taking pictures, self confidence, alopecia….

How’s that for a random title?

My hair is falling out.  I have  big ugly bald spot front and center.  There is hair all over my house, on every surface.  I guess it’s the new drugs. 

Here’s the problem:  I have looked NOTHING like the photo on the home page of my blog for two years.  When my hair fell out the first time, it grew back in very dark and curly.  Right now, what’s left of it is shoulder length and a deep brown.  And you know that awful few months when you’re trying to grow out your bangs and they’ll never stay out of your eyes and everything you do to keep them up is sort of awkward?  I JUST finished that, much to my relief.

So now all this hair is falling out, and I feel like there should be a photograph of me as I have looked for the past year or two existing somewhere (not necessarily published on my blog, but just existing, you know?)  … but I have avoided every possible opportunity until now.  I am the one behind the camera, not in front of the camera.

Why the photo-phobia?  Body image issues, I guess.  Look up “cushingoid” somewhere and it might give you some insight. 

…characteristic appearance:   The face appears round and red, the trunk tends to become obese with a humped upper back and the limbs become wasted.  Acne may develop and purple stretch marks (striae) may appear on the abdomen, thighs and breasts. The skin is thin and bruises easily. The bones become weakened and are at increased risk of fracturing. Women may become increasingly hairy.   Affected people are more susceptible to infection and may suffer from stomach or duodenal ulcers. Mental changes often occur, including depression,  paranoia and sometimes euphoria. Insomnia may be a problem. Patients may develop hypertension and edema.

Steroids do terrible things.  My face is fat, my skin is bad, and my self-esteem is terrible. 

But I think before the rest of this long brown curly hair falls out, I should have my kids take a picture of me.  Just because.  I also think, though, that I’m not the only blogging mama who never has photos of herself on her blog.  We hide BEHIND our cameras because our bodies are soft and round, having birthed, carried, nursed many babies.  We hide behind our cameras because we feel like we always look tired.  Maybe that’s because mamas who love their husbands and their babies with all their hearts, all the time, even in the middle of the night, ARE tired.  We hide behind our cameras because when we DO see pictures of ourselves, we look so much older than those images of ourselves we carry in our minds.  We are getting older, just as our babies are getting older, and sometimes it’s easier not to think about that.

The piles of long brown curly hair on the bathroom floor convinced me.  Today I will have my children take pictures of me.  They see me as I look right now every day.  I’m the only one who constantly compares today’s image with an old picture I carry in my mind.  I see soft, round, tired, old… they just see mama, love, warm, sweet.  

If only I could borrow their eyes, my husband’s eyes.  If only I could capture some confidence from their smiles and their love.  I know it’s not just me.  Today, if you’re a mama who has avoided having her picture taken because it’s ever so much more comfortable to be behind the camera, I challenge you to join me and have your children take some pictures of you.  Maybe we can be really brave and post them and share.  Leave a comment with a link if you do.

28 thoughts on “taking pictures, self confidence, alopecia….

  1. Interesting challenge and I completely agree with you about hiding behind the camera. As a professional photographer and portraitist for 12 years, I know something about hiding behind a camera!
    Neither of my children are here to take photos of me now but I will be brave and post one that they took a couple of years ago that they thought was wildly funny and “looks just like you Mom”.
    Self confidence is the most elusive of butterflies, and nothing will compensate for you not liking what you see in the mirror right now. But you are still here to see yourself in the mirror and you have the most beautiful soul I have ever seen and that’s why Dixon and the kids and your family and friends see you as “love, warm, sweet” – and beautiful.

  2. I totally agree with you. What I see in the mirror is not what I see when I close my eyes. But yes, I’d want my kids to be able to see, in 20 years or whenever, pictures that represent how they see me now. Which is probably perfect in their eyes! They do like to take pictures of me, and sometimes they actually turn out not too bad!

  3. Thank you for sharing your feelings so eloquently…..to say you have a way with words is an understatement; but then, we’ve all known that for a long time. You have a way of synthesizing and simplifying life’s experiences so that we each say, “Yes, she captured my feelings exactly.”

    Reconciling our love/hate relationship with the side effects of drugs is a real conundrum. It would be a joyous day if we could pick and choose only positive side effects and dispense with the negative aspects of modern pharmacology. For you I would select the side effects of “love, warm, sweet” and, like Caroline above, beautiful.

