How Doing Something I Sucked at Gave Birth to My Alter Ego

It took approximately two billion, two thousand million shots to get this passable one.
Photo by the miracle-working @PhillipsPhotos

You’d think that being a writer for all these years would prepare me for doing something I sucked at without much trepidation. If writers are honest, we all suck at times, sometimes more frequently than “at times,” and particularly so in our first pass at a story — or, as writer Anne Lamott succinctly phrased it, the “shitty first draft.” Still, none of my shitty first drafts could have prepared me for my first photo shoot.

I prepared for May’s month of Cultivating an Alter Ego by doing a photo shoot in downtown Minneapolis. In the weeks leading up to the shoot, I grew more and more terrified. I couldn’t have done this when I was 30 years old, wrinkle-free and ten pounds lighter? I’m getting older, my skin is sagging, the scale is not my friend. There was a mitigating factor in that the stakes were not high, because no one was asking for these photos. Sure, I could have buried them forever under the bed and buried the guilt over the expense. But I was driven forward by wanting to do the Living Like Prince project so badly that I would tempt fate, April weather in Minnesota and certain humiliation to get the photos I needed for the month of May’s challenge.

Twice, I postponed the shoot. To be honest, I was scared and putting off the inevitable wasn’t making me any less scared, but even more than being a big scaredy cat, I knew I wasn’t prepared. The week before the shoot, I was speaking with Leisl AuVante about something unrelated, and in passing, I mentioned the photo shoot and that I had no clue what I was doing. Leisl jumped in feet first. Had I finalized my looks? (I put some outfits together and sent her photos). Who was doing my hair? Makeup? What was the inspiration behind my look? (Um, trying to look better than I do on a normal mom-working-from-home day?) On the spot, Leisl went into model mode and demonstrated how to pose sideways to the camera, turn at the waist, place one or both hands on hips, tilt my chin down, and look up with only my eyes. I practiced in front of her mirror but I couldn’t get the facial expression right. I looked too much like normal, nice, suburban mom me. Leisl, on the other hand, struck a post and effortlessly looked like a card-carrying member of the Prince camp, which of course she was. I needed to adopt an attitude. I mean, I didn’t choose “sassy” as my 2019 word of the year for nothing. That’s when Leisl gave me a mantra to say when I looked into the camera lens. (I need to be thinking of something other than abject terror when I look at the camera? Another revelation).

“I’ll collapse your castle with one look, if you fuck with me.”

Leisl doesn’t mess around.

Now you know what I’m thinking in this photo:

Putting my body into this unnatural-feeling-yet-badass pose and telling myself that yes, I had the power to collapse people’s castles with a withering glance caused something inside me to shift. It a moment not unlike the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes, but I already have a big heart (sometimes, too big, I fear). Instead, it was my sense of self-confidence and power that tripled in size.

By the time the photo shoot was done, I was no longer suburban mom Laura. I was Aurora, the name I gave my Princely alter ego, and I was having fun.

It took humility to do a photo shoot, all the while realizing that I don’t look the same as I used to, but to accept it while also refusing to hide and not allowing shame to creep in. I felt unsteady on my feet, both figuratively and literally (I don’t think I’ve ever attempted to walk in heels as high as the Prada peep-toed booties that Leisl loaned me. I still have much to learn!). Being a model wasn’t an easy fit, but I realized that I had been avoiding a whole part of life by not stepping into the spotlight and yes — crushing the castles of the haters. I’ll never be good at modeling, and so what! I felt a sense of playfulness lift my heart and I asked myself: Why is this thing I’m so bad at bringing me joy?

The only explanation I could find was a Princely one, indeed: Doing something I sucked at was freeing. By humbling myself, I freed myself from the fear of being humiliated. Being a model is never going to happen for me (believe me, that’s no revelation) but putting myself in that vulnerable position in front of the camera opened up a whole new world. With each shot, I got a tiny bit better.

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