I remember the very moment I first saw a Frida Kahlo painting. I turned the corner in a Mexican art exhibit in Montreal and there she was. I walked towards the painting in a way I’d never looked at a painting before. I was moved beyond words.
I stumbled upon the exhibit by sheer chance. I’d never heard of her. It was a cold winter’s day and I was alone exploring in the city. Going to galleries and finding a great bowl of Pho were my favourite past-times.
Years later, I was fortunate enough to go to an entire exhibit of her work at the Tate Modern in London. I remember tearing up as I walked from room to glorious room. Seeing her find a way through her pain onto the canvas was a life-altering event for me. It was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life, and I still honor her everyday.
Sometimes I think: What if she’d decided to give up after her polio? After her accident? What if she’d decided not to paint portraits of her face, her facial hair, her surgeries, her difficulties in her marriage, or her deep passion for the struggle of the Mexican people?
Frida Kahlo is why I take photos of myself. And why they aren’t always pretty. I’m not a painter, and am in no way suggesting that my photos are in any way the same as her profound body of work, but it was her courage to see herself and not shy away from herself that showed me what that could look like.
I started taking selfies before there was a word for them as a way to navigate my way through coming out and leaving the safety and security of the life I once knew.
I took these almost 10 years ago in a summer-long experiment of taking a photo of myself each day no matter how I felt. It was a way to not hide from myself and to tell the truth to myself.
Some I posted but the majority were only for me. It was my way of staying awake as I fell into the abyss of the unknown.
At times I felt unrecognizable. Ugly. But that’s the truth of life, isn’t it? The bad angles, messy hair, an ocean of tears, Kali rage and mustard stains.
Our actual lives aren’t carefully curated but they can be works of art. Believe me, I love a good aesthetic (a lot), and please keep being the gorgeous you that you are! I guess I’m just wondering what not showing the ugly is doing to our sense of self? You know?
And showing my fat and fabulous self as pretty is also it’s own kind of act of love and breaking open. None of us has this figured out and no one knows what you’re going through but you.
I want to see more breaking open moments. More ugly. More putting the bags down and saying, “yeah, that was tough. I made some big mistakes but I’m going to keep going anyway.”
Because the truth is (and I really believe this) we are all radiant underneath. And I don’t know about you, but I sure am ready to have a whole lot more of pretty ugly radiance in my life!
May you break open, show off those bad angles, and radiate your amazingness!