Nobody But You

For us "traveling for work" usually means something amazing. A few weeks ago a client flew us to London to capture his New Years Eve proposal and engagement portraits, so we stayed an extra week to explore. And I did something different than I usually do. What I'm about to say will probably surprise you: I actually took photos... for myself.

I fell in love with photography through black and white film in high school. There's something about monochrome that helps you see emotion, eliminate distractions, and capture a feeling. But over the years, as my photography career has bloomed, I've neglected film. I've neglected capturing the mundane parts of life -- MY life -- in general.

When we went to Paris last year, I had the honor of styling and photographing two incredible women in the most beautiful locations I could dream of. But now, a year and a half later, I wish I had taken more photos for me. Photos that weren't meant to be hung three feet wide on the wall - but photos that would later remind me of the food I ate and the flowers I sniffed and the way the kids played near the Seine. I'm realizing that there are so many valuable types of photos that aren't the two extremes of iPhone selfies and formal portraits.

So, for this trip to London, I gave myself four rolls of "film" (96 images). Rather than pack yet another camera and lug it around the city, I used my regular camera. However, to mimic the boundaries that film gives a photographer, I set up rules: Images could not be re-shot or deleted, even if they were blurry or too dark or light. I had to use my light meter and not rely on the photo popping up on the camera screen afterward. I also created one "film look" preset to edit the photos. The final rule was this:

Everything is worthy of being photographed.

This proved to be a much more powerful experience than I anticipated. And now I know why: I had to allow myself to do something for me. Not for a client, not for the ‘gram, not for Facebook, and not to try to prove anything to anyone. I had to believe that my own life and experience has the same value that I already believe everyone else's has.

Women, wrap your head around that for a minute. We are SO GOOD at doing things for others. For many of us this trait is so ingrained that we almost cannot conceive of spending time, money, or effort on anything that doesn't directly benefit someone else.

The worst part is that we get used to it. I hear these things from you all the time when you're trying to schedule a three hour makeover and photoshoot:

"I wish I could but my life revolves around my kids and I can't ever get away!"

"I would love to do something like this, but I just can't spend money on myself."

"I've been meaning to get with you for months but my job just takes everything out of me!"

And yes, there can be seasons of life that are truly "crazy" and we don't even have time for a bubble bath. But more often than not, I think it's an attitude and a belief system. I get it! I run a business, have a spouse and social life, have to cook every day due to food allergies, I volunteer, etc. But it always comes back to the old saying I learned from my dad, "You have time for what you have time for."

Friend, I get it. Sometimes it's easier to take care of everyone else and neglect yourself because then you don't have to LOOK at yourself. You can listen to harmful self-talk and you can hide. Sometimes, when you don't feel like you're pretty or worthy or important it's easier to decide you're none of those things, keep your head down, and trudge through life. But I want more than that for you. It's difficult to recognize your value, forgive people who have confirmed your worst fears, and decide to push forward. But it's always SO worth it.

Maybe today, working toward doing things for yourself means you ask for help. Maybe it means canceling that thing you didn't even want to go to and taking an hour to read that book you've been dying to finish. Maybe it means scheduling that photoshoot with me (because YOU want to do it), or maybe it means expressing yourself creatively for nobody but you!

Remember, you are worthy of the time, money, and gifts that you so eagerly give to others.

You are worthy.

Love,

Mitzi

I hope you enjoy some of my favorite frames from London! If you’d like to learn more about a Luxe Portrait shoot, reach out here.

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Unstoppable

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On December 31st, the sun will go down, and when it rises we will all begin a new year. We are the ones who attach meaning to that - I don't think the sun can tell a difference.

"Next year I will _______."

We all have numerous ways to fill in that blank, behaviors we want to change and addictions we want to curb.  It's like a fresh start, complete with a closet purge and resolution to "lose ten pounds." 

I used to wonder why my resolutions never stuck. Not for more than a few weeks, anyway. Before I knew it, I'd have a drawer of new workout clothes that became lounge wear and a pantry full of "healthy food" that I’d replaced with takeout. 

