I struggle with labels, in the sense that I don't know how to use them or whether I want to use them.
Let me explain
When I went to UW-Waukesha to set up the mini gallery of The Body Project, I was greeted with such enthusiasm and kindness and felt a little overwhelmed, yet honored, by the special attention, which afterward, had me in a bit of a panic.
I'm not an expert on body advocacy. I'm not an expert on photography. I don't have all the answers nor do I feel comfortable being regarded as the only person in the room with the most knowledge about these two subjects.
Cue Freak Out
My brain ran through the gamut of questions I might receive and a few scenarios of me being completely struck speechless by a question I wouldn't be able to answer. And then, a few lovely people in my life said some beautiful things to me. These quotes are the gist of what they said:
"Regardless of what you know, you do know that you worked your ass off for an entire year on this project. That is a big deal, and that's what they want to know about. They want to know about these women and why you did this project."
And this piece of advice that made me laugh, because truth:
"It's not about you." Let that sink in. Lol! Then she furthered with, "It's about them and what they need to know and implement into their own lives. You're there to give them the tools so they can figure it out themselves, whatever it is."
And so I went, and it was perfect because it happened the way it needed to, regardless of my worry. But yesterday, this was my reflection in my journal:
Lately, it feels like I've reflected on many large topics: loneliness, love, friendships and their meaning, aging, spirituality, time, and connectedness, and I don't dwell or linger long. However, I seem to hold each of them and taste them for a moment to experience the energy each topic brings, if only momentarily, and I think it's increasing my compassion (one of my goals since starting The Body Project). People simply want to be loved, appreciated, acknowledged, heard, and supported. This is why I'm here. This is my advocacy.
And this is what I fear expressing because it's hard to express. People asked me at the gallery, "What is your next project?" or "What are your plans for the future?" and I never have any idea because #1. I don't believe in looking too far into the future because the present matters most and #2. I don't know how to explain what it is I'm doing in life. My next project may not be related to photography. My future plans may not involve being a photographer at all. The next thing I do could involve my writing skills (something in which I did happen to grab a degree). See, I'm caught up in the idea that I need to have a label or stick to an image of what I am and what I do in order to be taken seriously and respected, but what I want to advocate doesn't come with a degree. You don't major in love. No one gives you a signed paper for appreciating others. Jobs don't hire you because you like to hear people out or let them tell their stories. Okay...some do... but aren't they often for greed, advertising, or selfish purposes? When is it ever just for people?
My dream in life is simply to make sure people know they matter--whether through writing about, talking with, or photographing them. I will, no matter what, create space for their voices. This all sprouted from one conversation with a man named James who works in the Diversity Center of UW-Waukesha who asked, "What can we do with you, artistically, to show these students they matter?"
Anything, James. I'm ready for anything.
To see more images from The Body Project mini gallery at UW-Waukesha, click here.