The Swan

Earlier this week I tuned and adjusted the white balance of this picture, which I recently took of me with my mobile/cell phone; finding myself looking in the eyes saying ‘yes that’s me‘ and ‘quite a good photograph for a quick selfie.

For a long time an ogerous monster lived in my head that would have said something like this: ‘eww, what an ugly and loveable freak of nature you are, no wonder people point and laugh at you in the street. Delete that at once, nobody wants to see your ugly face on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t bother taking any more selfies, shows your ego is growing. Oh and may break your phone…ha ha!’

Instead another voice came out, the one I use when talking to others with my natural empathy and understanding ways, and not one I have heard myself say to me: ‘You look pretty and happy there Fi. Who cares if you see flaws or things that aren’t right in this photograph, better to knit a scarf than nitpick at yourself for no reason. Anyone that laughs and/or calls you ugly can spin on your middle finger, that’s what it is best used for!

I nearly choked on my own emotion, not for the first time, but this was in a positive way of my own doing to myself. Pondering, perhaps this former ugly duckling has finally seen her own swan-like reflection, and will glide the river of life wherever it is leading her to go. I do not need a mask of chemical colours or a surgeon’s blade to syringe to make me look beautiful; I am me, not an ogre but a swan, and that’s fine with me.

© Fi S. J. Brown

me 2017

My Unfiltered Life

This week I noticed mental health charity See Me Scotland had a campaign on social media called “my unfiltered life“, for which people post a selfie and tell their story. It made me feel proud of each and everyone of them for taking that selfie, as that can be far from a ‘simple’ tap on a phone, and being so open in a way I felt I could not; for I am not someone that likes to say hey look at me but more look at her or him and what they have achieved.

However, it felt like it did when I first saw an ad to post a picture of your smile as part of Yoko Ono’s Smiles film four years ago, which in taking part in led to the ripple effect of accepting, appreciating and loving me. I am also reminded of the photo I took two years ago without my wig, showing my bald head, during the no make up selfie craze, which showed me there was nothing to hate or fear now. I am me, not an artificial, edited or manipulated person but her free spirited, open minded self and rag doll not ogre self.

So yes I have posted a photo on Instagram, and below. However, I do not care one way or the other as did it to inspire others to learn to find acceptance not for personal gain in the hope of a 15 second taster of fame. This week coming marks a couple of personal milestones, major ones that will be on the highlights reel of my life, so makes a fitting addition to them.

Next time you see a selfie, remember it can maybe a simple touch of a phone to you but to them it maybe a whole story you don’t know, so don’t judge but admire the beautiful differences slight changes in our DNA make to create the creatures we are.

© Fi S. J. Brown

me hat

Becoming a swan

Philosophers for hundreds of years have debated what is beauty; yet today any magazine, newspaper or website I open seems to think they know what it is and not always agreeing! However, the images they use are manipulated so much that the average Joanna or Joe look nothing like that and there is nothing wrong with them being how they look. Ironically, even the people in the images look a shadow of these images supposedly of them.

I’ve grown tired of the masks that they say we need to make ourselves beautiful they are but colourful chemicals, which may enhance but do not create beauty. I don’t spend hours doing make up (I next to never wear any) or manipulating images of me I post. As they are me at that moment in time, like the landscapes and nature shots I take, so why treat myself differently from the beauty I see in the world or alter me to be something or someone else?

So this is me on an early Saturday evening in June 2016, pondering from my bedroom window. I chose black and white as I prefer it to colour and at times as emphases not detracts. I have had many nasty and hurtful comments said about me in the past that I wore like scars and boils on my face. However, this is now, the me that doesn’t care; for I know as with ‘the ugly duckling’, a swan emerges and glides off into the sunset, leaving behind the past and on to tomorrow’s whispers wherever they may lead her.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The art of being me

