I helped CeCe pick out the loaner ballet shoes from the drawer and tuck her Paw Patrol underwear back in her cousin’s stretched, black leotard. With a guiding hand on her back I walked her to the edge of the dance floor. She looked up at me, and took a cautious step out on to the floor. Our daughter CeCe took her first ballet class a few weeks ago. Even though she is usually fearless the new turf had her freaked out.
Standing in a row of seemingly perfect, pink ballerinas, I watched her look down and compare her black leotard to the frilly pink ones her classmates had on. She tilted her chin down and managed a side look and small smile at the girl next to her. The little girl burst in to tears and moved away. I guess she was having a hard first class too. CeCe looked over at me, biting her bottom lip, eyes big and glassy like two blue gumballs. She was trying hard to hold her tears in. I would have done anything to help her blend in, feel confident, or make a new friend but I knew she had to learn how to do this on her own. I gave her a smile and a thumbs up. If this is hard, what the heck is middle school going to be like?
We are raising a confident kid. At least I would like to think so. She plays pretend without care for who is watching, sings loudly no matter how few lyrics she knows, and invents games and stories for us all to participate in. Her favorite books are all about smart girls and every chance we get we encourage her to be brave, and trust herself.
It still made my heart catch in my throat when I saw CeCe notice her leotard was a different color then all of the other girls in the class. (Mom fail . . . why didn’t I know they were supposed to wear pink?). I wanted to give the stank eye to the girl that moved away from her. Dang, she just smiled at you kid, don’t run away. When she looked up at me, CeCe’s eyes said what I see in the eyes of nervous clients. “Do you see me? Am I good enough?”
We have all felt the nagging of those anxieties. These two essential questions that we never lose in childhood. Do you see me? Am I good enough?
There is a moment of shock that almost every client we photograph has when they see their portraits. It is easily my favorite moment in the entire process. My job as a photographer isn’t to create out of nothingness, it is to discover. The reveal meeting is where clients view their portraits and is where I get to show our clients that they are seen. That they are perfect, just as they are. That their charm and character is their true beauty. That their talents and passions are unique and essential. That who they are, in this moment, without any changes or modifications is exactly enough. I get to say, without words, that I see you. Photography validates who we are.
A portrait doesn’t reflect back the face we show the world, but rather seeks and finds the beauty others see in us. Those questions – “do you see me”, “am I good enough” are answered completely. Yes, you are seen. Who you are is enough.
CeCe finished her dance class with a killer solo that she made up on the spot. Leaping and gliding around she was the same confident little girl we see at home. She lost herself to nerves for a moment, but then was found again. Maybe through photography, all of us can find ourselves again.