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A reflecting pool (1/52)

For several years, I've asked my friends to trust me with their image and model for me. Some were enthusiastic, others were reluctant and shy. I would talk to them about my intention, that I simply wanted to honor their beauty. I told them that we would just go out in nature, have fun and see what resulted. I promised that if they hated the images, or were uncomfortable with them, I'd never show them, and that I would even delete them if that's what they really needed. I still do this, because I want people to feel safe enough to explore their image with me. Each time, we would go spend some time in a beautiful, quiet spot out in nature. I'd try to put them at ease, to make them laugh and encouraged them to try forget I was there. Once they began to let go a bit, we'd begin. Happily, at the end, each one delighted in their images, these reflections of their own beauty. I was very happy and proud of this. I had known a fair amount of people (ok, women) growing up who would disparage their body. It was something I learned to do as well. As I got older, I was determined to never let that story take root in my body. I would be different, and I would help others do the same. I decided that as a photographer, this would be my mission.


But I was so focused on trying to not live out that story of self-hatred, that I didn't see my own unhealed wounds in my relationship with my body. It was hard to acknowledge that the vision of my body and face often didn't match the vision that I had in my head, in a way that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. It felt hard to acknowledge that I would have days of feeling disappointed and disgusted with what I looked like. This wasn't who I wanted to be. But it was real and it was present.


As with most women, it started in my teens and escalated in my 20's. I remember sitting up as tall as I could in church, clenching my stomach so that my belly would look flat. I remember modeling for friends at photography school, having a blast, but then several times feeling ashamed when I saw the final results. Especially if my full body was in the image. I felt I looked lumpy, boring and disappointing. I longed to be thinner, leaner. Even though it didn't feel like it was my nature to be so "shallow", the craving was still there. I felt if I looked a certain way, I'd be more powerful, less vulnerable. I wouldn't be made fun of, or rejected. People would want to talk to me more, boys would be interested in me. I would be noticed in a safe, positive way. It feels cliched to write it down now, but that's how it felt.


This was magnified with my photography and especially with social media. A "good" photo of me was one where my angles worked out correctly, on a day my skin was in a good mood, and usually didn't include very much of my body. With a little bit of light photoshop, I'd be good to go. What a babe....and what a mix of vanity and fear that created. And it wasn't just with my own image. Even with these women that I adored, I would perform a little bit of photoshop magic. But only just a little bit! Nothing major, just some softening of the skin, some removal of a few blemishes...no major restructuring of the body, no shrinking of proportions. It was so little, it didn't feel hypocritical or wrong. It was still 95% their natural beauty, so that was all right. Right?


Now, I wonder at that. Why isn't existence and the expression of that existence enough? Not only for these women I have loved and valued so deeply, but also for myself. Why?


Over the last few years, I've been able to take a look at some of these old wounds and offer them some tenderness and some love. And in the process, I can see that I've spent a long time being dissociated from my body, that I've spent a lot of my time in the safety of my head. There are many reasons for it, but a big one is the soundtrack that would echo through my head about how I look: "Ok, I have to stop being so lazy. I have to find some sort of exercise I like to do, because then I'll get more fit and I'll look the way I want to. Maybe if I could get off my ass and do that, the weird keloids that I hate on my back and shoulders will go away. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd be healthier and I would look it too, and then I wouldn't be so fucking miserable with myself. Then I wouldn't look like a lumpy mess. It's all my fault. I need to be better than this."


Nice, huh? What a cruel way to see myself, to see my body. What a warping of my sense of self. At my heart, I know there's nothing wrong with me, and that I'm strong and lovely and my body is a delight. And sometimes when I remember all that my body has been through and survived, I feel in awe of her. But that's not as often as it should be, and that cruel voice that tries to make me forget that truth blocks the way between us. At its worst, it keeps me depressed and frozen when all I want to do is move and play and celebrate being alive. And I don't want to keep losing my Self to this story. I feel that I can't afford to anymore.


So what do I want? I want to come home to my body NOW and meet her where she's at. I want to love her for where she is at without judgement or condition. I don't want to think she's "all right, but...". I want to fall in love with her, with all that she has done for me, all that she has carried me through and all that we've survived together. I want to get the hell off of this carousel of self-loathing. For how can I ask people to trust me, to accept and love their bodies, to own their natural beauty, if I can't do it myself?


Because of all this, I've started a new photography project: one self portrait every week for a year, ending on the summer solstice in 2022. I don't want to have a bunch of rules, but I am holding to a few boundaries. I'm allowed to use photoshop to clean up color and tone for the overall scene, the way I would for any photograph. I can have fun playing with light when I'm photographing. But I'm not allowed to manipulate my own image. No retouching. Every wrinkle, dimple, keliod, etc, stays. I'm not obligated to make any particular images, but I must feel that they are an expression of my Self and of my heart, without losing sight of my body.


I'm excited and inspired, and I'm nervous and scared all the same. Can I actually follow through and do this? Do I really want people to see me? Is this just a ridiculous vanity project? I'm just another body, another lens, another cluster of words. I don't feel I have anything new to say, so would anyone actually care? For me, doing this calls for a release of control, and an embracing of honesty. It calls for me to be curious, and see my body as she is. And most of it, it calls for me to let myself be seen and to be heard, even though I'm terrified of being rejected. No matter what happens, I've decided that at the very least, it will be a record of my journey to truly come home. And when I focus on that instead of my fears, I'm really excited to see where it takes me.


So I start this year off with the two images below. They were taken with one of my closest friends in her backyard. And you know what? I love them. This was a magical, unplanned night, and I feel so grateful to see both my spirt AND body in them, without feeling estranged from either. And best of all is that I don't see my "flaws"...I don't see some perfected version of myself...I just see me.


©Caitlin Reclusado