Throughout this journey of building a business the only reliable truth I've come to count on is that change is hard. And here's the hardest part: Changing behavior does not work without changing your belief system first.

Beliefs about ourselves are weird, aren't they? Usually they're so close to us that we don't even realize they're there - let alone that they could ever change. They burrow little pathways in our brains and the longer we believe them, the harder they become to challenge. The past couple years have held a lot of belief challenging for me. It's been difficult, but now I can appreciate it.

So what do you believe about yourself?

You don’t even have to tell me. The answer is in your behavior, your actions. I mean, if my husband asked me what I believed about his value as a person and I said something really nice but then I never spent time with him, listened to him, or helped him when he needed it, he certainly wouldn't believe me.

So what do your ACTIONS say you believe about yourself?

I once believed that a woman's goal should be to take up as little physical space as possible. Sure, I never uttered those words, but the way I constantly obsessed over my weight and heaped on guilt when my pants were too tight proved that was my belief. 

Ugh. No wonder I was miserable.

I write about body image so much because I photograph women. We are obsessed with our bodies! It's intense. I struggle with it too. We say things like, "Well, I just want to get healthy!!" But you know what is the most unhealthy belief? The belief that you're not ENOUGH exactly as you are. Right now. (And if we talked even half as much about mental health as we do about physical health... don't get me started.) Good luck changing your eating, exercising, drinking, TV watching, or any habit if you hold a foundational belief that who you are is worthy of your own hatred and dissatisfaction. 

You know, it's like photographing children.

I get warned by mom ahead of time, and apologized to in advance. But when the kids show up at the shoot, I treat them as though they will behave perfectly. I trust them, I encourage them, and I affirm their good behaviors. If a tantrum happens, I stay calm. And you know what? They always rise to the occasion. And what happens when I make them feel valued and important? They become their best selves.

And what happens when you treat yourself like that? You become unstoppable. When you treat your mental health like it's important and stop feeling guilty for not "being okay," you get help. When you treat your body with respect and view physical activity and food as a privilege, the guilt disappears. When you can look in the mirror and say, “Even if I make zero dollars, friends, efforts, or home cooked meals today, I am enough. I am valuable,” you stop trying to prove yourself and you start living.

If nothing else, I hope I LIVE in 2019. I'm done not being good enough for myself or anyone else. And I know that if I live, I will shine because I will offer what only I can give to the world. Whether I'm wearing sweat pants or a pants suit, I'll expect the best for myself. I’ll expect the best for you too.

-Mitzi

Ready to feel unstoppable?
Reach out here and I'll give you everything you need.
Only 3 spots remaining in time for Valentine’s Day 2019!

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Celebration

Dear You,

How have you been? Can you believe it’s going to be Thanksgiving next week! It caught me by surprise too. And then before you know it Christmas will be here and then New Year’s and then… *sigh.* I wrote 2017 on a check the other day - that’s where I’m at these days.

But I’m writing to you because I want to remind you of something. You know what, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of all you’ve been and done. I think it’s amazing that you faced trials and challenges and even though you felt like you were drowning, I’m amazed at how well you stayed afloat. You learned things. You didn’t give up. You fought hard and you tried. And through it all, you encouraged others to do the same.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “But there’s so much more I should have done! There’s so much more I should have been. I did so many things so wrong.” So I’ll remind you once again that you are human. And not only are you enough just as you are, you are also worth celebrating.

There is no number on the scale or income level or number of friends that will make you “enough.” One of the biggest secrets to satisfaction in life is simply giving yourself a break. People like you and me - we set the bar way too high and then feel like failures when we don’t measure up to our wildest goals. But all the while we were fighting and doing and learning and growing. So let’s focus on THAT truth for once: that every day that we wake up and get up and love again and fight again we are ENOUGH and we are where we’re supposed to be.

So here’s my question for you now: What do you need to celebrate? It’s probably you. My favorite thing is when I post one of your portraits on social media and your friends comment, “What was the occasion?” and we can remind them that being alive and being who we are is plenty of reason to celebrate.

