This is something I’ve never told anyone before. I remember attending my sixth form prom. I remember feeling good about the dress I was wearing and having a great time, really enjoying the night. I also remember the absolute horror and shame I felt when I saw a picture of me, taken from behind and without my knowledge, posted on social media the next day. Posted for people to laugh at and make fun of. Posted because of how I looked. I wish I had that picture now to show because in all honesty it wasn’t even that awful. But it’s moments like those that shape your self confidence, define your self worth, and become totally consuming. Something like that at an age when you are most susceptible to being caught up in other people’s views of you, it can have a serious effect.
I have never really been one for being in front of the camera. There are very few pictures of me in existence from the age of about 10. I can clearly remember my parents regularly getting cross with me for refusing to have my picture taken. At around 17 I became a little more confident but someone taking a picture of me on their camera gave me genuine anxiety. What if it was awful and I wouldn’t be able to delete it. I think I hid my self consciousness by always being the one holding the camera and taking the pictures. And for the first year or so of Dil’s life things were very much the same. I reverted back to that photographer role as a coping mechanism and a way to deal with my low self esteem. I have so many lovely pictures of Dilan with family and friends, but pictures of the two of us are rare. If someone else did snap a picture of me I would usually very quickly delete it because I didn’t like the way I looked.
Looking back now I feel really sad about that. The newborn phase is over so quickly, the whole baby stage feels like a total blur to me now. And although there are hundreds of pictures of baby Dilan, there are so few of new mama me. Capturing a moment is easier now than it has ever been before, so what’s my excuse for missing so many? Because my hair was a mess? Because I had no make up on? Did I really think that when we looked back at that photo in 10, 20, 30 years that’s what we would see? Or would we have looked past that, to see the raw, beautiful moment that it was?
I think many mothers would sympathise with how I felt. Most of us take pictures of our children daily, in an attempt to record the things we desperately want to remember. To savour the moments we wish we could press pause on. And yet most of us would cringe at the thought of being the other side of that camera. But, while we are so busy capturing these moments, aren’t a lot of the pictures missing someone important? Won’t our children want to see their mother in these lovingly preserved memories we’re working so hard on? Shouldn’t we as mothers, as nurturers raising these babies through the good and the bad, feature in these shots? The real us, the Sunday morning us, with no make up on, dancing and giggling in the kitchen. Those are the moments our babies are going to want to look back on as adults, and those are the moments we are missing due to our own insecurities.
I recently saw a study which found that 96% of women asked wouldn’t choose the word ‘beautiful’ to describe themselves. That is really sad, and here is something you need to hear; You are beautiful. You are beautiful to your friends, you are beautiful to your family, you are beautiful to your partner and, most importantly perhaps, you are beautiful to your children. Your children adore every inch of you and love all of you with everything they have. Your children don’t care if your back in your pre-baby skinny jeans, and they certainly won’t remember your muffin top when they reminisce about their childhood. In fact when they do look back they’ll see all the things you hated in such a different light, it’ll leave you wishing you’d seen yourself through their eyes.
Those wrinkles around your eyes when you smile, they’ll remember every time you smiled at them. The grey hairs that you’re horrified by now, they’ll laugh and tell stories about how much stress they caused you. The mum-tum you so badly despise, it grew them, housed them and kept them snug and safe for 9 months. Your thighs may be wider than you’d like, but when they look back that’s the lap they were most comfortable on. Your arms, bingo wings and all, carried them, rocked them and held them every time they needed you. When they look at you they see unconditional love, warmth and kindness. They see their protector, their supporter, their friend. They see strength, wisdom and gentleness. They see beauty. They see you, and to them you are the most beautiful person in the world.
Motherhood gives us many gifts. One of which should be to see ourselves as our children see us. To look past the messy hair and the extra weight or whatever you think your problem area is. When we see a photo of ourselves, lost in the moment with our loved ones, we need to look past all of those hang ups and see the true beauty. The love and the smiles on our faces, the light and the joy in our eyes. These are the things our children will remember about us, these are the only things they’ll see in old photographs. They deserve these memories and these moments to be captured and so do we. Motherhood is hard, sometimes finding the joy is easy and sometimes it’s a little harder, but when we do we owe it to ourselves to savour that moment forever.
I wish I could find those girls from my sixth form prom and tell them everything I know now. I wish I could speak to my 18 year old self and offer some comforting words. Explain to them all that how we look doesn’t define us and it certainly shouldn’t open us up to criticism of that kind. Tell them that real beauty does come from within, and being in love and becoming a mother brings that out of you in a way nothing else ever could. Make them understand that it will all seem so trivial looking back because there is just so so much more to life, so much more to come, and you can’t avoid capturing it all because of one bad photograph.
Photography by Mr. Adam Robertson