Authenticity: Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Yesterday, at the self-portrait workshop, our workshop leader asked us if anytime during the process of creating our self-portrait projects we had experienced authenticity. Four out of approximately 13 of us said we had. The leader then asked us what it felt like.
I wanted to laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I respect this workshop leader and as a teacher I understand what she was doing, but it seems so strange that if authenticity means being true to one’s own personality, it is so hard to find.
We hear the word all the time – we need to strive for authenticity in our writing, in our art, in our lives, but if it’s just being true to who I am, then once again I question why do I have to strive so hard for it?
The workshop leader looked at my 16 photos and remarked at the difference between the ones that were staged and the ones that were spontaneous. Again, I knew what she was talking about, but in actuality all the pictures were in essence “staged,” designed to recreate the look, feel, gestures or setting of my childhood shots. Some just looked more spontaneous because of the way I shot them and the funny thing was some of the “staged” ones felt more like me. Take for instance, the adult shot in “Then and Now.” You can see the remote in my hand; I’m looking directly in the camera. It’s obvious I am taking the shot. Still, as I wrote in that blog post, I know this person. She is the woman that teaches my memoir class, goes out on interviews, engineered my self-portrait project. She goes to work everyday and she is me. Inside her is the little girl in the blog post last night – the vulnerable self. Which one is more me? Which is the authentic self?
It seems many people identify authenticity with vulnerability. They applaud us when we reveal these aspects of ourselves as being honest, but aren’t both parts me – to be authentic don’t I need to acknowledge both? And, if sometimes we don a mask or tell a lie to get by isn’t that a part of who we are as well? In that case what does it mean to be authentic – do we step up to the plate and admit we’re frauds? I don’t mean to be rhetorical here. I’m really struggling with this whole concept. And, then I think it may not be authenticity I’m troubled by. I think what may lie at the root of this all is the fact that a part of me identifies vulnerability with weakness or at the very least the potential for being hurt and thus, I have spent a great deal of energy making sure I am protected from such feelings. The self I wear on a daily basis, the self I want to identify with because I see her as strong, has become disconnected from this other part as I try to protect myself from potential harm. I think a lot of people feel this way and thus, we say we are authentic when we connect with this inner, hidden self. And, so we ask what that feels like – this becoming whole, connected, one. And, I have a feeling that when it happens, it doesn’t feel like a revelation or an epiphany, it feels normal. You see yourself in your vulnerability and your strength and just like looking in a mirror or pictures of yourself as a child and as an adult, you smile, nod and say, “Oh, there I am!” And, it feels good.
Writing Prompt: When do you feel the most authentic? What did it feel like? : )