Cindy knocked on my door one afternoon to ask me questions for a story she was writing about the project. We sat out on the porch in the mild summer air and she wrote my responses on her notepad. I answered as much as I could; the project has never availed itself to easy explanations. I could tell however, that whatever it was she was interpreting from my description was having an impact. I mean, how often to you hear about a project designed to offer women a vantage point from which to see their own divinity, & complexity? I think it was my description of the design of it though that put her curiosity over the edge. "Why don't you just do it, so that you can write about it" I asked innocently. I swear that I could see beads of perspiration instantly form along her hairline as she took that in. She looked at me intently for what seemed like an endless moment. "I just might", she said; and so she did.
TRP: Who are you today?
The only things I know for certain are: I’m a child of God, a daughter and a wife, and I’m the possibility of anything I determine to be. I just ordered a print for my new office space with the quote: “She believed she could, so she did.” Right now for me, that’s the essence of who any of us is… we are whoever we believe we can be, and whoever we believe we are.
I’m also in a better place than when I started this project… steadily reclaiming my confidence, affirming my capabilities and strengths and talents – writing them down, speaking them out loud. I’m filling my mind and my tongue and my universe with positive energy, positive expectations. And positive things are happening.
TRP: What are the biggest challenges that have faced you as a woman?
A number of my biggest challenges have come wrapped in the ball of having a different viewpoint on some things than the “modern woman.” I’m a Christian woman with biblical views that guide how I steward my marriage and the roles my husband and I each take in our family. These are matters I can’t talk about with many of my friends, or even my own lovely mom, who grew up during a time woman were fighting to come out from under submission.
I also made the decision not to have children. This was a decision I didn’t plan or expect to make, but just happened over time. To us, our childless friends seemed happier than our parent-friends. My husband was at sea 9-10 months a year. I was a bitter young Navy wife who recognized I wasn’t mature enough not to transfer my bitterness onto my children. He didn’t want to be an absentee father, and I didn’t want to be a single mother. I am already an over-worrier, and didn’t think I could bear the level of worry that comes with being a parent. And, I was a little afraid “we” couldn’t survive children. Our decision to be childless has ceased to be a stumbling block for our families and friends, but I know it will always give me pause. I made the decision for the right reasons, but I also struggle at times with worries about missing out on the enormity of the love a parent feels, the way a husband sees the mother of his children, and being alone in my very elder years. It was the right decision for me. And I know I will also regret it terribly.
Another big challenge, which may or may not relate to my being a woman, is finding my own voice and having the courage to speak my truth. Fear of not being liked. Fear of being rejected. Fear of being fired. Fear of the withdrawal of love. Fear of hurting somone's feelings. These are my daily struggles with owning my truth and speaking it without apology (another thing I do, a lot). Maybe this is related to my upbringing as a girl. Or maybe it’s just as likely connected to birth order, my astronomical sign, or simply my individual make-up.
TRP: What are some of the issues that you think are important to explore as they relate to being a woman?
I am but one woman, and I don’t think it’s my place to say what is important to all women anymore than one gay man represents all gay men or one black woman represents the entire black community. But for ME, self-worth is something I see women of all ages and stars struggle with. We need to find a way to teach young girls as early as possible to have a healthy body image, to banish self-deprecating words and behaviors, to treat themselves (and their bodies) with respect and demand it from others, and to develop the confidence to speak truth in interpersonal settings – work, family, friendships, neighborhoods, playgroups, etc… -kindly, but without feeling apologetic or worried about not being liked. I also would love to see women become.
TRP: What makes your heart ache?
Abuse makes my heart break and my blood boil. Domestic violence in any direction, animal abuse, poaching, manipulation and mistreatment of the vulnerable, bullying and teasing, sex trafficking, seeing beautiful children with amazing potential suffer, fall short, learn all the wrong things, simply because of the circumstances into which they are born… I see all of these types of things as abuse.
TRP: What frightens you most?
Immobility terrifies me. Movement is everything to me. It keeps my brain from running over itself. It’s how I express myself. It makes me feel good and productive and useful. I thank God every day that I can move and dance and walk, run, gesture and anything else I want to do without assistance. And, I’m afraid of losing people I love the most. I’ve always had a sense of “borrowing” rather than “belonging.” Ever since the second grade when I changed schools, I’ve felt as if my relationships with friends, my husband, my parents, are all built on a tightrope and can be yanked out from under me at any moment, if I’m not careful.
