“Are there any colors you don’t want to wear” I asked as we sat across from each other, our fuzzy sock clad feet kicked up on the couch.
“Black” she said. “I want to add color to my life.” Her words were chipper and light. Deeper, you could see there was more to what she was saying.
With crystal blue eyes set against dark chestnut hair, she would look stunning in black. Wanting to fully understand her, her preferences, her personality, her story and the directions in which I could encourage her, I wanted to see if she was completely opposed to wearing black.
”What do you dislike about wearing black?”
It was in the quiet, waiting for her answer as the soft crackling of the eucalyptus candle flames flickered, that the wisdom, pain, weariness and determination behind her eyes began to unveil.
She took a moment, crafting her thoughts. This was her story, not just a color preference. After taking the time she needed, she said, “he always made me wear black. He said it hid my body, that no one should notice me. I was made to feel ashamed. My whole wardrobe is made of shades of black, frumpy clothes. I want to wear the opposite of how he made me feel.”
She was in the midst of a prison break.
Explaining further, she shared that she recently divorced and was reforming her life and herself after an abusive, manipulative relationship. She wanted to use this portrait experience to encourage herself, to see herself in a way he had previously shattered. She wanted to see herself as beautiful, to become the joyful, smiling person that had once been suffocated. My chest was throbbing.
When I first met Sarah [*not her real name] she greeted me with a warm smile on her pretty, makeup-less face. She was wearing a dress that belonged to her mother, her dark locks frizzed and tucked behind her ear in a hurried ponytail. She later admitted to me that she never really took time to brush her hair, ever, and that a ponytail was her way of styling her hair after years of being told there was no point to make the effort. The second time we met, she was sitting across from me, fuzzy sock clad feet on the couch, with black baggy goucho pants and a new teal workout t-shirt that was at least two sizes too big, her hair down and tangled.
As we talked, she revealed that after being in a toxic marriage for almost twenty years, she had no idea how to dress herself or care for her appearance anymore. She was a little embarrassed that she was nearly forty and had no idea about these things. She knew she wanted colors and comfort. She was focused on healing and was just starting out on that journey.
”Give yourself grace,” I told her as I shared with her part of my own journey and how clothing choice and colors played a role in my own reformation. “We all heal in different ways, at different stages of life and at different paces.” The hope in her eyes lit up the room as she talked.
She tried on dresses of different styles and colors, getting giddy when she could see a waist she never knew she had or how the eggplant dress made her eyes look dreamy. She was gorgeous as she recognized herself.
As her confidence grew, I asked her gently, “would you be open to trying on this dress?” Across my arms draped a gown with layers of soft, dark charcoal lace. Knowing the color could potentially dampen her spirits, I gave her a smile and continued, “You have such beautifully dark hair and, with this dark charcoal dress and your hair, your eyes would be more easily noticed for just how stunning they are.” I was aiming to tip the scales towards the courage I knew she had. She radiated hope and she was ready to heal. I held my breath low as I waited to see if she thought she was ready. If she said “no,” I had three other gowns to ask her opinion on to help her step away from the potential negativity.
With an enormous grin, and a rooted confidence, she said “Yes.” Swooping the gown out of my hands and heading to change, I was almost astonished at how boldly and swiftly she was charging forward in disassembling the lies told to her. It was incredible to witness.
When Sarah came in for her session, her nerves were visible as her hands clenched around her purse strap and the handle of the suitcase that contained her brand new wardrobe. She was excited but apprehensive. A week or so had passed since she was last in the whirlwind of trying on dresses. The time passed had been exhausting - trying to see herself through a style of clothing, an extra filter to look through as she was determining who she was, in addition to dealing with a few ugly last strings popping up from her divorce needing to be tied up. I had been there to answer a few emails with pictures of outfits she was debating on and to listen if she needed it.
This was her “moment of truth,” she told me as my team prepped her for hair and makeup. On the verge of tears, she apologized because she knew she was going to cry at least once. She asked to pay her no mind as she dealt with her range of emotions. I assured her she was always welcome to be human here. Wine in hand, we chatted as her hair was put in curlers. We set out her new wardrobe, splashes of colors and luscious patterns now dotting the couch. She had done a marvelous job picking outfits that complimented her skin, eyes, hair and proper sizing!
Sarah began to relax as we spent time pampering her. Her look completed, we helped her into her first outfit, waiting for her to see what she looked like once she was completely styled. We positioned her with her back to our full length mirror.
“You are incredible. Are you ready?” I asked.
With a nervous laugh, she turned to see for herself and a flush of color greeted her cheeks. Hot tears streamed from her eyes, apologies flooding out her mouth for messing up the makeup.
”Is that really ME?” Her voice rang out with bewilderment and shock. “I’ve never seen myself like this…” her voice trailed off as she stared in the mirror, looking at herself from toe to face. Inching closer to the mirror, she grew quiet. A silent moment passed as she examined herself. Turning to me with wild eyes she said, “I look like ME. I wasn’t expecting to look like me.” She could recognize herself in her reflection, a monumental cornerstone in her healing. It was beautiful, watching her glow and transform. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment.
The last I saw Sarah, was for her Reveal & Order session. I was sitting at my desk waiting for her to arrive. People walk past our windows all the time. So, when I saw a figure start walking across them, I didn’t think much of it. Every footstep oozed confidence, perfectly curled locks bounced against her shoulders a few strands waving glamorously in front of her face. Surprise caught me, however, because this person walked in our door. I took in the moment because it was near cinema perfection. Light mascara and a touch of blush complimented the radiance in her face as she greeted me with a beaming smile. It was Sarah - not just “Sarah” but SARAH. To think that, just a few week prior, this same woman had been sitting on my couch, quiet, meek, unsure and searching was the same woman hugging me now was staggering. She was no longer shrouded in black, shoulders curved inward. She was radiantly beautiful and you could really see HER. She was decisive and fearless. She loved seeing herself and, when she left, she made a point to say she would no longer be shamed to wear black.
*”Sarah” gave me permission to share her story to encourage other women. She wishes to keep her photographs and personal details private.