By Brooke Hawkins
There are few things more indulgent than taking a really great picture of yourself. One that makes you unafraid to share — excited even — to post confidently. One that shows your summer freckles in the clearest light, one where the sun hits all of your features so perfectly that for a moment in the many moments of your existence you feel brave and whole.
But, sometimes, these same photos show other parts that you’d forgotten.
On those days, the same freckles that make me feel unique and proud remind me that I’ve inherited them from my mother — though mine more sparse than hers that covered her whole face and grew deeper every year. These freckles remind me of the woman who gave me life. She was the person who helped me understand the woman I would grow up to be. She was the woman who thought tough love was stronger than compassion. The woman who dealt hurt and pain, emotional and physical, and the woman I’ve been unable to speak to since I moved away from home, more than six years ago.
I hold my memories and history with her close — to avoid being named as a person who has suffered abuse, who has missed out on maternal love that many of my peers received and who continues to be haunted by her presence every year when I get a cryptic text that says she “prays for me.” Another year will pass and we won’t talk or see each other. I am thankful for that space.
“I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain.”
I’ve worked really hard to overcome these experiences, and their lessons continue to impact me each year that I move further into my adulthood. Parts of my mother poke through in many things — in my romantic relationships I struggle to trust and confide in people that show me endless affection, as I wait for the day that they’ll have enough of my trust to cause me pain. I work hard socially and professionally, competing with people who have lived lives of Ivy League schools, who continue to receive support and guidance from their mothers, and who appear to have never felt the cold sting of a mother like mine.
I look at my photo and focus on the features that look like hers — the dark brown eyes, the skin that tans a deep brown in the summer, a mole that was lovingly referred to as a “beauty mark” that I now conveniently hide behind bangs to avoid its regular reminder.
I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain. How do they learn to look at those parts? How do they learn to be unashamed? Other days I convince myself that I’m the only one that deals with this — I seal myself off and push my insecurities deeper. I allow myself to separate from these parts of myself and forget.
As I get older, I try to become more intentional about finding ways to love all of these parts of myself. Even when I feel pleased with the superficial aspects of my appearance and life, sometimes these more unpleasant things rumble beneath the surface and threaten to disrupt my progress.
I look again more carefully at the picture of myself. Sun striking my cheeks, freckles glowing, proud in a living room in a big city that I’ve made home. I see a light in my eyes that’s mine alone. It’s a light of confidence and sureness that I’ve accomplished a great deal, and I still have a great deal to achieve. In these things I can steady myself and learn to love what’s really there. I have many facets, and loving the ones I’ve worked so hard to develop make the painful ones harder to see.
It’s important, I think, to be gentle with ourselves and patient. I remember to look for a few minutes longer at that photo that made me feel so confident, and to learn to be comfortable with the constantly changing image of myself.
Brooke Hawkins is a Chicago-based UX/UI designer, music maker and photographer.