On Friday morning I sat for an hour in an art gallery looking at a sea of paintings of people from times past; a few were of religious significance to the Christian faith, others were special commissions to show the sitters proclaimed importance and others were of a person in the crowd watching an event unfold around them. I considered how times had changed as saw people around me reaching for their mobile phones to take selfies of themselves with paintings they liked as captured themselves in that moment. I opened my sketch book and started to think on how I would draw me, with the opening lines of the Ben Folds’ Five song Best imitation of myself playing in my head.
In times past I would have drawn an ogre with big ears and nose, as thought with all the laughing and pointing to comments on how ugly I was that must be a fair representation of how the world saw me. I sometimes wish I had MC Escher’s talents, as love Hand with reflecting sphere as to me it is the ultimate self portrait but it is way beyond my drawing ability as an artist. However, as drawings are highly subjective, unlike photographs that are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space, it made me question who I am at that moment looking at these great works of art.
I have learnt to appreciate, respect and love the woman I am but in my head at first it was more like a cubist portrait by Pablo Picasso, for example Woman in hat and fur collar and The weeping womanIt was then I saw a rag doll image in the style of Picasso enter in my mind, so it was that I focused on as I began to draw. As I drew the form became less rag and Picasso more patchwork one. For each patch was something that had happened in life (good and bad) in the past (be it yesterday, last month or over three decades ago) that has left an impression on the person I am today, stitched together with love, respect and appreciation of those closest to me.
I also acknowledged whilst drawing that I have faults,  I am not perfect, but then again what or who is? I smiled as thought of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, which is  sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The paintings around me had looked so perfect at first glance and thought of modern popular culture pictures, which are heavily stylised and edited to create images of people that are unrealistic. In the same way I would never know how realistic these paintings were of the people in them and how much was to the artist’s interpretation of the person(s) there in.
As I finished my drawing I decided it belonged only in my sketch book and not have a life beyond the book as not everything we see or do needs the world to see it. For art to me is a personal way of telling the story in heart and soul, life’s journey at that moment in time, giving it voice, sound and colour. Thus, perhaps in time I may paint a picture that looked more like those in the paintings in the gallery, but knew the one in my sketch pad was just as beautiful because it represented some things nobody could take away from or replicate if drawing or painting a portrait of me, as was me by me.
© Fi S. J. Brown

Therapeutic Photography

When I tell my story to others I sometimes mention how I overcame years to decades of self hate, self loathing, low esteem, and general dislike for who I thought I was to how I thought I actually looked to the outside world. For readers that do not know until I was about 34 I used to think I looked like the love child of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein’s monster.

I could not look in the mirror, and when photographs were taken of me there were always problems. When I was a pre-teen my photograph from school showed the photographer’s umbrella reflecting in my eyes, it looked like I had mushrooms growing from them, which planted a seed in my head. By my teens I had developed Alopecia universalis, I had no hair anywhere on my body, which combined with bullying and my ultra controlling mother left me feeling like the Victorian freak of old. When in my twenties my eldest brother would continue to point and laugh at me as he had since my earliest days, like many did in the street. When he took a photograph of me, usually for graduation from university, 99% of the time my eyes would be shut; he would find this funny and equally not understand how someone could react that quickly to a flash. I am highly sensitive to many things including light, so yes my eyes seemed to break this rule, and leave me in pieces. I would be called moody as did not want my photograph taken at all, why should I when it always ended up the same way?

By the age of 28 I was having psychodynamic therapy on a weekly basis and had begun using a Fuji camera to take the town I was living in and for fieldwork in Italy. In May 2007 I decided to try take a picture of me with it against some Roman remains, with all the emotions of the past racing to the present combined with thoughts of what do I look like and how do you smile? As my camera was a digital single-lens reflex  (DSLR) I could see immediately the result, which made me jump back hitting the Roman bathhouse with my head and stared at the image it showed for a good five minutes. Was that really what the rest of the world saw when they looked at me? I showed it to one person, my supposed then boyfriend, on my return from Italy. He laughed in my face as he acknowledged it was indeed me. I was scared by what this meant but at the same time I knew the image was of someone deeply unhappy.

It was not until my breakdown and suicide attempt the following year that I began using therapeutic photography in an attempt to see me and begin to repair all the years of hate to perhaps learn to learn to love me for me. Judy Weiser defined therapeutic photography as the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organized group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place and no therapist or counsellor needs to be involved. Why use photography, aside from it being one of my hobbies? Photography shows how I actually appeared to others, not the horizontally-reversed image from a mirror or distorted one in my head that I would have drawn. Also, a photograph could let me see parts I would not ordinarily be able to see, e.g. my profile or back, when asleep or in action, or simply being me. Unlike drawings, which are highly subjective, photographs are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space. 

It was not an easy road, even looking back on those early photographs now I can see how far I had to go and come. The first part of me I began to appreciate were my eyes, they are grey-green but appear more grey when depressed, and remembered the old phrase – eyes are the windows to the soul, which I was now beginning to understand. Gradually over the years I saw this woman developing in them that I could relate to and see as the me the world did, she was not a freak or ogre nor was she this glamorous movie star, and you know what I was almost fine with it. 

In 2012, Yoko Ono launched her #smilesfilm, which I decided as I was developing my creative self as much as learning to embrace my full self why not enter a picture of me smiling? I did and in that moment I no longer saw the girl or woman of the past, I saw me in the present moment smiling and content. By March 2014 I had grown so much from that photograph that during the no make up selfie craze for cancer I made a split second decision to post one without my wig as I next to never wear make up as burns my skin if I try and do not see the point in having a chemical mask, I felt like it would be my most honest picture ever and another milestone in the journey. The photograph has 112 likes on my Facebook profile with 142 comments, as well as messages on inbox, e-mail and text, all full of encouragement. I looked at that photograph last month and smiled at what doing that had meant to me then as it does now. 

