Dear Jenna - For Love, Worth and Strength

Dear Jenna,

I won't lie, I have taken at least 10 attempts to write your blog post and everything always felt short of what I wanted to say about our studio session in West Chester in January.  So rather than writing my normal style blog post that is written to my viewers, today, this one is written just for you.   I am sharing it with the world because what I have to say I think will resonate with so many women, for so many reasons and because I know your friends would agree with me too.

While I wouldn't qualify our shoot as boudoir, I would say that it is the very definition of why my brand is built around love, worth and strength.  Photography so often gets divided into categories...families, engagements, newborns, children, weddings, seniors, headshots, ect.  And while I understand the need to categorize what I do, I love when shoots are less about the type of photos I am shooting and more about creating an environment to feel.  If a client can walk away from a session feeling more beautiful, more in love, more worthy, more strong than they did when they walked into the session, to me I have been successful.  The images captured at sessions like that are already above everything else because beyond having stunning images, my clients have an emotional reaction to the sessions and their images too.  

I'll be honest.  I fall short of this all of the time.  Timelines get wonky, light isn't right, outfits clash, I'm not feeling as creative, locations don't pan out.  But you Jenna, in just 45 minutes for a last minute session because I had an opening, reminded me why I fell in love with photography in the first place.  I got to remind you that you are beautiful, that you despite how life feels right now, you are loved and that even in the hardest of times, you radiate light.  

Being a plus sized, out of shape, slightly awkward, bubbly photographer is definitely intimidating sometimes.  Most of my clients are thinner than I am, I think are prettier than I am and are seriously kicking ass at going after their dreams.  What's interesting though, is as gorgeous and amazing as I might think you look Jenna, you were still nervous and shy and self conscious.  We might look totally different, but you have some of the same struggles I have and that was incredibly eye opening for me.  So often I let myself think that these beautiful people I am privileged to photograph couldn't possibly know what it's like to be nervous or not like the way they look.  And perhaps that's why sessions that could have been amazing only turned out great.  Because I forgot how to relate to the nerves and self consciousness.  I forgot that life tells us, especially as women, time and time again that we aren't enough.  

You, sweet friend, reminded me that my job as a photographer isn't to make you stronger or to love yourself or see that you are worthy of more than you had.  Its my job to capture you, as you are, with your flaws, perfections and all the natural, perfect beauty you have and show you what I see.  It's my job to tell you that I have things I struggle with too, that you aren't alone in your struggles and self consciousness.  It's my job is to make you laugh, to remind you to hold your chin high, to be vulnerable with you.  While the world might tell us that photos should be perfectly posed and airbrushed and edited, I hope these photos of you, raw, perfect and stunningly beautiful reming you that you are worthy, just as you are, without changing a single thing.  And while it may be your friends like Jordan and I that are the ones who see that now, know that some day, some perfectly awkward, kind, authentic, trustworthy, stunningly beautiful woman will see that in you too.  

Happiest of birthday sweet friend.  I can't wait to shoot you again soon!

Amanda Swiger

Confessions of Love, Worth and An Offbeat Feature

Growing up if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually said something like a dancer, youth leader, drama coach but what was always in the back of my head was that I just wanted to be normal.  To me, if I could be normal, if I could be successful at being normal, I would be ok.  There was all this pressure inside of me to fit in these molds, to this normal, good, sweet person, but I never knew what that looked like.  

When I found photography, I fell in love.  For the first time in my life, I knew this was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to leave behind but around the same time I also found well known photographers in the industry who all had this beautiful, light airy style.  And to me, that was what I wanted to be.  I wanted to learn how to create bokeh like that, dreamy colors like they did, be normal and have a spouse and a little house and charge 4000+ for a weddings and make it.  And I have spent years hustling toward that dream.  

What's funny about life is that we sometimes don't realize that what we want and who we are, aren't in line with each other.  We see everything and everyone else out there living this particular version or dream of what life can be and then our lives?  They look nothing like that. 

I remember the day my college friends realized that my "best friend" was really my girlfriend.  There was this moment where time started to move in slow motion and they looked at us and then at each other and then back at us and I could see the realization all over their faces.  As I stood there in my friends living room, I felt panic set in.  They couldn't know.  No one could know.  My whole dream had been built on this idea that I could be the real me in some private stored away place, but for everyone else, I was exactly who those other photographers were.  Wholesome.  The picture of Christ like.  Light and airy.  Sweet.  Perfect.  That was goal.  To live two lives so that I might have it all.  