  4. I just wanted to say that I truly understand the sorrow and the ‘hiding’ that comes along with the changes steroidal medication can create, from my own health experiences. I wish I could make them go away for you, along with all else you suffer.

  5. You *MUST* find a way to hear Stan Rogers’ song, “Lies”.
    Go pay the buck or three to get an MP3 of it from Amazon.
    Anything. Whatever it takes. You MUST hear it.
    Lyrics here:

    There is one mirror in my house that tells me good lies. It’s the one mirror that I look in and say “Gosh, you ARE an attractive woman” on a semi-regular basis. EVERY OTHER MIRROR ON THE WHOLE PLANET MAKES ME LOOK DUMPY, MATRONLY, AND SOMETIMES EVEN GRUMPY. I hate mirrors. Photos *sometimes* catch the me I like to see. Mostly they catch the dumpy, matronly me.

    I have a theory about people (all people, not just women), and photographs. The people (especially women) whose beauty is in movement and speech and active loving and service and spirit and teaching and supporting and hugging, yadda yadda etc etc, will NEVER be able to have that beauty captured in a photograph or even a mirror. The beauty is in the movement, the being. It is not static. It is multi-dimensional beauty and cannot be constrained to 2-dimensional format like a photo or a mirror.

    That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. It certainly explains why most photos of me don’t show *ME*. (It doesn’t explain, however, the one good mirror in my house. That’s sheer magic or miracle or hallucination or fun-house-mirror or something!)

    Now, about those steroids… Wouldn’t it be great if the only side-effect you had was the EUPHORIA one? Who’d complain about that!?!?

    Someone close to me takes a med with a documented side-effect of “longer eye-lashes”. Gosh, isn’t THAT a hard side-effect to bear? Maybe it also has a side-effect of “extra energy in the morning” and “perfectly balanced checkbook each and every month”!! 🙂

    Love and hugs from RI

  6. I don’t have a place to paste a photo to link to. I’ll send you one. On a Saturday when I don’t even try to make an effort. Full body shot, even.

  7. I TRY to remember my “lectures” from our scrapbook store days and make sure not to complain too much when we’re taking pictures…my problem is they might get “lost” when I actually SEE them! Promise I’ll do better!

    I love Esther’s theories and hope I can find a mirror like hers… the more I think about it, I just need to meet Esther!

    Just in case you forget… you are the most loving, warm, sweet and beautiful people I have ever met!


  8. You know that I rarely post comments but today I feel compelled….Elizabeth, our bodies bear the scars and ailments of our battles through this life. Some of us bear those marks more obviously than others. That is what the camera sees and therefore what we see. We focus on those imperfections in light of what we think is beautiful, of how much we have aged, grayed, you name it! Oh, and how I agree with Esther that your being CAN NOT be captured in a 2 dimensional medium. But your family and friends do see through a very special camera, one is which we see beyond the surface to see the beauty of your scars, that despite your limitations and weariness, we see one of Our Lord’s most beloved daughters wearing those imperfections as jewels, adorning you in splendor. Take those pics and let your jewels shine!

  9. Hi, Elizabeth.

    When I picture you, it’s always a picture of a mother and a child. You with one of your kids. Or as I saw you at camp last year, with your hand over your mouth in wonder at Emily, when someone showed you video of her at the talent show. It’s always your loving mother’s eyes, your encouraging voice, your hands on your children, your head bowed over a meal, that I picture. You have no idea how you have enriched, by example, the lives of people who know you even marginally, as I do. I’m so glad to have found your blog and to have the picture of your spirit that you let us see here and from whic we all, I’m certain, draw strength and wisdom. So here’s to all of us who read your blog getting to know, and primping, the inside parts of who we are. The eternal part. And isn’t that a cool thing about aging?

  10. Thank you so much for this post — and your beautiful witness. You captured so much in this post — and your other posts always inspire. Thank you, thank you, thank you — and be assured of prayers.

  11. Elizabeth, your words are beautiful and you express yourself so well that we can understand, feel and almost see what you are dealing with. However, almost all of us see what we think are our flaws first and they almost always overshadow the all the rest that is beautiful, good, kind. loving, giving, thoughtful, humorous, caring, special and everything else.

