I recently celebrated my birthday and my husband snapped a photo of me in the Botanic Garden, doing my thing, unaware of the camera. In the past, I disliked any photo of me where I’m not wearing stylish clothes or my contacts, or have my hair done. But I surprised myself this time, by loving the picture. I love it so much it’s now one of my favorite pictures of me. Here’s why:

My hair wasn’t washed. I hadn’t showered that morning. We had a rushed morning so I only had time to brush my hair. I’m not wearing makeup, per usual, and I’m wearing my favorite black t-shirt with a quote by Katherine Mansfield on it (“Risk Anything! Care no more for the opinions of others…do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”) and a bright pink amediting pin is attached to my purse from the conference. I’m wearing my most unflattering jeans, but I don’t care because life is moving inside me. I hadn’t slept the night before due to worry over something out of my control. In the picture, I’m pushing the stroller along the path, because that’s a usual prop on these outings. We had twenty minutes to check out the tulips and magnolias at the garden before racing home to our dinner/bedtime routine, and I love that I’m fully in the present, immersed in anything and everything good, no matter how irritable my son was. In that moment, I’m simply being me.

When I lived in America, I often felt like I was supposed to be someone. I felt like I had people telling me who I should be, what I should do or wear, people asking about my ethnicity, my age, my relationship status. People wanted to label me. It’s as if they wanted to know how I could be filtered, what group to put me in.

I was to be thin, but not too thin, and I was supposed to wear the latest brands and have the sportiest hairstyle. I wasn’t supposed to speak up or have an opinion on anything because it’s not a good idea to ‘rock the boat’ otherwise I could be considered unlikable.

Perhaps it’s something that comes with maturity, or maybe it’s truly from living down here, but I don’t feel shame in just being myself down here. People know I’m a Mom, they know I write a blog and that I spend time writing novels and trying to get published. They know I used to work in addictions and was a sexual assault advocate. They know my husband and I like to play music sometimes and that I was a theatre kid. But down here I’ve never felt this pressure to prove myself to anyone. I’ve felt accepted.

Don’t get me wrong; when I need to dress up for a conference or something important, I enjoy doing so. And I enjoy being healthy and taking care of myself, but for the first time in my life, I’m able to live freely without the restriction of image.

I’m a person. Nothing more, nothing less… it’s a risk but is the truth and that is always enough.

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