TRP: What do you deeply love?
I deeply love my husband and our parents. I deeply cherish the intimate kindred-spirit relationships i've had with a few dear friends from various times and places in my life. Some of those live on and some of them live in my memories. I deeply love nature, wildlife, what exists beneath the surface of the sea, God’s magnificent creation. I deeply love the warmth of the sun on my skin, the breath of a breeze across my face, and smile of the sunshine.
TRP: What is your “Life Purpose?”
I believe my life’s purpose is to be an example of the love of Jesus Christ. I’m often not very good at that.
TRP: How do you keep yourself inspired by life?
I don’t know, really. I’ve been blessed with the physiological and psychological make-up that generally keeps me positive, happy, joyful, cheerful end of a mood spectrum. I’m congenitally a glass-half-full kind of girl. I like to make others feel good by wearing a smile and answering the phone super-chirpy. I like to smile while I drive and walk. I like to bounce while I work. I like to dance. I like to notice the details of God’s creation. All of that is inspiring, which begets happiness and joy, which begets more inspiration. When I find myself falling away from these very natural tendencies for me, I know it’s time to make a big change.
TRP: Have you ever hit rock bottom? Please share about it if you’re willing.
I absolutely have not. Sure things have happened in my life that felt as extreme as awful could be at the time, but even in my despair during those times, I could step outside myself and see rationally that this was but a small blip in the entirety that will be my life. I’ve been truly blessed not to have suffered any real tragedies… no disease or injury, no financial destitution, no blatant abuse, I still have my parents and my husband’s parents, I have my mobility, a home, food, transportation, I’ve always been employed… I have so very many things for which to be thankful.
TRP: Is there anything in particular that made you feel like being part of the Revelation Project was important to your life right now?
As I said earlier, when I find myself falling away from my natural tendency toward joyfulness, I know it’s time to make a big change. I’ve spent a couple of decades with self-image issues, but typically, they’ve been well balanced by contentment in other areas of my life. By the time I found The Revelation Project, I’d been unhappy in my professional life for several years, which meant my self-image struggles were becoming increasingly unbalanced and exaggerated. The combination was beginning to trickle into my personal life and take a toll on me physically. I became aware of The Revelation Project through a writing assignment for Newport Life Magazine. As I began to interview women for my article, I knew immediately that TRP was something I needed to do, something to kick me forward, pull me out of my hole, get me out of an unfulfilling comfort zone and prove to myself I won’t die. I was ready to stop my negative self-talk and victimization and take some positive actions, finally.
Before The Revelation Project, I hated what I saw in the mirror every day. My face, my features, my hair, my increasing weight. My growing hatred of my body affected my relationship with my husband, which affected our marriage. I stopped dancing, exercising. My job was more sedentary than any I’d ever been in, and my first in which the culture seemed to quite actively discourage initiative and ideas. I’d been on an upward trajectory throughout my career and suddenly found myself stalled and potentially moving backward. I lost my confidence. My motivation to achieve and do great things steadily and nearly completely disappeared. I began to doubt my abilities, my marketability, and the talents I’d been sure of for so many years before. All of that made me hate what I saw in the mirror even more. It was a vicious cycle.
I was ready for a transformation, and I thought The Revelation Project might be just the kick in the ass I needed. I was ready to stop being a victim of my circumstances and start to change my circumstances and make positive things happen. I was ready to love my body and myself. I was ready to claim my talents and capabilities, to be sure of my professional self again. And as the movie title goes, to get my groove back.
About the shoot:
TRP: What did you think about the approach of the upcoming photo shoot (before you got there) and what were your expectations?
Well, because I’d written an article about The Revelation Project for a local magazine, I knew precisely what to expect. And I was ready to go with it. I was excited about how the TRP ladies would do my hair and make-up, I was so looking forward to outfits that weren’t mine, I was eager to try things and have oodles of fun. I wanted to see myself the way others see me, be photographed in outfits and poses I didn’t think I could pull off, experience myself in a way that was very different than I experience myself in the mirror every morning. I was worried about not being able to see what I looked like, worried about crying, worried about standing there awkwardly not having any idea what do to with myself.
TRP: How did you feel during the shoot, and was there anything in particular that made you feel more or less relaxed and open to the process?
