I'm Visible Now: Reflections On Beauty and Self-Image

I’m Visible Now - reflections on beauty and self-image after a boudoir photo shoot. Selected submission for H&L Writes, a monthly writing membership hosted by Holl & Lane Magazine. Read more at www.hollandlanemag.com.

Words by Eunice Brownlee // Photos by Lynn Clark

I always wanted to be considered one of the pretty girls. I knew I wasn’t – I had frizzy hair and a gap in my teeth and I was taller than my pants were long. I didn’t have any breasts and I hadn’t gotten my period yet. I stuffed my bra with socks and smeared lipstick in my panties, hoping no one would discover my secret that I was not yet a woman. These were the things I eagerly awaited because my mom told me that was the point things would change.

But it didn’t.

I was still a girl with frizzy hair, a gap in my teeth and pants that could have passed as capris, if only capris were in fashion at that moment in time. I had friends, but I didn’t have a boyfriend, and that was all that mattered to me.

I watched the other girls get roses in their lockers and walk down the halls with their fingers intertwined in his, laughing and smiling and kissing. I watched the cute boys throw themselves at these girls until they were the lucky ones selected by the princess to be her knight in shining armor. I went to school dances, hoping to hold someone around the neck with his hands placed gently on my waist while we swayed awkwardly to the slow beat. I sat and watched other girls getting to enjoy this and I hoped one of those boys would ask me to dance. No one ever did.

I had plenty of friends, girls and guys alike. They all thought I was nice. They all knew I was smart. But nice and smart weren’t getting roses in my locker or candy-grams with cute messages delivered to my classroom. I wanted to be like the other girls and I believed I had to be beautiful to get it.

As I started high school, my awkwardness grew. My beauty did not. I was now the nerdy girl wearing boot cut cowboy jeans because they were the only ones long enough to reach my ankles; the lone freshman in a math class full of upperclassmen. My frizzy hair was just a little bit bigger than the socially acceptable coif size of the time.

My decision to make known my crush on one boy in particular became the source of endless teasing. As he and his friends laughed at the possibility that he would ever be interested in the likes of me, I wished I was just a little prettier so that he would want to be seen in the halls holding my hand.

I continued to be nice and caring and kind to others, but I still got rejected from the beautiful circles around me. I was pigeonholed with the math geeks and band nerds, and while I had plenty of friends in those groups, I still longed to be a part of the others.

Instead of telling me that my transition into womanhood would change things, now my mom was telling me that I was so beautiful that everyone was intimidated by me. I didn’t buy it for a second. I was still invisible.

In October 2017, I booked a session with a friend who is an amazing boudoir photographer. My timing was probably a little weird – I had lost my job the month prior and disposable income was not something that I had, much less to be spending it on something so seemingly frivolous. In addition, the #MeToo movement was among the daily headlines. Yet I had little discomfort about sharing my stories of being sexually harassed while also spending a day getting dolled up and having my photos taken in my birthday suit. For me, the portraits weren’t about being sexy at all, they were about being seen.

I had just come out of a job I had held for six years, the longest I had ever worked for any company, and the last eighteen months of that job, I felt a lot like I did in high school: not seen or heard for the things I desperately wanted to be noticed for. Only this time, it wasn’t my physical beauty I wanted to be noticed, but my intellectual abilities and creative talents.

I was also in a relationship where I felt invisible. I had been seeing a man for two and a half years, but he still did not see me as a future partner or anyone that he wanted to commit to long term. Even though we had the best of times together, he constantly reminded me that things would not last. We had hit the point in our time together where we were just going through the motions, and my feelings that things could be great if we just committed to it went ignored.

On top of all of that, I had just completed what was the most harrowing 8 months of my life – spending time in a courtroom fighting for justice for my daughter, who is a victim of child abuse at the hands of her own father. Hearing after hearing, I showed up and tried to be the best advocate for her that I could. Each time, I left the courthouse in tears because yet another objection to continue the trial was overruled and this process was dragging on far longer than it needed to. Although I delivered a heartfelt victim impact statement to the court, the judge commended my willingness to be such a passionate advocate, but ultimately did not consider my words in his decision.

When I stepped in front of that camera, I wanted nothing more than to just be seen. Even though these images were likely not going to be seen by anyone I know or care about, I was doing this for me to feel visible for just a moment.

I did not expect the gift that came as part of this experience.

When I went into the studio for my reveal session, I was excited. I had modeled for my friend before and I am incredibly familiar with her work and I could not wait to see the magic she had made with my session. As the slideshow of my images started playing, I was in shock. I could not believe that this woman I was looking at was me.

By the time the slideshow concluded, I was in tears.

“What’s going on right now?” she asked softly. Her tone was inquisitive and supportive. This was a safe space.

“I…well…um…when I was in high school, all I wanted to be was beautiful. I always felt like I was this awkwardly tall, boobless kid with frizzy hair and a gap in my teeth.” I explained to her that I know it is so cliché to cling to the ideas that society tells us are beautiful, but when you spend your formative years believing you aren’t and never will be, it stays with you.

“But that girl, right there? She’s fucking hot!” I exclaimed through my tears. “That high school girl that wanted nothing more than to be beautiful finally got her wish.”

I spent the better part of that afternoon crying with delight. I was finally one of the beautiful girls.

I realize now, almost a year later, that it wasn’t about being beautiful. It was about someone finally seeing me – not just for who I am but seeing me the way I see myself. Smart, funny, and thanks to the discovery of a flat iron and smoothing serum, the gap-toothed girl whose hair isn’t so frizzy anymore.  

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Eunice is a marketing ninja by day and blogger by night. She is a lifelong bookworm and collects passport stamps. She's a single mother dedicated to raising a daughter that will spread love to all she meets. She is a passionate advocate for mental health and loves to help women raise their self esteem. When not doing any of the above, she's probably singing loudly (and off key) in the car.


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