Eventually I broke up with that girlfriend and also broke up with the idea that I had to embody who all of these photographers were, but the chase toward being seen as normal never went away.  I got married and learned a lot about this industry from that wedding.  It created in me a passion to give my clients the kind of experience that makes them feel seen, that shows them the most beautiful version of themselves.  But in it all, I still felt this need to chase after someone else's idea of what success was, to be some picture perfect idea of what "making it" looks like.  

This past weekend I shot a beautiful wedding in Philadelphia and after sharing one of my clients favorite images on instagram, Offbeat Bride reshared it to their account.  The moment I saw it, my whole face scrunched up, I started to squeal and Jordan looked at me like I had lost my mind.  HOW WAS THIS HAPPENING?!?!?!  This wasn't even my favorite image!  I don't do offbeat weddings!  This isn't the plan!  But almost immediately there was this huge smile that overtook my face.  This wasn't the plan, but it was every bit my couple.  It wasn't my favorite image, but somehow they found it worthy to share anyways.  I actually really do do offbeat weddings.  

And suddenly, the truth hit me in the face like a train rushing through the station.  I am not everyone else.  And while I am ever working to improve my craft and offer more to my clients and be better at what I do, there is value in who I am RIGHT NOW.  I am fun and creative and silly and passionate and real and my clients love this about me.  It just took a lot longer for me to love it about myself.  I am not everyone else.  And I don't need to be.  Who I am is someone people want to hire, people want to share my work, want to collaborate with and who they turn to when they need advice.  And this business about "making it?"  Its bull.  We make it over and over again, every time we step out and try something new.  Every time we push the envelope or care for a client or are featured somewhere or jump into a new market.  You don't stop living when you make it and life doesn't look like a certain way when you do.  

So for anyone out there, photographer or creative or just someone who feels the pressure to be normal, to be life everyone else, hear me and say it with me.  I am not everyone else.  I don't need to be normal.  I need to be me.  And as one of my favorite college professors said to me, give yourself the grace to f*ck it up.  You've got this, just so long as you don't loose sight of the love and worth that is wrapped up in yourself.  You don't have to live two lives, you don't have to be anyone else, you don't have to hustle toward someone else's life or dream.  Just be you.  

Your fellow traveler of the not-so-normal-path,

Amanda

 

Here is the Offbeat Bride Page!  With my photo being that first one!

Here is the Offbeat Bride Page!  With my photo being that first one!

Confessions of love, worth and it taking a village

Confession?  I don't do this job alone.  Sometimes it might feel like it's just me when the editing has piled up and there are so many emails to answer but this job is made possible by so many people who have believed in me.  And sometimes I don't thank them enough.  You see, several months ago I had the privilege of planning and photographing the wedding of two amazing ladies, Rita and Angela.  It was crazy, but it was something I had done before and I knew I would need a small village to pull it off.  So I pulled together a team, crossing my fingers that things would go as planned and the day would go off without a hitch.  

And that is the furthest thing from what happened.  From issues with the venue, making appetizers for 100 people, vendors showing up late and of course, the POURING rain, it was madness.  But every time I look at their wedding photos, I can't help but tear up because there were so many people that came together to make that day, inspite of the madness, utter perfection.  From Kristin, who was hired to do hair, cutting flowers and setting up tables because she got there early...to her sweet wife who just did whatever was needed...to Lesa for watching our dog and keeping an eye on our house while we were gone...to my best friend Ashley staying up late and waking up early and working all day long making things perfect....to my sister for cutting, popping, slicing, cooking and everything in between...to Simon for rolling with the punches and being the most amazing bartender and bringing in Jackson to help...to Heather for constantly giving me options, smiling and cleaning so much...to Emily for making everyone look amazing...to Sharon for being an incredible second shooter, a calm prescence and there to do whatever was needed...and last but not least, to Jordan who put up with all my craziness and worked her ass off that day, and really, every day.  It took a village.  And it took two people who believed in me to bring that village together to create the perfect wedding day.  

But isn't that the best way?  So often I find myself trying to do it all - and I know so many of you are right there with me.  We tell ourselves that we can do it!  That we are strong enough to do it all.  We are told that the best business are the ones who are able to do it all and do it perfectly.  Asking for help is often one of the hardest things we can do because it makes us feel as though we don't have it all together.  But here is a confession for you.  We don't.  We almost never do.  And when we allow others to help, to love us, and be our village, we can do SO much more than we can alone.  If it weren't for the help of all of those people...that wedding would have been a vision in my head, not an actual event that took place.  