Because of the article I’d written, I expected them to start with something casual and comfortable… to ease into the process. But no… right off the bat, they asked me if I brought a one-piece bathing suit, and that led into a crazy vintage, Betty-Boop, polka-dot themed thing and lots of goofing off and playing, and oddly, I didn’t care one iota about what people were going to think of the photos (until the next day). It was during these crazy bathing suit shots that I realized I was very glad there was no mirror there, because I knew that if there had been, I’d have been consumed and distracted by what I looked like. Instead, I imagined what I looked like, and that fed into the delight and fun of the shoot.
Another odd thing was that when I changed into street clothes for more serene, casual, natural shots, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what to do. THESE were far more uncomfortable than the bathing suit shots. I couldn’t smile without effort, or hold my held without feeling goofy. These felt more like letting people in, letting people see me, being vulnerable, rather than the sense of play-acting, goofing-around that the bathing suit shots gave me.
I wanted to dance, I'm kind of a dancer– and a super-self-critical one at that – I was too afraid of looking stupid or seeing that I really actually suck at dancing. So I barely did this one little thing. It turned out to be one of my favorite shots.
These women made me feel so loved, so welcome, so un-judged, so supported. Sure, I talked much too long, but they let me, they listened to EVERYTHING I had to say. It was All. About. Me. And I didn’t have to feel guilty about that because I knew that was how the experience was designed and meant to be. That these women, who (if I’d been a typically participant) were complete strangers, would dedicated an entire half-day to me, is… crazy awesome, like a giant bear hug.
TRP: Use three words to describe the way you felt before we shot:
TRP Three words for after:
Carefree. Powerful. Disappointed.
(Let me explain that last one: the two months leading up to this shoot were crazy busy; I had a major life decision in front of me; I had an appointment related to that life decision scheduled for right after the shoot, I had company coming in from out of town that same night; and this was all part of a big transformational experience about reclaiming myself and all that I love about me. So, as a result of all of that… I failed to live in the moment of this experience. I talked way too much in the beginning, so I shorted myself probably an hour of shooting time, just at the point when I was starting to enjoy what was happening. I expected answers on the big life decision to come to me during the shoot, so I was waiting on that moment, instead of breathing in the whole experience. I was distracted, and I missed out on the fullness of the experience.)
TRP: Three words for when you saw the results:
Anxious. Happy. Intrigued.
TRP: After you left, but before you saw the results, what were the thoughts and feelings you were having about your experience? What were some of the things you thought about on the drive home?
The grounding exercise in the beginning took too long. I talked WAY too much. And I shorted myself at least an hour of photoshoot time. Just when I was beginning to get comfortable, have fun, really let myself feel this whole thing, it was time to wrap up. That made me sad. And it’s also something I completely expected before I arrived. Even before I arrived, I knew that as I drove away afterward, I’d want to come back and start over because “now I know what to do.”
TRP: When you saw the results what was your first reaction and impression?
I hoped it would be weeks, or even months, before my photos were launched. Instead, they came out exactly one week after the shoot. I didn’t expect them so quickly; I wasn’t ready for them that quickly; and I found myself trying to figure out, “why today?” knowing that Monica releases the photos “when it feels right.”
I learned that my photos had been launched while driving in my car on my way to work. The cover photo that I saw in that quick moment at the stop light was a super-close-up image of my face, and it was bold, daring, exciting, and… me in a bathing suit. Obviously, I couldn’t just look at all the photos right then, because I was driving… so I had to sit in the next 12-15 minutes or so of wondering and worrying, and pushing back that “suddenly sick to my stomach feeling” with strategic thinking about my own sharing of the photos. My brain went something like, “Let’s see… it’s the day before a weekend. If I wait until tonight to share, some people may not see them at all because it’s the weekend, and those who do will surely have forgotten them by Monday morning.” But I also was super-excited about unwrapping that little present to myself and seeing what was there.
TRP: What was some of the feedback you received from those who saw your photographs?
There were oodles and oodles of lovely comments. And ten times as many “likes.” The comments came from mostly expected sources, while at the same time, no comments at all from some surprising sources. I enjoyed the comments that indicated someone’s favorite, because then I’d spend time looking at myself in that photo, trying to see that woman through their eyes, instead of my own, which is always uber-critical. The comments that indicated sexiness were strange and curious to me, because the one or two pictures that were more overtly so just felt awkward and embarrassing to me, while the others didn’t strike me as sexy at all. And plus… I just don’t do sexy.
TRP: How did the feedback make you feel?
