"Learning to Love My Hands"
Written by Anna Ridle
Photograph of Anna by Mark Laubenheimer
The majority of my life, I have been adamantly opposed to having my picture taken. I lack many of the body image issues I frequently see in my peers. I attribute this to growing up with a mother whom I never saw weigh herself, and wore little to no make-up. I think my aversion to photos is related to the permanence of them. As someone who is obsessed with constant change and progression, having one moment captured forever gives me anxiety. That is why it came as a surprise to people close to me when I began modeling.
I’m not sure whether or not I would classify myself as a creative person. I have always considered myself a numbers person. Numbers are not open to interpretation. You are right, or you are wrong. Modeling gave me a way to explore my creative side through learning about photography, and being part of the creative process without being responsible for (the failure of) the vision.
When Mark contacted me I was about a month out from moving from Seattle to Beijing and had stopped accepting shoots. When Mark commented “strong.” on one of my Model Mayhem pictures, I stopped by his page to thank him for his kind words. I immediately fell in love with his work. I’ll admit, when Mark responded by asking to do a shoot, I had a minor fan girl melt down.
Walking into the shoot I went through my mental checklist: photographer’s “look” studied, pose ideas considered, simple wardrobe packed, face clean, hair natural. After a short period of talking we began shooting almost exactly as I had walked in the door. I had never heard of therapeutic portraiture before, but that is without a doubt what Mark does.
The entire shoot was very guided. Naturally, Mark encounters quite a few conversations about beauty and body image in his quest to capture people as they are. A couple months prior I had watched a tutorial about how to pose hands. The end goal is to have them appear long and elegant. While we were shooting, I made an off-hand comment about my short, chubby fingers. I would never be able to make them look long and elegant.
Internally I had attached no emotional weight to my lack of dainty digits. Not knowing this, Mark thoughtfully began discussing that so often we are worried about how our body looks, when what truly matters is how our body functions. Mark had me do several series where I looked at my hands as if I loved them, and told them thank you. Although I did not say this at the time, the function of my hands is much more frustrating than the aesthetics. I suffer from a disorder that causes me to have swollen, painful knuckles when my hands are cold. In extreme cases knocking on a door, or shifting gears, becomes difficult. It had never occurred to me before to love my hands. Thank you Mark, for helping me begin to do so.