Posts Tagged ‘ authenticity

re-picturing SWIMMING


My big toe skims the surface of the pool and the water feels colder than I expect. Although I instinctually pull my foot back, I force myself into the water to swim. In one swift motion, I plunge into the pool and dip my head under the water. I remind myself to breathe and settle into the front crawl.

As my hand slices the surface of the water, I capture a brief glimpse of the faded “T” that is tattooed on my wrist. I smile (and cough as I breath in a little water) and recall the reactions of my friends to my now almost non-existent henna tattoo. One friend wondered if it stood for Tom Tiegs and my husband plays along saying that he likes to have his women branded. Another wondered whether it was real (real henna-yes, permanent-no) and more to the point “what is that all about.”

My answer is simple. The T stands for Tribe. And thanks to Rebecca Murphy, I, along with 7 other women shared this symbol from our most recent gathering. Yes, the T stands for Tribe, but determining what the Tribe represents is much more complicated.

Anxious from the uncomfortable space of silence, I start rambling on and fumbling over my words. The questions feel pointed, even though they are motivated by friendly interest and curiosity. I try to find the language, but am at a loss.

So, I start with the real, the tangible, the concrete. Facts that I can logically piece together and articulate to others.

What is the Tribe? Well, the people of my Tribe are beautiful, creative, brave, authentic women who were willing to symbolically take the plunge and go to a creativity retreat with a group of women they had never met. I am still so grateful that Celina, Dar, Emily, Elizabeth, Meghan, Melissa, Sophie, and Rebecca said “yes” to that initial gathering of very different, but like-minded spirits. We came as strangers, but left as a Tribe. We are writers, photographers, painters, mosaicists, researchers, videographers, wives, partners, mothers, striving to be more authentic and creative, following our bliss. The Tribe is a scattering of women from across North America, but we congregate in spirit through our blogs and our “secret” Facebook group and in person in a rugged beach house on the Oregon coast. We do everything from the ordinary to the extraordinary. We prepare and eat meals together, we walk and run by the ocean, we dance. We create vision boards, we paint rocks, we voice dreams and fears aloud for the first time. The Tribe is about creativity, it is about connection, it is about drinking wine, it is about authenticity, it is about Mic Jagger.

Although my heart has a deep understanding of the Tribe, it hasn’t yet found the language to speak this truth to my mind (much less give me the words to explain it to others). Perhaps it’s the lack of oxygen that comes from being a novice swimmer or a momentary lapse in my racing thoughts as I fully immerse myself in the flow required to coordinate my limbs into one fluid swimming motion, but my mind is just quiet enough to hear my heart whisper that swimming in the water is a lot like being a member of the Tribe.

Some of us dove. Others waded. Still others got their feet wet, but decided that it was not yet their time to swim. Each woman in the Tribe ultimately plunged into the unknown, trusting the universe, trusting one another, and trusting herself.

Just as the Tribe requires us to share with one another wholeheartedly, swimming requires you to be all in. The legs can’t take a breather, leaving the arms to flail forward. You must be willing to give your whole self (even those parts that we often hide in the dark because they don’t feel so pretty – our insecurities, our anger, our not-quite-fleshed-out ideas, our what-ifs, our pettiness) and accept other people’s whole selves in return.

After having a long-standing running injury, I appreciate how the water supports me unconditionally. It’s not easy. I have to show up each day. And, even when busyness, fear, and feelings of not enoughness make me want to run, I know that the water is waiting for me to come as I am.

The water also offers gentle resistance as I move forward on my path. Likewise, the Tribe supports me, but also calls me on my shit. What do you mean you don’t have time to breath? You can’t prioritize 5 minutes for yourself? Hell, let’s breath now. Doesn’t that feel better? Yet, even with the gentle resistance that comes from moving in the water, I don’t sink.

The Tribe is linked to one another in the same way that the water connects all life in the sea. Although sometimes nothing is said, the Tribe hurts when one of our members feels alone or can’t speak her truth. Like a rising tide, a success of a fellow Tribe sister also raises us all to a higher level.

This year, the Tribe plunged into the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. As with our first encounter, there were those who were instigators and others who were followers, but when it came down to it, there were 8 women throwing caution (and garments) to the wind as we raced toward the sea.

My big toe hits the surface of the ocean, quickly followed by the rest of my foot, calves, thighs and torso. Somehow, with these beautiful women surrounding me, the water feels warmer than I expected.


What happens when we get over the need to look perfect all of the time and see that we are enough, we are (imperfectly) beautiful, we are (already) pretty? Is that the destination, the end game? Actually, I think it’s just the beginning.

Once we accept that we are worthy, regardless of what our body looks like, then we can turn our attention to the real business of appearance authenticity. A different set of concerns start to surface. Questions change from “Do these jeans make me look fat” to “Do these jeans look like me? Do they reflect my style or what I truly value? Do they reflect on the outside what I think and believe on the inside?

