Apparently, I’m not the only one concerned with appearance and age and the professional impact of both.
Judging by the response to my misadventure with Botox, plenty of us want to look younger…or thinner…or more attractive. And those desires come to the fore when we’re in front of a camera.
It’s not where I want to be, and a lot of people share that reluctance too. Besides adorable four-year-old girls who twirl for the camera, who really likes having their picture taken?
So it was with about the same enthusiasm I’d have for a root canal, that I showed up at SpiderMeka Photography. Because a speaker has to have headshots, like it or not.
I was surprised to find I almost liked it. And I’ve been wanting to introduce you to Meka Hemmons ever since then. Meka has opinions about this agida over physical appearance.
“Beauty is not on the outside,” she says. “What you feel about yourself emanates out and beyond your skin. And that’s what other people respond to. That’s it. That’s the truth.”
“When you’re positive, when your energy is high and vibrating, when you feel good about yourself and the things around you…these equal beauty. Not what you look like.”
Lovely sentiment, right? And, it makes me search for the eye-roll emoji.
Truth is, I’ve often felt that I failed to meet some standard of What-Women-Should-Look-Like. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. At least Meka acknowledges that there is a standard.
“Somewhere at some point, someone said, beauty is this bone structure, this eye color, this hair color, this nose, this mouth, these eyes. And anyone who does not look like this is not beautiful. And that person, I want to punch in the face.”
“I recognize that women in our society are not appreciating who they are. I want to change that. Helping women remember to love who they are in their own skin is very important to me.”
And women are by no means alone, as Meka knows.
“I photograph men who ask me specifically to pay attention to their hips, certain facial features, their hair—or lack of. The way their arms look, the way they stand. It’s self-image. Men share the same concerns about their attractiveness and the way they’re seen in the world.”
Man or woman, it’s easy to get caught up in that concern about the way we’re seen in the world. Meka says that’s not good for any of us.
“Surrounding ourselves with this idea that I need to be smoothed and retouched and manipulated—it’s poison. All these filters and Instagram fluffs and Snapchat bunnies and big eyes. It’s all poison. We need to accept who we are.”
Yes, that means accepting our age too … and the face that goes with it.
“A gracefulness and a wisdom and a power happens to women when they reach a certain age.
Okay, you don’t look like you did when you were 20. You don’t look like you did when you were 40. But you’re 60 now. Or now you’re 80.
You look like this now. Because of everything that you’ve gone through. And that’s something that’s important. That’s something worthy. We shouldn’t continue to downgrade it because skin gets looser or hair gets thinner or hips get wider. Those are such superficial things.”
Those are also the very things we often want to hide, and technology makes that possible.Filters, PhotoShop…there are all kinds of ways to make us look better. Meka used them well when she was the premier photo retoucher at Harpo Studios.
“I used to get rid of every facial ‘flaw,’” she says. “I used to make ears smaller, necks smoother, ditch double chins so they’d have a gorgeous sculpted neck. I would reduce weight significantly. It got very depressing.
So now, I do not manipulate. I enhance natural beauty. Bring out those features that you think you might hate and photograph them in a beautiful way.
Part of it is lighting, part of it is posing. Part of it is making people comfortable. And being technically savvy with cameras and backgrounds. Those things help me frame who you are, pulling certain elements out of you, making you comfortable in front of the camera.”
Oh swell. There’s “lighting” and “posing.” When Meka and I first talked about my own photo shoot, I was relieved to hear there’s also a little light retouching. I’m all for authenticity, but …
“What I’m doing, really, is enhancing and getting rid of distractions. Manipulation happens when it goes beyond enhancing to absolutely changing you into something you’re not.
Genuine is what we’re attracted to. We think we’re attracted to beauty. But we’re really attracted to honesty and truth.”
Okay, honesty and truth…and there’s one more thing. Meka says a great photograph has power.
“Power is the genuine you. If power to you is, ‘I’m vulnerable but I stand my ground,’ then that comes out.
If your power is ‘I am a ball of sunshine and I love everything and everybody,’ then that comes out. If your power is, ‘You know, I’m not really talkative but I say a lot with my eyes because I know a lot and I can teach a lot,’ then that comes out.
My talent is that I find a person’s power. And it’s all in the eyes.
Eyes don’t lie. We look a stranger in the eye, we look our loved ones in the eye. We know when something’s wrong. We know if they’re being honest or if they’re trying to deceive.
It’s nothing less than that when we look at a photograph. Everything that we are is right there. In the eyes.”
Meka’s convinced that all of us are beautiful.
“Beauty to me is attitude. It’s your energy, it’s what you emanate. You give it to me, my camera’s going to see it. And that’s what I’m going to bring out.
I’m trying to nurture this idea that the picture of ideal beauty is YOU. We were created to be unique. There is beauty in our uniqueness. Understanding that is the goal I have for women … and men too.”
Maybe she’s convinced you too. You have some thoughts about beauty. Or headshots. Or being willing to show up and be seen. Will you share them in the comments below?