I was trying on outfits in a dressing room last night and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, between hanging one top back up and picking up the next.
No shower. Long day of errands and shooting and driving three-plus hours all over the state of NH.
Not my best look.
But what struck me, wasn’t that I looked a mess. It was the little stubble I saw on my ankle, something that reminded me that it’s officially summer now and I need to be better prepared for capris and shorts on a daily basis. It’s something that also reminded me of my own mother. I remember being a teenager and noticing stubble on her legs every now and then, wondering how on earth that could go unnoticed? (Because, clearly, women weren’t supposed to have hair…it’s not like it’s a natural occurrence or anything.) And furthermore, I wondered, how could she be so confident, out and about in sandals and shorts, with…with…tiny, minuscule, hardly visible to the casual passerby, black dots on her legs.
I mean. Really.
Back home, after a very failed attempt at trying on clothing, I had a note from a friend whose pictures I had taken with her newborn daughter, commenting on her surprise to see what a disaster she was.
Set aside for a moment that I thought she looked beautiful and surprisingly put together as a new mother to a six day old baby girl, and set aside that a small part of me wanted to just extend my hand and say, Oh, right. Welcome to the glamorous club, Sweetheart. Didn’t we warn you, it’s all a mess from here on out?
But more than anything, it reminded me how beautiful motherhood is to those who are looking in, and how disastrous it feels at times when you’re the one being looked in on.
I have many new mothers who see their portraits and ask to have eyes brightened, bags lessened, wrinkles softened. I work with new mothers who tug at their shirts the entire session, attempting to hide what was just days earlier, a glorious home for their most precious baby.
But then, the baby comes and bellies are soft, bodies are still swollen, things are still fluid, moving, metamorphosing. Motherhood is motion, it’s growth and change and swelling and shrinking and never, ever, truly sitting still. And, sometimes, it’s looking at a picture and realizing you don’t entirely recognize who’s looking back, because this magnificent person is as new to the world as the baby in your arms.
It’s part of why I wanted to do the Just a Minute: Moments in Motherhood project over the winter. Because the beauty of motherhood isn’t in anything perfect or flawless at all – it’s in everything else. It’s in the confidence that we gain as our focus shifts off of ourselves and onto our children and spouses, it’s in the fine maps drawn over our skin, lines and faint wrinkles, gray hairs, softening curves.
And in doing the project, I wanted mothers to see themselves as they are, truly, messy, deeply in love with their children, deeply engrossed in their lives.
Of course, some mothers just have a gift for perfectly smooth legs seven days a week. Some have hair that hasn’t begun to turn gray, some have flat stomachs, some don’t have bags or crows feet. Some, very rare ones, have it all, and also manicures and very put together wardrobes. But, I promise you, they have the same reaction to themselves in mirrors and in pictures. When they see themselves through light and glass, there is always a moment of Oh. So, that’s me. Huh.
I had pictures done awhile ago with a great photographer and with hair and make-up and outfit changes. We had lighting and props and the run of an entire old library type building with beautiful windows and stairs. The pictures are beautiful. Beautiful.
But, to this day, I don’t see myself when I see them.
I see false eyelashes. I see impractically high heels. I see porcelain skin, where I know there are freckles and fine lines. I see make-believe.
When the reality is, this is me. No make-up, no help with my hair. If the lens was wider, you’d see the pile of laundry on the chair in my living room, and the topless Evaline sucking on a freeze-pop to my left.
And, sure, there are times when cringe when I’m tagged in a picture on Facebook. There are times when I see an angle of my backside that I really could have done without, or a picture when I realize just how close to mid-thirties I am.
I have become the woman who notices stubble on her leg, while she’s already out in public, and who just shrugs in response.
I’m tired. I’m more than tired. I’m flat out spent.
But, man, if this life isn’t worth every last bit that I’m giving it.
And, I really wish that every mom could feel just the same.
Because, in the light of my lens, all I’m seeing is the glow of a life in progress, a mother in motion, blossoming right before the world’s eyes.