Seeing ourselves, through someone else’s lens

Amanda Hsu’s headline on social media says that she helps women change the way they see themselves. Amanda is a professional photographer based in Mosta, Malta, which means that when she promises women that she will help them look at themselves with a different lens, she is referring to that inside the camera.

When I first came across one of Amanda’s sponsored ads, in July last year, I didn’t know her or her offer. It was late in the afternoon and I had just come back home from a very pleasant Sunday lunch with my family in Marsaxlokk and it would be fair to say that what helped me see Amanda’s proposition – an invitation to participate in her latest project, ’40 over 40: Celebrating the Strength, Wisdom, and Beauty of Women 40+’ – in a favourable light was a result of the lovely wine.

It is not that I don’t look at myself in the mirror. I do. Perhaps more often than I need to. If I am being honest, I must say I have a strange relationship with the mirror, and what she tells me is not only a reflection of the form, but also of my state of mind. But that’s a longer story than we can afford to share today.

I guess the first and most dominant thought that sped through my mind as I stared at the advert was why haven’t I ever done this? If you don’t count the photos from my wedding day, where I display one of the most undesirable hairstyles I’ve ever had to endure, and the many other photos where I’m usually posing with a glass in hand or an animal by my side (one of my very favourites is with a cow in Northern Italy, in which we have identical smiles), you will not find any ‘proper’ photos that add a touch of colour to this lengthy history.

The reason why I did sign up for the project was curiosity. I wanted to know what I would look like when photographed by someone like Amanda. In my mind, a photo is a still of the image you see in a mirror, and the first image that comes to my mind when I think mirror is ‘The Skinny Mirror’, the business idea that was pitched for funding in one of the episodes of the famous Shark Tank. On the show, the owner of the idea failed to attract investment funding because the sharks thought it would be deceptive rather than fair upon customers to be looking at themselves at least a dress size smaller than they are, but we’re all well aware that the concept is one that attracts proponents from both sides of the fence. It is also something that touches, deeply, upon the dynamics of self-esteem, and how this should only be something we get because we deserve to.

I wasn’t going to ask Amanda whether she had the ability to shrink tummies, thighs or upper arms, not before the shooting session, and certainly not at the time when I saw the photos she had so wonderfully put together in a slideshow for my temptation. I have plenty of other opportunities in my life to deal with the intricacies of that fabulous social meter lodged inside our psyche that is tasked to gauge our performance in the social world, so I decided to let this one be about other emotions and evolved mechanisms that make it such a complete experience.

I start with fear, something that Amanda herself asked me to talk about. Reflecting upon how it felt to be photographed, I only had one word echoing in the chambers of my mind: scary. I later clarified that while being afraid of a photo-session sounds nearly ridiculous, the truth is that how we see ourselves is a big part of who we are, and it is natural that we fear that others might judge us to be less than we value ourselves to be.

It is also connected to the process of making the conscious decision to step in front of the camera. One of the most honest interpretations of myself is as someone with a reserved nature who prefers to let the creative marketing and image consultants manage public relations while I sit comfortably in the shadows and do my thinking in a safe space.

But as things stand, a little experience opens up the door to a greater adventure, and considering that most of what we do in life is a game of negotiation between staying safe and daring to try to grab the wins of new ventures, you learn that you can still explore new grounds with caution and curiosity.

In fact, a couple of months after the photoshoot with Amanda, I shared one of her photos with my website designer, as we were working together to set up this blog, and further down the road, although terrified, I agreed to join Jon Mallia for an interview on his podcast.

Truth be told, this article is not simply about stepping in front of the camera. It is about the bolder decision to come under the spotlight and be open to the scrutiny that comes along with people’s judgements and conclusions. As I have come to realise, there’s so much more to this process than the risks; because the minute you let others see you, you will be pleasantly surprised with the benefits that brings, both for yourself and for those people around you who might need just that little bit of encouragement to also come out into the light and shine.