If you find yourself struggling, in work, in things around the house, in anything really, ask yourself when the last time you asked someone to help you.  Have you admitted that on your own you aren't doing all that you want to?  Are there people who are around you who you would call your village but you haven't asked them for help in awhile?  I would bet that those that love you, want to help and that you'll feel better with them helping you achieve the things you want to.  

To my wonderful village...I love you all.  Thank you for being the best vendors, friends, family and team a girl could ask for.  And here are a few of my favorite behind the scenes photos of that perfectly unperfect wedding day!  

Confessions of Love, Worth and Comparison

Confession?  I really really really struggle to see that I am doing good.  Most days, I find myself staring wistfully at another photographers work, wondering when mine will look like that.  And its rough.  Because comparison is the thief of joy and without the joy, I so easily loose sight of how lucky I am to be a photographer.  

I was putting together an inspiration board of two weddings I did recently to send over to a client this morning, when I found myself overwhelmed with the sense of not being good enough.  I have amazing clients who have the most gorgeous wedding days and the sweetest love stories, but then I think of all the other photographers out there and I loose sight of who I am.  I think that I am not special.  I wonder if my work measures up in the eyes of others.  I worry that people laugh behind my back, saying to each other "she is actually quite terrible at being a photographer."  And what's sad is I know that there are those that have said those things, so I feel justified in comparing who I am and my body of work to someone else who isn't even like me.  The doubt and fear settle in and I'll have to take a few days to find myself again.  

You know what I realized this morning though?  When I compare myself to others, I feel worthless.  When I compare myself to who I use to be, I see my worth.  By taking a moment and looking back at a wedding from last year that I was proud of and loved shooting, I can see the growth in where I have come from.  That wedding wasn't bad!  In fact it was one of my best of 2015!  But here we are, half way through 2016 and my work has gotten significantly better. My style has changed a little and I am more confident on a wedding day than I ever was.  Comparing myself to the Amanda of October of 2015, makes me feel like a boss.  So why do I even bother comparing myself to the thousands of other photographers out there when that never ends with the same feeling.  

Maybe to some it seems odd for a business owner to share her struggles, maybe it seems weird to admit that my work changes.  But I hold on to the idea that out there in the land of the internet are those that need to be reminded that honesty is refreshing and that your worth is found in who you are and where you are going, not in who someone else is or what they do.  If that's you, especially if you are a creative, I encourage you to dig out something you use to be proud of and compare it to where you are now.  See the changes, feel the joy of becoming better.  And be daring enough to be honest with your journey! 

And because I figured I ought to show you what brought this whole post about, the first collage is a wedding from 2015 that I loved and the second two are weddings from the last month or so.  :)  

Confessions of Love and Worth and Wearing a Bikini

I have a confession to make.  And it might sound silly, but go with me for a moment.  

In my entire life, I never wore a bikini bathing suit.  The closest I got was a tankini in high school but even then, you'd most often find me in a one piece.  And usually there would be a cover up over top of it.  And some of that came from being raised in a conservative family, one where modesty was taught.  But even as an adult, one who has pushed back on a lot of the things I was taught, this one seemed to hold.  I shouldn't wear a bikini, and that was that.  

I bought the only bikini I've ever owned back in March for a photoshoot I did with The STRONG Philly.  The whole session can be viewed here but in short, I needed something to wear that people would be able to write words on me, calling to light the mean things I heard my whole life.  It was an emotional experience, being that bare in front of people I knew, people I barely knew and knowing that these images would be online.  I cried, A LOT, worried what people would think of me, if they would judge how I looked, forgetting to see the message behind the images.  But this message of no more bullying was one I felt so strongly about.  The day of the shoot, I was all nerves, but as I peeled off the layers of clothes, there was this strange sense of calm.  There I was, about as vulnerable as one can be in public, and it was terrifying.  But more than the terror. it was freeing.  

We got home though, and I buried that bathing suit away.  I was so proud of the shoot, but I figured if there was a time where I would need a swim suit, I'd go out and buy a modest one-piece, one that hid my belly better, one that covered as much of me as possible.  Because despite the freedom I felt for that shoot, I believed that it was a once in a life kind of moment.  That beyond then, this body, my body, should be hidden away.  