When people talked to me personally about the pictures, I found myself embarrassed, but I tried hard to allow myself to take the compliments in and just say “thank you” without trying to minimize them, because I take away my own power and confidence when I do that. But I also had a hard time enjoying the feedback on line, because it wasn’t as specific as I’d hoped. One of the reasons I did The Revelation Project was to understand how other people see me, what other people see in me, what qualities other people see in me that I don’t see in myself. Only a few people – mostly those whom I’d told about the project – responded that way. A few people told me which photos were their least favorites, and I tried not to extrapolate any messages that weren’t really there. But when someone’s least favorite was one of my favorites, I found myself… totally okay with that.
TRP: Did you learn anything new about yourself from the experience?
I learned that the parts of me that I think are ugly, no else notices. Or, they are characteristically just a part of what makes me, me. I think I’ve learned not to try so hard when I camera is pointed at me… that just a quiet thoughtful glance is just as lovely as a brilliant smile. That some of the quieter photos are the favorites for my husband and many of my friends, has given me pause, because these are the photos I was most uncomfortable taking, and most uncomfortable looking at. I think through that I’m learning that whatever I think is ugly is going to be something that someone else treasures, so I shouldn’t be so quick to hide myself.
TRP: Do you feel empowered, and if so what parts of your TRP experience were empowering?
TRP has turned out to be part – maybe the beginning - of a full circle of transformative experiences during the past three or four months, and I DO feel empowered by that. The initatial coaching session with Andrea was hugly transformative and empowering. It was my birthday, and she told me to write a letter to myself… telling me what I wished for myself on my 45th birthday. I wasn’t going to do it, but then I did. And that became the first of a whole series of “I wasn’t going to, but then I did” experiences over the next three months. That letter to myself was enlightening, empowering, and perhaps the most honest I’ve been with myself in decades. I’ve re-read that letter many times since, and I will again, many times more. It signals the beginning of a transformation, the beginning of regaining my power, reclaiming my confidence, and reintroducing myself.
TRP: Since the shoot happened, what is the lasting impact of your experience? Has it altered the way you view yourself and the way you interact in your relationships?
I think the lasting impact of my Revelation Project will continue to emerge as time goes on. It will be something I will always remember as part of one of three (to date) major transformative times in my life. In the midst of my Revelation Project, I got a new job, and I’ve recently asserted that I don’t want it to be just a job change, but one part of a complete change in the way I organize my life, relate with others, correspond with friends, spend my time, and much more. I hope to continue to grow in the TRP sisterhood, and become an encouragement to others.
TRP: Do you think it's relevant for other women, and if so why?
I can think of a handful of my dear friends who’ve been dealing with some rough stuff that I hope will do it. But it’s not going to be for everyone. As I wrote in my article, it’s something you do “when you’re ready.” A moment too soon, and it won’t have the impact that’s possible. My sense is that women will benefit the most when they’re ready for a positive transformation of some kind. TRP becomes part of a bucket of steps forward in that transformation.
TRP: How will you use the photos moving forward; professionally, personally, as gifts?
I don’t know. I’m enjoying using them as profile pictures on social media… the responses to the profile pictures has sometimes been ever better than the responses to the TRP launch. I’m not sure anything there is appropriate for professional use. No one’s asked for the pictures, so I don’t have plans to give them as gifts. But I will continue to enjoy looking at them for myself, looking for something new and wonderful I didn’t notice about myself before, and reminding myself that I’m magnificent.
TRP: Which photo was your favorite, and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I like the cover shot of me holding the hula hoop like a bow and arrow, because it’s powerful, stunning, and I look fierce and full of life. I also love the one where I’m dancing in the field, because it’s exactly how I hoped, but didn’t think, I could look – carefree, natural, happy. And the one with my eye closed and the wind blowing my hair off to the side, because I have a feeling people see me like this a lot… and I like my smile, that my hair is totally messy, and that I don’t look terrible with my eyes closed. No one likes the one with my face scrunched up and my belly sticking out.. . except me. I don’t know why yet, but I think it’s because I’m basically saying there “Like me or not, this is me, and I’m alright with that.”
TRP: What is your favorite song today, and why?
No clue. I love almost all forms of music, but I’ve never been much for being able to hear the lyrics or remember the artist. Two of my all-time favorites, which may or may not be related to this experience are the hymns, I Surrender All and It is Well With My Soul.
TRP: How would you sum up your TRP experience in one sentence?
Say ‘yes!’ to yourself more often, and you’ll be amazed at what’s possible.