I hope this encourages you and reminds you how much I care.

All my love,

Mitzi


While we're booked for 2018, you can get first dibs on 2019 sessions plus a $155 bonus when you purchase our holiday promotion here.

(Want a boudoir shoot in time for Valentine's day? We have three sessions available for January! Reach out here.)



Show and Tell

It’s kind of my “thing:” telling people to value themselves and make time for themselves and LOVE themselves. I’ve built a photography business around it, people pay me to travel and speak about it, and goodness knows I write about it every chance I get. Every client who walks into our studio gets the pep talk before, during, and after their photo shoot. “You’re good enough exactly as you are! Showing up for yourself is the ultimate form of self-love, since love is proven by action.”

And all along the way I tell myself I love myself too. Of course I practice what I preach, and I never waiver! How could a woman who’s built a business from reminding other women of their inherent beauty and value FORGET that she also must show herself love?

The answer is, I don’t know but forgetting to love myself is all too easy. The worst part is, I don’t notice it until I start to hurt.

Have you ever taken a relationship for granted? Maybe it’s your best friend, your parent, your spouse, your sibling - One day you wake up and you realize you’ve done nothing to show them you love them in AGES. Maybe you’re like me - you struggle with depression so you don’t realize that you haven’t talked to this or that friend in months, and when you realize it the guilt is crippling. Or maybe you’re really really busy. Work, life, and responsibilities take over. You tell the people close to you that you love them, but maybe they don’t believe you because you don’t show it.

Likewise, have you ever taken your relationship with your SELF for granted? Goodness. Welcome to my TED talk: “How to neglect yourself, ignore yourself, and run yourself ragged in order to prove something to “everyone” (?) and then lose sight of your purpose in the process.” I joke about this - because it’s such a struggle for me. It’s easy to TELL myself, and everyone else, that I love myself. But it’s another thing entirely to SHOW it.

Life as a creative is not linear. There isn’t a ladder you climb - instead there are mountains and valleys. I usually don’t realize I’m out of a valley until it’s a month or so behind me. And when I left for vacation two weeks ago, I was nearly burnt out. I had nothing left. I ran away for a week, and that helped. But it wasn’t until I returned and started to actively SHOW myself I care about ME that I started to feel alive again. I’m not just talking about face masks and pints of ice cream. Honestly, for me, ice cream is not self-care. Ice cream makes me bloated and tired and cranky.

For me, self-care is making time for myself. It’s getting the massage I need so my shoulder doesn’t go numb from the hours I spend each week at the computer. It’s planning parties for those who are dear to me. It’s asking for help from people who are happy to help me. It’s driving an hour to see a beautiful film that will inspire and refresh me. It’s making time for people who fill up my heart, and spending intentional time with them. It’s choosing what’s best over what’s easiest.

It’s SHOWING myself I love myself. After all, showing is much harder than telling.

One of my favorite things to tell my clients when they arrive for their photo shoot is, “You did it. You showed yourself love today. Just by carving out three hours to be pampered and have fun, you showed yourself love. And you’re going to feel better for having done it.”

So when you feel tired, depleted, and empty, ask yourself what you need - just like you do when your spouse, child, or friends are upset. Then LISTEN. Finally, act. Show yourself you’re worthy of whatever you’re trying to believe - and friend, eventually you’ll believe it.

-Mitzi


Book your photo shoot or request information here. I’d truly love to photograph you.

Talking About What You Love

I started to cry.

We were almost finished recording the new Luxe Portraits promotional video, and we'd planned every detail of the script. But in that moment, as we sat inside the changing room at the studio to minimize echoes and record my voiceover, she told me to try speaking my lines from memory while I looked her in the eyes. (The "her" was my sister Natalie. If you've followed my work for any amount of time, you've seen her portraits. She's been my muse since before I knew that word existed.) And when I looked at her and spoke my first line - this was when I started to cry. So she hit record on my phone and said gently, "How's it feel? Talking about what you love?" I took a sip of water and said, "It's scary!" then immediately laughed and said, "No, I love it."