My whole life I have struggled with that - hiding - never knowing how much of me was wanted in any given context.  In high school I was this tiny 105lbs version of myself, that believed that my worth was found in how much I was involved in youth group, how many friends I had and where I would go beyond high school.  When I was younger, I believed my worth was found in light of the fact that I was adopted, figuring that if I could know who my birth parents were, maybe who I was would make sense.  In college, I was taught that my worth was found in God but being as I went to a Biblical University, I was also told over and over that the person I knew I was, a lesbian, was something that I should hide and run from.  I was also retaught the message that my body was for my one day husband and that if I wanted a good marriage, I should cover it up now, never understand it, as it wasn't mine in the first place.  

And then I got bigger.  After spending my whole life as someone who was small, but told all these messages, my world came crashing down when I looked in the mirror and saw I was another person bigger.  Clothes became what I hid inside, trying to draw attention away from my appearance.  Summer was the worst...when you are wondering how to understand your own worth and appearance, it's hard to not have a lot of it wrapped up in a little piece of brightly colored spandex.  I was depressed.  Anxious.  Scared that I was going to be alone for forever.  

And then I came out.  I remember sitting on my parents sunporch, Jordan (my at the time fiance) by my side telling my parents I was marrying her.  And while I remember very little of that conversation, 6 words have haunted me since.  "You use to be so pretty."  My mom said those words, reaching out and tucking a hair behind my ear.  I don't know what she meant by it, but I know what my heart heard.  

"You use to be attractive."  -  "You use to be so smart."  -  "You use to be worthy."  -  "You use to be apart of this family."  -  "You use to make me happy."  -  "You use to have value."  -  "You use to be worthy of love, worthy of my love."  

I bought my wedding dress out of my understanding of those 6 words.  I made decisions on how to handle decisions out of what I thought those words meant.  I wore the clothes I did for a year a half out of those words.  I heard what my wonderful wife said through the lenses of those words and I still to this day take compliments from strangers or friends out of those words...believing they are trying to find something nice to say to a person who is so unworthy of anything.  I use to have worth.  But now I didn't.  And this all came crashing together on Saturday when Jordan and I found ourselves headed to the pool.  

I put on that bathing suit.  The two piece, bikini top, high waisted bathing suit and quickly slipped my cover up over my head.  I'd be ok, I'd just keep that dress on and no one would see. Deep breaths, hiding would totally work.  We got to the pool, about 20 people were around and before Jordan had taken off her shoes,  this rush of emotions hit me.  I couldn't do it anymore.  I couldn't hide.  I couldn't listen to all the negative voices inside my heart.  I couldn't let these two pieces of spandex tell me how to live my life.  So off went the dress.  And with it the load I had been carrying for so long.  I spent two days in and out of that bathing suit, trying to wrap my head around the freedom I felt.  And while I am sporting some serious sunburn (#reallywhitegirlproblems), I came home realizing I had to share this as well.  

I am size 18.  I have bigger boobs and an ass.  My belly isn't flat and my thighs always rub together when I walk.  I have stretch marks and scars and pale skin and mascara smudges constantly under my eyes.  But this is me.  And I am worthy and loved and pretty.  My worth isn't found in a "good Christian husband" or in saying the right things or knowing my birth mom or making things right with my family or getting skinny again.  And neither is yours.  You don't have to hide, cover up, run away, disguise, fit in, or anything else to be worthy, loved, strong.  You are those things because your human.  You are beautiful and wanted and needed and have a place in this world.  And if you find yourself feeling stuck, believing the lie that you shouldn't wear a bikini or insert your personal you shouldn't/don't deserve _________ here, its a lie.  Its scary, but this is the hope I clung to, the hope you should cling to....that a life lived beyond fear, beyond hiding, is one where we can know and be known.  

This Monday, find that thing you are afraid of.  Sit with it for awhile.  Know why its such a big deal and what it would mean or feel like to try and conquer it.  And then, even if it takes you a while, go do it.  Be daring and bold and brave.  And then shout from the roof tops that you did that thing you didn't think you could.  Let people know you and in turn learn to know others as well.  Share your stories, confess those deep hidden lies you've told yourself for so long.  I'll be right here cheering you on, myself trying to find more fears conquer.  And writing more confession of love and worth as I do. 

In freedom, hope and sunshine,

Amanda