the faculty of utterance lost my voice

2a sound resembling or suggesting vocal utterance

3an instrument or medium of expression the party became the voice of the workers

4awish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed the voice of the people

bright of expression also influential power

There is a time in every life, or so I imagine, when the mask a woman wears is not just cast off but tossed into the trash. Maybe this happens when we look in the mirror and see for the first time that our outer appearance is beginning its dance with time. For me that happened about a year ago when I began selfies.

I attended Santa Fe Photographic Workshop last October for a week-long photography class. This had been on my wish list for a few years and I savored every second absorbing what I was taught like a woman who had been starving. No more automatic setting for me, it was manual all the way, baby!

I went to this workshop expecting to improve my landscape images but discovered to my surprise that what really attracted me was portraits. The scariest day that week was the day we worked with professional models, but I fell in love. I fell in love with the challenge, the unexpected results and the opportunity to tell a bit of the story about a human being.

We practiced on professional models who had a repertoire of outfits and thoughts about how to pose which helped, but it was up to us to determine where in the building we wanted to shoot. We worked as teams and had ten minutes with each model, which was not a lot of time for students still struggling with exposure, white balance, and manual settings.

Some of my results were disastrous, others were surprisingly lovely. My adrenalin was on high and I was hooked.

When I returned home, I needed to practice and what better way to practice then to take my own picture over and over again? I set myself up on the couch to take advantage of the southern exposure and held the camera above my face while I stared at the camera or coyly tilted my head.

I was horrified when I uploaded my images. Surprised at the contrast between how I thought I looked and how I really appeared. When did my neck become full of wrinkles? My chest? And what had happened to that space round my eyes?

I could edit to my heart’s content, but the truth of me was right there, unavoidable.

It took me awhile, and a bit of grieving, but I realized that this was the real me, and that though it had been a shocker for me to come face to face with, those that loved me had had this view for quite some time, and it didn’t matter to them. So why should it matter to me?

There is a process to acceptance.

This, I realized, was in its own way, a superpower. In a strange way, I had been freed.

My outward appearance had changed, and would continue to change, and there would be no way around that, and so my inner self would need to come out to play more. This inner self felt free of the pull to be something else, to dress and adorn herself for the pleasure of men, free to let her most authentic inner expression take the wheel. Free to take risks and follow her curiosity.

There is a different type of expectation I have for myself today, and it’s so solid, I don’t really have a choice. I must use my voice. I must speak my truth. No bullshit, remember?

I was raised to believe that to be a ‘lady’ I should not argue, should always smile, defer to men so that they didn’t feel intimidated, be polite and always, always wear clean underwear. (My grandmother was adamant that should we get in a car accident, we would be wearing clean underwear.)

All of these ‘should’s’ revolved around being attractive to the opposite sex.

This list of should’s was a strong deterrent to being myself and a hell of a lot of work.

I thought of that when I spied all my wrinkles in digital format because my initial shock had everything to do with “I’m losing my looks,” not “I’m losing myself.” It just took me some time to unwrap my emotions. The more I thought about it, the more fascinated I became with my selfies, with my aging and my wrinkles.

I still wear makeup, dye my hair, have a clothing and shoe addiction and hike, ride, walk, lift weights as well as practice yoga, but not because I want to appear attractive to others. If I’m pissed off, I say it; if I don’t feel like smiling at the barista when she pretends to be my friend, I don’t; if I return from a trip feeling bloated, I just wear a loose-fitting shirt and get back at my routine. I love that I do this for me now.

My selfies told the truth. They took away the filter and reminded me that no matter what I look like, I’m loved. The only thing left for me to do was love myself enough to tell the truth. Enough to let my inner true light shine, aging be damned.

See? Our voice is not just ‘influential power,’ it’s a superpower.

What Taking Selfies Taught Me by Robin Enright Salcido