On April 15th, 2016, I participated in the first photo shoot for a series of shoots yet to come for MS Beautiful with my best friend, Carolyn Palmer. This unique, national campaign to spread MS awareness is in the beginning stages, but is starting to gain momentum and attention. A calendar and roster of participants and additional photographers around the country is being compiled as we speak. The purpose of MS Beautiful is to feature women with MS (via group and individual shots), to empower them, and showcase the natural beauty they exude…not the disease they have. Words cannot express how wonderful my experience was.
The excitement and anxiety leading up to the day of the photo shoot was palpable for both me and Carolyn, but we embraced it with no preconceived expectation of what the end result would reveal. The day of the shoot was stressful as I discovered nothing “feminine” in my closet would fit me anymore. Over the years, my appearance and my clothes have become somewhat androgynous and more about comfort – not fashion. I’ve lost touch of what it’s like to FEEL beautiful…or even comfortable as a woman. Baggy t-shirts, sweatpants, ball caps, and flip flops tend to be my “go to” attire. Rarely, do I take time to style my hair, wear makeup, jewelry, or even wear a bra. MS, age, and stress have changed my looks and the way I physically present myself, yet I’ve come to accept some changes and ignore many of these flaws due to the passing of time and habit.
Something inside me told me everything would be ok, to take a breath, relax, and to just be ME. So, I showered, styled my hair and put on full makeup for the first time in months. Then I put on my black cowboy boots, jeans, a white top with a flowing black wrap, some silver jewelry, and gathered my collection of cowboy hats to take with me (I love my hats). This was the attire I was most comfortable wearing and felt it would work, both in presentation and in functionality. I actually felt good and started to get excited as I waited for Carolyn and Al Murin (our amazing photographer) to arrive at my house. Once they arrived, we all piled into my car and took off for our chosen photo locale, White Rock Lake.
First, we chose to stop for a quick lunch to get acquainted and discuss ideas for the shoot. Maybe it was the margarita Carolyn and I had with lunch, but the calm, relaxed tone was now set and we were ready. The shoot went smoothly, nature cooperated and all was fun…from what I remember. The events of that day are a bit blurry in my mind now, but what I remember most was the INCREDIBLE FEELING! Waves of emotion caught me by surprise. My breath was taken away as I perused the proofs stored in Al’s camera. I melted into tears – happy tears and gratitude for everything which took place on that spring day at the lake.
Where did these feelings and emotions come from? Well, I loved being able to do this shoot with my best friend, but it was Al who truly made the magic happen. Effortlessly, he was able transform me, my mood, and my overall presence through the power of his expertise and camera lens. He knew how and where to find the perfect shot without forced poses or facial expressions. The beauty came from within and is reflected truthfully in the photos. There is no photo-shop, no filters, or false portrayals…we were just us. Sure, Carolyn and I stammered and stumbled a bit that day, but we were too busy having fun to notice. There was no reminder, no thought of MS that day. We were beautiful women, not a disease. I am grateful and honored to be a part of this national movement and am excited to watch this special project evolve. Let’s keep the ball rolling, spread the word, and get others involved! I’m looking forward to seeing pictures and reading the personal stories by other women who have experienced what it means to be MS Beautiful.