You might not want to hear this (especially if you spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money exercising, dieting, buying the latest fashion trends trying to “look good”), but it is actually much easier to accept the world’s view that we must look a certain way to be attractive and have worth. At least the world tells us exactly what this looks like and how to get there (if you doubt this, just open a fashion magazine – although on the surface the models may be different shapes and sizes, there is actually very little latitude in terms of what is considered beautiful in our culture). You need to be thin –diet and exercise. You need to dress fashionably – spend your money buying the latest fashion fads. You need to erase any signs that you are a human being – all hair (accept on your head) must go.

If we just listen to the world, then we don’t have to do the soul searching that might reveal our appearance authenticity – what our unique perspective and experience attracts us to in terms of our appearance. It’s actually very simple, but at the same time very difficult to do. We have to “check in” with rather than “check out” ourselves once and a while. What do you like? What do you prefer? I love turquoise. I hate yellow. Wool is itchy, but warm, so I always wear a cotton t-shirt underneath. I like the one-of-a kind pieces that come from local businesses and vintage stores. I want to buy from clothing stores that support my values. How much of your wardrobe actually reflects your true, authentic appearance?

Another shortcut we might use is to look around and find another woman who is exuding her authenticity through appearance. And we think, I want that. So, we go get her haircut, her clothes, or her bag.  However, playing dress-up with another woman’s authenticity doesn’t work. Once we don her costume, we wonder why we’re not exuding the same radiance as her. If we delved a bit deeper into what that urge really means, we would realize that her specific appearance doesn’t really matter. We don’t want to look like her. We don’t want to be her. But we do want to feel her authenticity. We want the feeling of being alive, being in the moment, of coming back (or going to) our true selves that comes from someone who knows who they are and is not afraid to show it to the world.

We also don’t do ourselves any favors by acting agnostic when it comes to our appearance. In graduate school, I had a consciousness-raising experience and was so angered by the fact that women were constantly judged (and never really positively) by our appearances.  We were judged as unworthy if we weren’t conventionally beautiful and we were judged as incompetent if we were. This was somewhat paralyzing when it came to my own appearance, so I chose to focus as little time as possible on it. However, whether we like it or not, we are always making choices when it comes to our appearance. We choose what to wear each morning. We choose to wear make-up or style our hair. We choose new clothes once our old clothes wear out.

We can choose to play it safe – by accepting what the world tells you about beauty, by trying on other women’s hand-me-down authenticity that will never really, or by acting as if appearance doesn’t matter. Or we can choose to search our deeper selves and start making sure that the outside reflects the inside.

When was the last time you “checked in” with, rather than “checked out” yourself? Does your appearance represent the true you?


A few opportunities have recently arisen that have made me consider my pictures from a very different perspective. Most of the time, I have my eyes peeled for *interesting* photographic opportunities — seeing a unique color or texture. Noticing the light shining in an oh-so-perfect way. Trying out different points of view and focus points. In most of these situations, I feel grounded in myself as well as challenged by playful possibilities. What would happen if I focused here? It might be kind of interesting if I opened the shutter for longer. Although it can be challenging, it feels more like play than work.

Over the past week, however, I’ve adopted an outsider’s perspective of my pictures. I recognize that this can be a dangerous thing. After all, I study the adverse consequences of self-objectification, in which women adopt an outsider’s perspective of their bodies, focusing on their appearance more than their own thoughts, feelings, and goals.

Unfortunately, this is the perspective that I took of my pictures…instead of focusing on my authentic reaction — my thoughts and feelings — I instead adopted an outsider’s perspective and started wondering how my pictures would be viewed by others. What might other people think of these pictures? What kind of picture might I take that would have mass appeal? How do my pictures stack up to those of others?

This exercise in self-picturfication (yes, I made up that word…but it does have a nice ring to it) once again made me feel fearful about moving forward. To make matters worse, someone told me point-blank that they would not buy one of my pictures. Ouch. That hurt.

However, it served as a helpful reminder (we all know this, right?) that I need to let my own self shine through in my pictures (and in my life). If people don’t like the pictures? So what? For me, it might actually be riskier to try to cater to other people’s needs, rather than my own. As a recovering people pleaser, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to anticipate and being anxious about what other people think of me. This has come at a great cost — often not being able to be authentic with others and sometimes myself. I don’t want to do this with my photography. After all, the thing that makes us love pictures is their uniqueness and authenticity. By worrying about what other people think, we often undermine our own creativity and sense of possibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up on potential opportunities to share my work with others. After all, that sense of connection is one of the most wonderful things about  art and creativity. However, I’m going to rest in faith that by letting our light shine through, focusing on the process instead of the product, that all will be well.


Brene Brown’s blog on ordinary courage is amazing. I love her idea that being our best selves involves cultivating the courage to be vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect. By giving myself permission to not be perfect as a “beginner” at blogging and photography, I decided to join Brene in her Perfect Protest in honor of her upcoming book, The Gifts of Imperfection.