Jordan Manley took my portrait.
I was short on a recent bio pic. My face doesn’t sell my work, so having an up-to-date headshot, despite what the enterprising types say, has just not been a priority. In fact, it’s something I avoid.
But Jordan Manley was shooting photos to accompany my feature story and it made sense to have him snap a headshot for me, too. Jordan Manley! Only one of the best outdoor photographers out there. Only the youngest person to win Pro Photographer Showdown. Only one of most inventive soulful thoughtful storytellers out. I felt a thrum of anxiety all day.
The last photo I’ve used for professional purposes is nine years old.
My “look” hasn’t changed since then – (even the wardrobe is much the same) – but my looks have. Had a baby. Lost some sleep. Grey hairs got a toehold. What can I say? There’s been some wear and tear.
I’m 42. (I say this the way some women repeat their married names over and over, the words an attempt to pinch their brains into wrapping around a new reality.)
It takes some getting used to.
I’ve lived a sun-blessed life and it shows.
What to do?
Editor wants an up-to-date photo. Jordan Manley is available.
Wear sunglasses, my husband suggested. Obscure your identity. Protect your anonymity.
But he is the person who cancelled his Facebook page, who revels in being under the radar.
Get a facial, have your eyebrows threaded and borrow a fantastic dress, advised Danielle laPorte in an article I read a decade ago and am still haunted by.
I never wear makeup.
(Correction: I wore makeup once, at a wedding, when my best friend did me up. I miss her.)
But I literally do not know what to do with a mascara wand, except to stick it in my eye.
I don’t think my guy friends, most of my masthead mates, worry so hard before the shutter clicks, about how their hair looks, how well they’re aging. But maybe they do.
Maybe it’s hard for all of us to show our naked face.
So Jordan was going to meet me once he’d taken his other shots. I had been climbing all day. I was dirty, sweaty, completely unairbrushed. (And un-hairbrushed.) I was in my happy place – precise GPS coordinates will not be shared, but it is an actual place, not a place I go to in my mind.
I was myself.
It was journalism.
He captured me exactly as I looked, a week after turning 42, 4 years after becoming a mum, two days since my last shower, down by the river.
And he was gentle. It didn’t hurt. He could see how uncomfortable I was in front of the lens. He made conversation, distracted me, exuded this calm and grace that made me want to work with him more, that counterbalanced the frantic thrum I have constantly buzzing in my mind.
He showed me the photos, and I said, “Yep, that’s me,” like I was identifying the body.
“I can confirm that that is an accurate likeness.”
“Do you want to shoot a few more?” he asked.
And I realized how ungracious I sounded.
“No, honestly, you’ve captured me perfectly.”
I couldn’t quite say “those are beautiful”, but I could say “they’re true.” And that is not about his mastery of the lens, it’s about my mastery of self-love.
Today, I read an article in the New York Times about the most popular stock image of “woman” in 2017, ten years after Sheryl Sandberg and Pam Grossman, the Director of Visual Trends for Getty Images, began a campaign to offer a more diverse selection of images of women. (Hat-tip to Jocelyn Glei, for the link.)
Since 2007, when the most used image of “woman” was a semi-naked woman gazing up from a massage table, something has shifted. In 2017, the image of woman is an actor, not a poser. Instead of lying around with come-hither eyes hoping you will notice her, and then, I assume, have sex with her, she is out climbing mountains, scampering along a ridgetop in the Rockies, her face obscured.
“It really feels like an image about power, about freedom, about trusting oneself,” said Grossman, of the new image. “Who cares what you even look like? Let’s focus on what you’re doing.”
Who cares what you look like? (And no judgment from me if you look fantastic, have killer style and are a wizard with the mascara wand. Props. We all express ourselves in different ways.)
But let’s focus on what we’re actually doing.
Here’s what I have been doing in the decade since my last headshot was snapped – aside from working out how to incorporate another quite demanding identity into my playlist – the parent thing – without everything turning to cacophony or static.
I make word bridges.
I build relationships with strangers with a pencil as my magic wand.
I want to be the kind of person someone can look in the eye and say, “I want to tell you something.” And I want them to see love and understanding coming back.
That’s what this naked face is trying to say: I will do my very best to see you. And to allow myself to be seen. Uncomfortable as it is. This is how I lean in.