It’s A Love Dare, friends, a dare to love yourselves in all of your rawness. We’ll be doing this link-up every Monday, until Mother’s Day (when I’ll be releasing my new book, Mom in the Mirror). Today I’m welcoming journalist, author and blogger Jennifer Dukes Lee, to tell us how she is learning to let herself be photographed… in a couple of weeks, we’ll also hear from her daughter, Lydia.

On the night I went looking for photographs, I knew something had to change.
I needed a few photos of me with my two young daughters for a video I was creating. So I sat in the blue glow of the computer screen, scrolling through files and folders, looking down deeper and deeper to find photos I was certain were there.
Where had they all gone? I wondered. Where were all the photos of us together?

The sad truth dropped like a weight in my gut: The photos were never taken.

Among the thousands of photographs I had snapped over the years, I found only a handful of me with my daughters.

At first, I blamed the lack of mother-daughter footage on the fact that I’m usually the one behind the camera. But that’s only partially true. The bigger truth is this: I have not wanted to be photographed.
At the computer, I copied and pasted those precious few photographs into one file folder—like a little treasure box that held rare jewels. The lump in my throat tasted like regret. I would never be able to rewind those years and snap the photos I’d missed. I grieved the Christmas mornings when I, with mussed hair, scooted out of the shot that my husband was framing up. I grieved the pictures-that-never-were from summer afternoons, when I believed I was too pasty-skinned and “too fat.”
Oh, I wouldn’t have dared utter those words out loud, because I have never wanted my girls to hear their mother complain about her looks or weight.

No, I hadn’t spoken my insecurities aloud. But what had they read between the lines of my not-so-subtle escapes from photo shoots? And someday, when they grew older and wanted to find photos with their mom, they’d wonder, “Where have all the photos gone?” 

Looking back, I have always hated the way I looked in pictures. I’m not even smiling in my senior pictures, because I had braces on.
As I grew older, I always figured the photos could wait until another day, after I lost 10 pounds, toned my upper arms, had a zit-free chin. But here’s the deal: even 41-year-old women get pimples. And while waiting for some elusive better-hair-day, I missed photo after photo. 
Even in the best photos, I found flaws—for instance, the fact that one of my eyes is bigger than the other.  
That night at the computer screen, I saw how scandalously critical I’d been about myself, and how I’d missed the opportunity to capture unrepeatable moments with my girls. I realized that I had often seen myself as a series of ugly pieces, rather than as a whole woman, beautifully fashioned by an inventive God.  
The truth rises up against those spurious self-accusations in places like Psalm 45:11. “The King is enthralled by your beauty.” Enthralled!

So I vowed a better way, to see myself whole. I said it like a pledge, and sometimes I have to repeat: I am lovely and brave and crooked and banged-up and beautiful, and, yes, rounder than I used to be. I am wrinkly and stray-grayed and goofy-smiley and courageous and scarred and gutsy enough to make babies

I am a wonder and a miracle, and my scars are part of my story. I am not a series of bad parts; I am whole.

Note from Jennifer: 
So when Emily asked me for an author photo to go with this post, I thought of sending the polished head-shot that the professional photographer took a while back. But then, I changed my mind. For the past couple years, I’ve been adding new jewels to my computer-file treasure box — some mussed-up, no-lipstick, too-early-for-the-camera jewels.

So then, this collage of the ME me.

Photos, clockwise: Deidra Riggs and me being classy at Women of Faith; early-morning snapshot before Lydia’s ear surgery; silly kissy face, mwah!; wake-up-sleepy-head shot from last week; pre-mammogram shot, while wearing standard-issue pink hospital gown (All was good in the mammo-hood!); Me, before I put on my moisturizer. (Nah, I’m just messin’ with you. THIS is me before moisturizer.)

How about YOU? Do you like to be photographed?How are you learning to be kind towards yourself?
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