Thursday, 24 March 2011

Photographer's monologue

This monologue comes from my pre-notes for a script about a strange relationship between a photographer and his model.

photo by Elizabeth Brooke

When was the first time you realized that you are not beautiful? Do you remember that moment? Or maybe you didn’t have it? I did. I remember.

Some psychologist wrote that it is the most painful experience for any growing girl. The moment when you realize that your mother’s love has nothing to do with reality, that what you see in the mirror will never change. Never. Change.

At first, when you grow up, you imagine how you will look at sixteen, seventeen. A tall beauty with long hair and dreamy eyes, the one who can be a model or inspire artists and poets. You dream about getting breasts and being able to wear all those pretty dresses, put on make up, heels and little rings on your delicate thin fingers. You can really become anything – an actress, a dancer, an artist, while this youthful transformation in you rolls its little mechanism.

And then suddenly the mechanism stops. It slows down while you are busy living your life, dreaming of becoming somebody else. One day you look at yourself in the mirror and you understand. You will never grow taller than you are, your already-chubby body will never be a lanky teenage willow again, your face is too plain to make a actress, even a model, and you are way too old to become a good dancer.  Your skin will never be perfect, and the features on your face are inherited, unchangeable.

But most painfully – you realize that you are simply not beautiful.

Cute, in a way. Interesting, maybe. Attractive, in a certain light. Even elegant, in the right clothes. But beauty wasn’t there to begin with. And it’s heartbreaking.

When people say that beauty is subjective, I think they are lying. Yes, there’s attraction, energy, charm and charisma. Sex and smell works different for everyone, but this is not what we are talking about here. We are speaking about beauty that is born with us, African or Chinese, black or white; when you see it, you know it. And it’s the first encounter with beauty that is most wrenching.

Remember living your life as a child? Did you think your mother was beautiful? Did you think you were beautiful? Of course. The world wasn’t divided yet.
Then one day everything changed. You saw a fairytale princess on the street, watched a sunset that made you cry because it’s so brief, noticed a boy who glanced at you and never looked back. That’s when you began to understand the awful injustice of nature.

It’s about haves, and have-nots. 

It’s about the blessed, and the bland.

There are those who are born beautiful. Simple as that. Call it genetics or good lifestyle, these people have that tiny golden spark which radiates inside. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the beauty within. A lot of these people can be shallow or stupid, or can equally be smart and talented. The one thing that makes them different is that light. They wake in the morning looking beautiful, with disheveled hair and soft lips, their hands so elegant you want to paint them; they look their best without make up, even if with it they look stunning; they can smile silly and make faces, because even that doesn’t mar their beauty. They are slim and clothes love them; they can flirt over pancakes, because they are not ashamed of eating them. They can wear anything, drink and smoke whenever, whatever, and still look like a fairy. They are the Dorian Grays without the portrait, nature’s way of saying: I love what I do, here is my creation.

They are men and women, blessed with something they don’t know of. Or even if they do, it makes them even more painfully beautiful.
Bohemia by Duygu Kandis
And then there are others. Us. People like me, who make themselves. Who once realized that nature forgot to put that little something inside them, who now have to create an illusion. Who look in the mirror one adult day and understand that if the clothes don’t look right on you, it’s time to change what’s inside the clothes. We labor on our bodies, we restrict and measure, we deny and we diet, we read and learn to become more sophisticated; all this to make up for that spark we lack.

But most of all, we crave. We long for that beauty, we see it everywhere and it makes our eyes sore. We become artists to echo that beauty on canvas, we become poets to tell those others of what they are, we become photographers to greedily capture those milliseconds of eternal beauty.

We know that nobody will write poetry for us, or sing odes to our eyes, or long for our hands and lips, or worship our bodies. We are on the other end of this line; we create the mirror into which those others can look. We can’t be the beauty but only reflect it.

I looked at myself one day and saw me for what I am. And I fought and struggled, hated and changed myself, hoping that someday, somehow, that light will shine through. I read and studied hard to be smart, to be different, to be talented, since I couldn’t be beautiful. But it haunted me everywhere. Art teased me with beauty, dance tortured me with grace, photography killed me with its truth.

Somewhere, along the way, I became a mirror to beauty. I wrote about it, danced it, painted it and, finally, photographed it. I let myself believe that this way I’m capturing the sparks of light, making them mine, even for a little while. I let myself think that by showing the others who they are that I can rise over them, use them, control them. Like a director in a film, I told myself it’s a nobler task to be behind the scenes, to stand with a mirror and have the understanding of beauty’s nature.

But every time, it still hurts me, it still makes me cry. Because reflections never fill me in. They never light any spark of my own in the black depth of my nature. Mirrors reflect, they don’t change.


  1. Wow, this is a deep post. I have a 13 year old I'm trying to instill confidence in. It's hard to know what to say to her sometimes. I remember the moments you're talking about, but then there comes a time in adulthood--at least with me--when I finally accepted that I'm average and I'm satisfied with who I am in my average body and face. Now I'm trying to accept that I'm aging and there is the temptation of denial. I think we have revelations like this our whole lives. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  2. You are welcome, Jennifer. I remember my mom used to say that young people are very idealistic, they want either everything or nothing, maybe this is where it comes from. Accepting yourself in adulthood has a lot to do with a shift of priorities, i think, unless you are working in the industry that is only interested in your looks. I also noticed that finding your path in life, career or vocation, changes the view of self for the better. But of course, certain things are always there, especially for women :) Thank you for your honest comment, it's great to get such feedback!

  3. Really enjoyable post and well written. Personally I think the haves believe they are the have nots.Its only the misguided have nots that believe they are the haves!

  4. Nicely put, thanks, whoever you are :)

  5. Unexpectedly cried over that. Best thing I ever read on a blog, thank you

  6. thanks, Ruth...i didn't mean to make you cry, honestly :)

  7. I would also like to hear what you have to say, Nadia, on what it feels like to be really beautiful, and to see that beauty acknowledged in the people who look upon you. You can't be suggesting that you did not realize when young, or later walking down a street seeing heads turn, or now - that you are exquisitely beautiful yourself? I think you could only ever imagine what it is like not to be lovely...

  8. Thanks Anne, but, to be honest, i don't think i can say much on that. I can say what it feels like dancing on stage - in those moments you experience exhilaration but it could have more to do with adrenalin :) I never felt beautiful in school or college, dancing help a bit, but i can still relate more to feeling like a smart but not very beautiful woman. And from my really beautiful friends, i know it's an issue of personal perception. Like i said, some people are just born with that 'something'...