Have you met your older self? What would your reaction be to seeing this version of yourself?

“I look so old!” is usually the initial response women have when they meet this version of themselves during their Transformative Portrait Experience. “Why do I look so old”?” is usually what they ask me and oftentimes, it’s a jarring and uncomfortable experience.

Have you ever seen a picture of yourself that you didn’t like? One that made you uncomfortable and want to look away? When this happens, we are given an important opportunity to delve deeper into understanding why we are rejecting parts of us because loving ourselves shouldn’t come with conditions.

When this client saw this image, she explained her initial response,*

“It was challenging that I was confronting the aging woman and facing aging is a hard subject. It made me scared in how much it was a reality and accepting that…”

Associating ourselves as “older” is indeed a challenging thing to confront because we are valued in our patriarchal society for youth, beauty and our appeal to men. We become more invisible as we age. This is something that is deeply ingrained in us and something I thought a lot about when I turned 50 earlier this year. One thing I always remind myself when I think about aging is something I read that included the phrase, “aging is just another word for living.” That struck me deeply and made me think, if we don’t give ourselves permission to age, how are going to give ourselves permission to live?

Then I start seeing deeper into her, into her eyes and who she is, not the outside exterior but deeper within and this is a person I’m proud of and very much love…I’m grateful that if this is who I am in there, I’m very comforted by that.

Processing the portraits together is one of the most important aspects of the Transformative Portrait Experience so with gentle guidance, we looked more closely at this image together. Were there physical markers of “looking old” like wrinkles or white hair? Obviously not and once we explored further, she was able to realize that it wasn’t about “looking” old but the energy and expression this portrait possessed. This process, which included a writing exercise, eventually revealed something that helped shift her perspective. She shares,

“Thinking about her, I recognized that face…not necessarily myself but all the older women in my family over the generations and seeing photos of them… Then I start seeing deeper into her, into her eyes and who she is, not the outside exterior but deeper within and this is a person I’m proud of and very much love…I’m grateful that if this is who I am in there, I’m very comforted by that.”

When I went on this journey of self-exploration and radical self-acceptance and love, one of the things I discovered was that we are not just one thing but made up of multitudes… It gave me permission to be complex, to move away from perfection and to accept my flaws, and to recognize my inherent worth. It is awe inspiring to think about how many different versions of us live inside, whether they are old or young, light or shadow. Every day that we age, live and experience life becomes a part of us. They don’t get lost or disappear. They create the building blocks for our present and future selves, all those parts living inside of us simultaneously, each molding and influencing us to become the women we are…the women we are meant to be. It reminds me of the transformation of a butterfly because when they are born, they already have all the structures they need to become a butterfly (there is an interesting Radio Lab episode about the goo inside the pupa stage and how caterpillars become butterflies). We are no different.

I have found this to be true in the work that I do through Transformative Portraits where women meet many different versions of themselves, some long forgotten and others they haven’t yet met. This client not only met her future self, but also her past self as expressed in the pain and vulnerability of her youthful expression (left). She was also able to meet her present self (center)… the version of her always there, representing her in her most peaceful, complete and beautiful state of being. It’s a version of her that serves as a reminder to always come back home.

Past, present and future. All are important and recognizing that with radical acceptance and love is what makes us whole.