I've watched that video a dozen times. My reaction is so transparent, and I cringe each time I see my emotional mask go back on. Because I felt safe with her, I said my honest answer first: "It's scary!" But then I was so quick to nervously laugh and detract that, saying what I felt I should say: "No, I love it." Both things were true, but it wasn't until that moment that I verbally acknowledged the fear.

For me, talking about what I love (in this case, it's photographing women and helping them see their beauty and value) has always been scary. I mean, look at our culture: The dominant message is that we, women especially, are not good enough. 99% of the time, if you tell a woman she is beautiful and valuable just the way she is, she will disagree.

As a teenager, I hesitated talking about why I loved writing screenplays and listening to new age music. As a college student, I didn't want to talk about how much I preferred spending time alone reading and writing while my friends went to bars and sports games. As the wife of a midwest Christian pastor, I was afraid to talk about how much I love things like the Oscars, egalitarian marriage, and wine. 

It's one of the best and worst parts of being a human: The fact that we want so badly to fit in because we desire community, that we allow our insecurity to twist that into acting a certain way just to belong... even if that belonging is false because it's a false version of us. 

I used to blame those institutions for their incorrect expectations, but now I see the large part my own insecurities played. Sure, society and family and friends and peers could place unfair and even cruel expectations on me. But at the end of the day, I only went to bed feeling afraid and wrong and weird and alone because I couldn't accept who I was.

So what's worse: False belonging, or not belonging at all? I used to think it was better to lay low and not ruffle any feathers, but over the years I've seen the damage that comes from trying to wedge a star-shaped block into a circular hole. At first it just sits on top, but over time the edges wear down and by the time it fits, it isn't a star anymore. (And you know, it isn't a sphere either.)

And now, at the age of 28 with a career and a husband and a house and a beautiful studio in which I can create art everyday, do I feel like I belong? Not even close. But I'm realizing more with each person I am blessed to meet that we are all insecure and feel/have felt that we don't belong. So maybe instead of judging each other out of our own insecurities we could let this common thread, this fear of talking proudly about what we believe in because it may be rejected, unite us. It's scary to be different, but in the end it's the only way anything ever changes. There's room for each of us.

After all, stars aren't meant to fit into holes. They're meant to glimmer in the sky.

-Mitzi

 

Special thanks to Bekka Ross for her vintage hair and styling expertise, and Mckaela Armstrong for doing makeup for this beautiful shoot.

The First Time

"The pencil is sharp enough to say what needs to be said." -Tanya Geisler

The first time I did makeup for a client, I had never used false eyelashes before. I didn't mention that - I just put them on her.

The first time I photographed a woman much older than me, I felt intimidated. I worried she'd think I was too young and not take me seriously, but I never told her that. I just used my knowledge and directed her and made her feel special.

The first time I filed for a business license I googled "how to get a business license." After half an hour of reading and feeling like I understood how, I realized I was reading information for Ohio. I felt ridiculous. So I googled "how to get a business license in Missouri." I followed the directions, and I got the license.

The first time I went to a networking event I sat in the car for half an hour and talked myself out of driving back home. I rehearsed conversation topics and double and triple checked my business card stock in my purse. I finally walked in, terrified. But I smiled and met a few people and had a good time. I booked future clients and met future friends.

The first time I won an award for a portrait, I had created a portrait that I had felt in my heart. I saw a stranger one day at church, and her beauty inspired me. I eventually just asked if I could photograph her, and I photographed her with the vision I'd seen in my mind's eye. I didn't have a studio - just a duplex - and I had to move the kitchen table and photograph her in the living room. I poured my heart into it, didn't question my abilities, and in the end it was a success.

I say all this because I know some of you out there are dreaming big dreams and then telling yourself why you can't achieve them. I did it for a long time. I still do it. Maybe you've told yourself no for so long, you don't even remember what you once dreamed of.