I do not manipulate images like they appear in magazines, websites and the media, so my photographs are the truest representation of me at that moment. Many of you now reading this take a selfie with a mobile/cellphone several times a day may never understand this journey but others may be where I have been. We are all beautiful in our own way and accepting how we are without resorting to extreme change can be tempting but all they can be band aids over deep wounds. I highly recommend trying therapeutic photography, do not expect results today but explore and learn to love the most amazing person you will ever know, yourself.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

My “real self”

I was reading an article posted to Facebook on “Depression is the unavoidable by-product of not being who you really are?” I decided to ponder this and reflect on my own experiences of depression and self hate.

Looking back on my days pre-therapy I hated every part of me, frequently dreaming that I would have every part of me surgically changed, as thought I must look at total freak for the way people pointed and laughed at me in the street. My self image was so bad in waking life that I thought that I must look like the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I mean why else would people do that or call me ugly to my face? I decided that as heard it so often, it must be true, I must be truly have something repugnant about physical appearance. However, at no point in time would I ever have considered plastic surgery to change it for real. At the same time I was not allowed the freedom to express myself; I always Frances’ daughter not an individual in my own right, and she always wanted the final say in how I looked from my wig (I have alopecia universalis) to my glasses and how I dressed. Any medical appointments she would come to, encase I said something she did not want said. It took me a long time to realise I am the daughter of a narcissist.

Shortly after moving to Loughborough in October 2006 I began therapy, at first I had no real reason for feeling depressed as just always seemed to be there like raindrops in my tummy as I put when I was a child. It was then I started to unravel all I kept inside and found I had razor blades inside my stomach too, as often beat myself up emotionally for things that were not my fault and/or had never had a voice to say stop or no. I had been hurt so much by life that I almost gave up just before Easter 2008 as came close to suicide, I felt like the puppet mistress would never let me be free to be me. On my return to Edinburgh in October 2009, I had begun photographing, but nowhere near as much as I do now, with a feeling of sickness and dread. I had tried to turn the camera on me for around a year by then, perplexed at the woman that appeared on it as she was not the ogre in my head. Gradually over the next few years as I returned to writing combining with my photography and finding supportive friends I saw me as a person and learnt to appreciate, respect and love this unique person that I am. I belong not in a laboratory but helping others, writing and photographing, and dressing the way that suits me!

So was my depression caused by not being who I am? Yes and no. I am far happier internally than I have ever been, I can look in a mirror and say it’s just how I am at this moment and that’s okay. Equally, I can delete or edit a photograph based on it being a picture and not make it feel so personal. However, I still have depression as there are still things from my past that hurt me and in my present but try not to let them. To me mental health conditions, including depression, are far more complex than a simple and singular explanation. I have mentioned before that we let things take root and suddenly faced with a tree and sometimes a forest of issues we should have dealt with at the start. To me it is this forest that overwhelms us as we do not know where to begin to cut it down; borrowing an axe from someone else is like trying to use their methods to solve our issues it may work but not always; and often a combination of many things help, but the most important is living for today as per mindfulness so that the roots can take hold of us. So be true to ourselves, but equally be gentle with ourselves, as we’re not all meant to be Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, or Kelly Brook, but also note the images we see of them are heavily edited and may also have just the same insecurities as we do!

© Fi S. J. Brown

Halloween

It never fails to surprise me what companies pass for as “Halloween costumes”, often using them as a way to laugh at a group of people that are part of society. One I have found over the years repeating is the “mental health patient”. So I decided this year, if you can’t beat them, join them.

This is the result – a picture of me as a mental health patient. Is it what you were expecting, oh no blood stains, straight jacket or crazy eyes. Can you not see the tears I cried for a week when I took this picture? Or the negative thoughts that ate away at me as I tried to enjoy the autumn sun? Also, how many years it took me to smile and take a photograph? This is what depression and anxiety can look like not those costumes you can buy.

We use costumes and masks to hide pain and sometimes the real us. Trying be happy as someone told us to “cheer up, what’s the worst that can happen”!? Personally, I am through with hiding behind them and scared of the stigma of others, they are part of the colours that make me but do not define me. So dress up tonight if you like, but be yourself tomorrow, shine on every day to end the darkness and break down walls of ignorance.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Wabi Sabi Woman

I am a Wabi Sabi woman. I am far from perfect but what or who is? We all have quirks and idiosyncratic ways that give our personalities colour. We are all also fighting to bring down walls and barriers other people put in our way. They also may try to box us in or put walls up but together we can break them. Nobody is abnormal, failure or a freak, how we experience and live this life is different for us all. Pause to reflect the journey so far but not dwell on it and let the roots from that show who we are today. Equally, remembering what and who we are today form the roots of the future, if we’re putting off that choice or decision – do it. Finally, be gentle with ourselves and others, be a light in the darkness not one that switches off the torch.
© Fi S. J. Brown