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

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

 

 

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 

 

The Physical Form

It is said if we met ourselves in the street we would not recognise them as our twin. Every morning, afternoon, or evening in general we see our reflection in a mirror at least once, does a it really reflect who we are? To me it is like a silent mime act mincing our actions for a few moments in time. The visual it shows is a representation of us but not who we are as a human being lives in a world of words and sound.

A photograph does similar, it takes a representation of us at that moment, but no matter how many selfies we may take or edits we make on Photoshop, they can only speak for us so much. We form a representation of our physical form based on these, this can be both positive and negative, but what we need to remember this is only a brief representation in time of who we and how we look to the outside world.

When a stranger on the street or in a bar stops to tell us we’re beautiful or handsome it again is only a representation of ourselves they find beautiful as they do not know the mind and soul of the person within or our history. Accept it with a thanks. If we had never seen a banana or pear before, what would we think of their shape and colour, would we judge them like we do other people or how we see ourselves?

Beauty shines from within not just from the physical form, we’re like flowers in a meadow or a piece of art. Decorating with “make up” or other “beauty products” is like decorating a with glitter tortoise shell, pointless. Make up creates a mask to the world, perhaps we have been brainwashed for so long to believe it gives us confidence and/or makes us more attractive, when they are colourful chemicals to paint us.

A surgeon’s knife or injection may be used to change our physical form, but why do we spend money on vanity and ego, is it from believing our own voice or that of an industry built to give us poor self confidence? Accepting who we are is hard, it is sometimes call self love, I call it acceptance; it cannot be bought, sold or made, as we are the only ones who walk the full journey of our lives and nobody can change that.

Also our behaviour demonstrates who we are; for example do we help others because we want to, it looks good or our mate does it so we will do too? If someone suddenly became interested in helping others, like volunteering at their local hospital with sick children, at the same time they were starting internet dating to find a partner, are they connected and does the first really show their personality or a tool?

Knowing someone at a friendship level tells us far more about a person, their likes and dislikes, passions and hates, so the representation they have of us is the real us. They accept us for who we are as see beyond the tortoise shell and/or mask we wear, it is through their love and friendship we see ourselves better than any mirror or selfie can ever show. So if a friend says we look beautiful, we wear it with a smile.

Our physical form comes in all shapes and sizes, a variety of colours too, no one size, height or colour is better than the others, we are all human sized, one size does not fit all. Next time we see ourselves in the mirror, or a photograph of another, do not judge them or ourselves on that image as only a representation of physical form for a few seconds of their or our lifetimes nor the story behind the image we see.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Greatest accomplishment

I was recently asked what do I considered to be my greatest accomplishment to date and why?

I took a moment to think. Many may expect it to be my academic qualifications, after being almost written off  at a young age due to developmental dyspraxia to end up having a degree, two masters and a PhD by the age of 32 is a fair accomplishment in anybody’s books. However, I see what I learnt formally as an experience, the qualifications say nothing about me as a person, or the journeys that took to get there. Some people in this cannot read or write, so I am humbled to have such gifts. Equally, life is all about learning and as a friend’s mum showed in Pakistan it is never too late at 65 to learn to write your own name.

I thought of the people that have come into my life, which I have helped (directly and indirectly) to get on the path they want to be on or been there when they needed someone to listen. However, I felt that was egotistical as it was what I had done for them, and almost felt like I was trying to take possession of what they had achieved, or belittle achievements that they should shout across the world not taken as something I achieved. I would never want to take such ownership, as prefer to sing songs along with my friends than autotune it with my own beliefs, traditions, and interpretations on how their song is sung.

I considered posting my recent photo post to Facebook during the “make up free selfies” for cancer of me without my wig (as make up free is the same as any other picture of me). Although that took a lot to post and the response from friends old and new, near and far, overwhelmed me like a tsunami of support. That photo became a symbol of something beyond the vanity of some that I read about online for me. However, I could not say it as again to me showed was a thing of ego and pride, for as proud I am of making a statement it is not an accomplishment as it is part of me and not any different to posting any other photo.

Perhaps I was being hard on myself over the selfie, for a few years back I could not even look at a photograph of myself or look in the mirror such was my poor self-image. However, does posting a photograph of any sort if it is of us really become an accomplishment worthy of praise? I know last year I was in tears with myself posting a photograph to an exhibition curated by Yoko Ono as knew I could not have done it a few months before, it was like self-evolving to the point I could post the above photo. Was I was being adversely harsh on myself, and did not want to sing my song encase others laughed, mocked and judged me?

I finally decided my great accomplishment was self-acceptance and love. From the internet to magazines, printed press, friends and family all have an opinion on what we should be like, who we should be, and what should matters to us – when in reality the only one that walks this journey is ourselves. Those that are closest friends accept us for who we are, the flaws we see they see as part of our character, it is a shame we often cannot accept ourselves. For it is being able to put both hands up and saying I accept this shell of a body I have, I may not have the looks, the money or dream job but this who I am – 100% human.

 

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