I have my dream job and so much of that achievement is simply showing up and then getting back up when I fall. Do I feel ready? Rarely. Do I feel prepared? Never. But I show up and I do my best.

You're right - you're not perfect. And what you have to say/write/create probably has, in some way, "been done before." But not the way you can do it. Because YOU are the only you there ever has been (or ever will be).

Love,
Mitzi

If you are interested in experiencing a portrait session with me, please fill out the contact form here and I'll reply with all the information! Currently we have two sessions available for September, and three left for October.

I would love to photograph you.

 

WHY NOT

She walked up to the wall of portraits in my studio. She pointed to one, a confident red-haired mother of two, with a black lace bodysuit stretched across pink lingerie. "I couldn't wear that," she said, definitively. So I looked her in the eyes, knowing she wouldn't point to an outfit that way if she didn't want to wear something like it, and asked, "Why not?"

You see, I never used to ask this question. I didn't ask it to my clients or my friends - I certainly didn't ask it to myself. But over time, things have changed. "WHY NOT?" has become the refrain of my own brain's responses that limit me:

"I can't wear that." WHY NOT? "I can't try that." WHY NOT? "I can't achieve that." WHY NOT? "I can't be that." WHY. THE. HELL. NOT?

And my client who stared at the wall of portraits - I asked her WHY NOT and she rose up to the question. She was honest with me about the way she hated her appearance, and we talked and laughed and nodded with understanding. We're both women who have lived for decades in a society that consistently tells us we're not enough. And I told her about all the amazing things she could wear, I told her about the beauty I saw in her the first time we met. I told her I couldn't wait to capture her beautiful soul on film. And by the end of our meeting, she'd planned her dream photoshoot. Before my very eyes she embraced the WHY NOT, and it was beautiful. 

A few years ago I got tired of living by other people's limitations. Now I ask WHY NOT and usually the reason is laughable. So instead of cowering, I do the thing - I take the challenge - I dive right in. And it's always worth it. 

-Mitzi

SESSION AVAILABILITY UPDATE:
Booked through August
2 spots left for September
4 spots left for October

Send me a message at www.mitzistarkweather.com/luxe-portraits for information and booking.

Transformations

When Channing scheduled her Girls Day Out Luxe Portrait shoot at our new Downtown Joplin studio, we sat down to plan the details. She chose to bring her mom and sister and since her wedding is coming up, at first I was surprised she didn't choose to bring her friends or bridesmaids - but she told me that since she's from a big family, they don't have many professional portraits of just the women. How beautiful, I thought. One of the best parts about shoots where one woman brings others along is that usually these other women wouldn't have thought to book the shoot themselves.

Maybe they don't think they'll photograph well, don't know what to wear, feel nervous in front of the camera... I hear all the reasons, but continually I'm blown away at how amazing those same women feel when they step out of their comfort zone. Channing, her mom Patty and her younger sister Miranda had a magical day in our studio with Frosted Cakerie treats, pampering by hair and makeup artists Chloe Bartlett and Natalie DeMint, and a beautiful photoshoot with me. When they came to their portrait reveal yesterday, they were in awe of what they saw.

I think sometimes we just know ourselves too well. We think about every bad photo we've been in, how much better our figure could look or has looked, the time someone said we weren't ___________ enough. We've seen our own worst so we forget what our best looks like. I love when a woman walks into my studio - Do you know what I see first? The things that I think are most beautiful about her. Her smile, her eyes, her hair, the way her nose wrinkles when she laughs. I start to plan a "transformation" for her with outfit plans and hair and makeup artists... And then it happens. She transforms like a blooming flower. The best part is that her beauty was there all along - the rest of us just led her to a place where she could finally see it.

And Channing: As you enter this transformative season of life with your upcoming wedding, I hope you'll cherish this day with these women you love and remember how lovely you felt in that pink tulle gown. And please - remain in awe of the woman you see in your portraits.

Humbled and forever in awe of you all,

Mitzi

If you'd like to learn more about the Luxe Portrait experience, reach out at www.mitzistarkweather.com/luxe-portraits and I'll send you all the information!