There are two songs called “Beautiful” and I love them both for different reasons. The more popular and undoubtedly the most well-known of the two is the version by Christina Aguilera. But for the purpose of this posting and so I can reach into my bag o’tricks if I’m’a stumped in the future at some point, I’m saving the C-tina version for a another day.
The version I’m quoting today is by a Canadian group (eh?) called Joydrop. I think I heard this originally on the “Catch of the Day” by Jed the Fish on KROQ radio (based in SoCal), many years ago (late 90s, to be precise). The lead singer’s voice starts singing so sweetly like a little girl’s, yet is soulful at the same time, and the message is profound in its simplicity:
If I was beautiful like you
I would never be at fault
I’d walk in the rain between the raindrops
Bringing traffic to a halt
But that would never be
No that will never, never be
‘Cause I’m not beautiful like you
I’m beautiful like me.
The music turns electronic and the lead singer’s voice turns hard-edged, as if these are life lessons that have been hard-earned, well-deserved, but with acceptance that is steely and full of resolve.
I’ve struggled with this same concept, both personally and professionally, for many years. Personally… I’ve found growing up in SoCal (Orange County) looking unique as I do, a challenge. Being young in the 80s I was surrounded by girls bleaching their hair with Sun-In (don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about!) and laying out getting browner by the day.
I couldn’t do that. I’m fair — half-English & half-Russian/Estonian/Latvian/something-Slavic. I’m fairly white… maybe even blue-white! I have red hair & freckles. (“Oh, mass of freckles on my arms and legs: when will you join together to just create a tan?? Today? No? Well, how about we try again tomorrow, then!? Hmm?”) I remember a boy teasing me in my single-digit years for having hair that was “on fire” (ahh, the inventiveness of an 8-year old… who, oddly, also himself had red hair. Hello? Physician? Heal thyself, please). In my teen years, I entered an awkward phase that lasted around 25 years or so. You may laugh, but in my eyes, I’m not kidding! Oh wait. I’m only 29. Again. (my birthday is a week from today as I write this. I’ll be… ummm… 29! Yes, that’s it! 29! I like it. Would you buy that for a dollar?) Sooo, let’s say this awkward phase lasted something more like 20 years. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket!
But learning to embrace individuality is a tough road. When you’re young, it’s easier to go with the flow, be one of the pack, for fear of being teased (and I was always one of those ultra-sensitive types, and still am, really). We’re not really rewarded for celebrating or showcasing our individuality until college, and by then, you hope your spirit’s not already been quashed. For fear it has, hopefully it’s not hard to regain it, or to find your way all over again.
I’m in Phoenix, AZ, for the Thanksgiving holiday right now. My parents have another place out here in central PHX. I have a couple of close friends from high school out here. Earlier this year, I even had a boyfriend out here. So, it’s a place that I’m familiar with, but is just different enough from home to help encourage the landscape of my mind to chart unfamiliar territory. On the plane on the way out, I was reading my book “Fast-Track Photographer” by Dane Sanders (bought it from him at a local event he’s set up in Newport Beach; fortunately, that’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from my home in Irvine. Have I mentioned how fabulously LUCKY I am to live among some of the biggest photogs in the wedding industry, all based right here out of OC? It’s so easy to go to SmugMug meetings, etc and meet them in person!).
So, I came to page 58 where Dane was talking about his experience as a new photographer to the wedding industry. He wanted to emulate and be just like his photographic heroes, those “celebrities” who inspired him. As he stated, that was a terrible mistake and a total disservice to himself. He essentially said (and I’m paraphrasing) that to be a success, you should really try hard not to be a carbon copy of your heroes… that they are successes because they approach the market in a very specific way that they have found which works for them personally.
I read this and totally found at that moment, 30,000-some-feet off the ground (yes, I was a’flyin HIGH!), that was the reiteration I needed for a thought that had been swirling around my head, but had never really coalesced into a finite, tangible truth: I don’t need to be exactly like my heroes. Learn from what they have to offer, via experiences and business modules, but I can be free to be me. Shoot my images from the heart my own way, not with WWJD (What Would Jasmine Do?) lurking in my mind. Like my mom has been saying forever to me: “Don’t reinvent the wheel… someone else has already done it, why would you want to, too?” So, I’ve had to take from my photographic heroes all of these tips and tricks that they share, and more: the biggest of those including drive and inspiration. But, I’ve had to also remind myself to really BE myself, and not to be what I think someone else wants me to be. I don’t want my brain to be a crutch, relying on the aforementioned “WWJD do in this situation?” I was given a brain and the knowledge how to use it… so… use it! (I give myself all those visualization exercises so I can hopefully be prepared for any situation, and I try to listen to other photogs’ horror stories so I can learn from their experiences too). And I can’t be like someone else and be a success, because that’s what they perfected, and it fits with them and their own uniqueness. It’s okay to embrace me, flaws and strengths and all… right?
Embrace it. Love it. Learn to love my freckles. Connect the dots. Love my hair. (Turns out, lots of people love my hair and freckles. Why did everyone tease me then about being different when I was little?) And, I’ve found what draws people to me, and me to them: connecting. Like I’ve mentioned before, this world is all about making connections, and I can do that not only through photography, but through really getting to know others, and getting the pictures that are very specifically capturing their essence. If you’re like me, you will constantly love to learn, and you will strive to be more than you are not only today, but to become more of that well-rounded person everyday. And by meeting and being genuinely interested in others, I think this follows: other people love to share, and I get to learn!
So professionally, this wild ride I’m on, because I had heroes, I was trying to be like them. I want their success, personally and professionally, so very badly. But you can’t make those things come to you in quite such an obvious way. It sidles up from the side in a more obtuse way. I guess professional success may be like what they say about love: It will come to you when you’re least expecting it. So I’ve finally decided to be real, work hard (but smart), love completely and the hardest part: have faith in myself. If everything is genuine and true and I work hard for it (and I work smarter, not harder), it will come in due time. Faith in myself is something that’s never come easy for me, because everything came so easily & so naturally to me when I was little, that when I left the nest and flew out into the competitive world, where people put me down to elevate themselves, I was shell-shocked. Private school gave me a massive head-start intellectually and professionally, but I think it may have cut me off at the knees because of the insulation from the “real world” and the emotionally hard-hitting tactics people have used more than once — and I allowed them to — cut me down.
So, it was hard for me because I was always told how much cuter I was than the other kids when I was little (I’ll have to post my headshots someday from when I was 5, 6 and 7 and auditioning for commercials). I was smarter than the other kids (my parents both have PhDs and are Mensa members… no pressure there! I always scored 99%tile in all standardized tests). I was more talented than the other kids (I excelled in art and dance from a very early age). Then I left my sheltered life for public school at 13, then college, then the **ahem** real world. And… Reality. Hit. Hard. And I’ve found that sometimes people I thought were friends put down my talent or personality to my face, yet when they exhibited the same personality traits, they thought it was normal or even superior, and that behavior never failed to floor me (I have very specific stories, but I’m going to refrain from sharing those for now). They made me feel ugly, inside and out, which I didn’t like. I’m naturally sunny by disposition, so it put me in a bad place. But eventually, if anything, it made me work harder to be an even better person, more successful personally and professionally. Living well is the best revenge, my friends repeat to me (over and over). Then I guess I should try to live it!
If I was beautiful like you
Oh the things I would do
Those not so blessed would be crying out murder
And I’d just laugh and get away with it too
Like you do
But that would never be
Never, never, never be
Cause I’m not beautiful like you
I’m beautiful like me, beautiful like me
And I don’t have to be beautiful like you, my heroes… because I’m beautiful like me.