    I really can’t express it better than Esther did. Please know that we all think you are beautiful inside and out, with hair and without, when you are up or when you are down. You are special and we appreciate you for all of this and more. I told your mother that maybe you will get blond and straight hair back, or red, or….. Some of us would like brown and curly and some of us would just like more hair even if it is the color we have now.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  12. Ever since your post helping Danny sew, I had been hoping you would update your picture. There was a glimpse of shoulder brown hair in that picture.

    I recently was playing with my new camera and the kids weren’t around to model so I took some pictures of myself. The image in my mind was pretty different than what I was seeing. In my mind I guess my skin is that if an 8 year old {grin}: smooth, elastic, no dark circles…

    Please post your new picture. It would be nice to have a face with the name for my prayers.

  13. Amen! I so understand your perspective here, as I grapple daily with the changes in appearance lupus and age have worked in me. I’m not a mother, but I, too, hide behind the camera because what I see in front of it looks tired and frazzled, about 10 years older than the image in my head. Thank you for your transparency so I know I’m not the only one.

  14. Thank you for this. I too try to hide from the camera. My youngest daughter now takes them whether I want her to or not. Here is what she told me – “When Gramma died, there were all but three photos of her. I will not let my children forget what their Gramma looked like.” You can’t argue with that.

  15. My young cousin’s wife, who battled lymphoma this past year, is a professional photographer. She has decided, since she is recovering now, that she will dedicate part of her time as a professional photographer to photographing those going through cancer, to remember. She has said the same exact thing you said (blog post here: http://www.annievarland.com/2010/10/plan-to-be-surprised/ , professional website here: http://www.living-with-hope.com/ ). Is it possible there is someone near you who offers this service? Maybe your doctor’s office would know? Praying this happens for you.

  16. In my mind I see myself as my husband sees me – “The most beautiful person in the world” – so whenever I walk past a mirror I am a bit dissapointed and say to myself “Is that really me?” Yet, knowing that the reality of me is what my husband and family sees, and their perception is that it is beautiful – who am I to argue? I willingly step in front of the camera and give them my best smiles so I will leave them with memories of all our happy years. I have no pictures of my father.

  17. I loved this post. I, too, have alopecia. I lost my hair off and on throughout childhood and then completely when I was 14. I’ve worn a wig for the past 20 years. I look at myself wigless and with parts of my eyebrows missing and I don’t think I look like myself, but my kids prefer me that way. They are jealous that I can take my hair off when it’s hot, and my son describes my wig-wearing like it is a super hero power. I almost never have my picture taken without my wig and I feel like I am missing out on being present in their memories. They don’t care, why should we? I don’t have a website to post a picture on, but I will have my kids take my picture today…bald and beautiful!
    Thank you for sharing!

  18. So, have you made a point of finding a way to hear Stan Rogers’s song “Lies”? It so eloquently and memorably talks about seeing ourselves through our loved ones’ eyes.

  19. Thank you, from my heart, for sharing yours. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, but you’re so right! I don’t have alopecia, but my hair started thinning (male pattern baldness, they say) when I was early 20s. I keep it light to hide it, but it wrecked what little “self-esteem” I had. I hate pictures, because I’m afraid people will catch my head bent just right where you can tell. Stinks. Not too fond of my body, either, after three kids. I love the line where you said, “If only I could borrow their eyes, my husband’s eyes.” Because that’s a constant prayer of mine…God, help me to see myself through his eyes. My husband loves me, adores me, thinks I’m sexy. 🙂 Even though…

    You opened your heart, and though I don’t know you, and this was the first I have read of your blog, I connected with you. God bless you and keep you.

  20. Thank you for this, Elizabeth, although I am finding it a week late. My photo issues come from age. I am 47 and have kids ages 11 down to 1, and my own parents were very young. I feel that my kids might be ashamed to have an old mama, but you are right–they just see the mama who loves them. Some posts are a real gift. Thanks for your introspection and honesty.

  21. Hello Elizabeth.
    I am a first time reader. I have been encouraged by my dear friend Sara to read your blog. I am amazed by your courage and vulnerability. I can’t even imagine the ripple effect you have had on so many lives. I just read the message about hiding behind the camera and could relate. We all hide behind things, but few share with such vulnerable honesty. I know that the part of you that really counts is beautiful and wish that self esteem was not based on what you look like on the outside.
    May you keep sharing what you ‘re really feeling so that other people will do the same. We all wear masks too much of the time.
    peace, Anne

    ps I hide behind my weight

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