of our lives.  Our bodies and our internal selves aren’t separated but rather intertwined.  Yes, sometimes we don’t like what we see, but that’s OK, as long as we are prepared to do something about it or come to terms with it somehow.

And if you do like what you see, well, hell, live it up!

Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

Weekend Observation: Finally, My Photos From the Photoshoot

If you’ve been a follower of Beautyskew for a while, you probably recall that I experienced a transformative experience: my own personal photo shoot.  While a number of the pics from the shoot have made their way into my various social media profiles over the past few months, I haven’t actually done a “big reveal” until now.

Why a photo shoot?  I realized last year that it’s not enough to have great content to share with the world.  I needed to put a “face” to that content.  So some new awesome shots were in order.  But I wasn’t going to rely on my husband or mom for some homey pics.  Nooooo.  I needed to go professional.  And the right “image” was critical too, e.g., not too corporate, but not too coy or cute either.  Luckily, I had a friend of a friend (photographer extraordinaire, Stephen Sullivan) willing to do some for free!

Why has it take me so long to post my pics?  First of all, I took over 1000 shots.  That’s a hellava lot of pics to agonize over.  Second of all, some of the pics weren’t quite appropriate for all eyes (if you catch my drift), though I’ll include some of the less nasty ones anyway … heee, heee.

Finally, SO many of the pics just downright sucked.  I’m not being overly judgmental either.  Sure, I’m going to be more sensitive than anyone to my pics, but still there were a ton of hideous ones.  And these shots aren’t a reflection of my photographer either.  But, as a recent story about photography points out, camera angles can MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. (“The camera does lie: proof that a lens can be the difference between pretty and pretty ugly“)  As the article points out: “Depending on the lens’ focal length, the image will deform and affect how the image looks in photos.”

But as I also learned (and wrote about in another post (Can I Really look Hot In Pictures?), being comfortable or uncomfortable in one’s own skin can change the quality of the shots more than anything.

But, there were still a lot of great shots too.  After becoming more at ease with myself, after my photographer got used to my best angles, and after we figured out the best hairstyles and make-up, we hit our stride.

The following slide show gives you a taste of the absolute horrendous as well as a number of my faves.  The first 5 are the sucky ones, and and the rest are a variety of the goodies (please keep in mind these aren’t adjusted for color/saturation etc, in other words, not photo shopped).

Enjoy!

[showtime]

 

Am I totally satisfied?  Sure, I think there’s some room for improvement.  But at least I have a better sense of what I can do better (e.g., relax), how to use the camera better and how to do my hair and make-up better.  At the very least, I have some instant comic relief. 🙂

Comment or tweet us your thoughts @Beautyskew.com

 

Weekend Observations: Ending the Hypocrisy

How many of us with daughters and sons freak out when we hear them talking about trying to get skinny?  I can imagine many of us.  We don’t want to raise self-hating children, and we’ve been educated our whole lives to eschew the ideals supposedly dictated by the media around thinness. “You should be concerned with being healthy, not skinny,” we all say, right?

But let’s face it, when it comes to our own bodies, do we follow our own advice?  Nope. Most of us are a bunch of hypocrites.  We fret about and often compare our bodies with others.  I get really disturbed at the thought of my daughter one day questioning her own beauty, and yet I catch myself talking to my husband about how bummed I am that I gained a couple of pounds with the kids sitting within ear shot.

A few days ago, the hypocrisy struck me in a powerful way.  My good friend had a bunch of families over for a fantastic lunch.  Once the kids dispersed and the husbands launched into a discussion of their own, one of the ladies around the table started up with being annoyed at her recent weight gain and how much she just ate.  For the next hour we all lamented our own body weight “issues.”  We acknowledged that we don’t want our children to talk the way we do, and any chance we get, we give them the “it’s better to be healthy over skinny” talk.  But my friend told me that her girls respond with “yeah, yeah we know” and finish the lesson for her.

They’re on to us!  Our heart-felt words are useless. They know we’re hypocrites.  If they hear us talking about our bodies in derogatory ways, how can they ever truly absorb a healthier image?  We think they can’t hear us but they DO.  They pick on every spoken and unspoken move, sign, step and glance we give ourselves in the mirror.

It’s not enough to say the right words to our kids.  We need to change our own mentality. I know that’s super hard, but it can start with changing the words we say to and about ourselves.  I bet if we begin to “speak” positively about our own bodies we may not only affect our children for the better but we could actually change our own self-images too.