Are you Mom to a teenage daughter?
Are you looking for connection, encouragement, and tips on how to navigate these crazy teen girl years?
Then grab your camera and your coffee, and join us!
I think it’s important for me to preface this blog post with the acknowledgement that this is an opinion post. The views in this post might not be shared by all, and I apologize if my words offend or displease anyone. That is not my intent.
That said, I believe that the ideas discussed in this post are vital to our teenage daughters. I write this for those girls.
I’ve been a photographer for over a decade now, and I’ve specialized in working with high school seniors for almost all of that time. In working to improve my craft, I have spent countless hours pouring over high school senior portraits, particularly the “custom senior portraits” that so many photographers offer these days.
Times sure have changed since I was a high school senior.
I am continually blown away by some of the amazing talent in the portrait world. There are truly some amazing portrait photographers out there, and the high school senior genre is no exception.
But I’m also blown away by how many photographers are promoting the sultry, “cover girl” look. Mature poses, seductive expressions, and not a smile to be found. It seems every photographer out there is promoting the idea that a successful senior portrait session is one where our teen girls are made to look like supermodels, long gone from her high school days.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in capturing the beauty of every teen I photograph. But I struggle BIG TIME with the “cover girl”, “supermodel”, pouty faced portraits. It actually fills me with some kind of emotion that’s part unease and part fury. The more I see it, the more I lean towards fury.
I don’t fault photographers for this. Well, at least not completely. The way I see it, photographers simply do not have time to invest in getting to know each teen in a meaningful way. Because of this, many of us photographers lack what it takes to create authentic and special portraits that really capture the essence of the teen. Instead, we have to go with a more generic style, a style we can recreate over and over, albeit with a change here and a change there to make each subject “feel unique”.
And when pushed to it, the photographer will often choose what’s “hot” and current in today’s pop culture. Thus, the sexy, sultry, supermodel look.
So what’s the big deal? If this is such a hot trend, wouldn’t it be smart to go with it, and push that kind of portrait style to every teen out there? Isn’t that what they want anyway?
I’m not so sure it is.
Consider the typical teen girl. Or consider YOUR teen girl. While she’s probably the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen, she probably doesn’t feel like that most days. She is most likely looking at herself and finding more “flaws” than “flattery”. She’s struggling with discovering who she is, with learning what makes her truly beautiful- because while each girl truly is beautiful, it takes time for each one to discover it for herself.
So then how can we consider putting them in front of a camera, where a photographer will push the “supermodel” ideal, emphasizing all the outer beauty, photoshopping her to fit a certain image, and think that that won’t do a number on her self esteem?
Again, I don’t fault the photographer. It’s a photographer’s job to make her subject shine, to make her look flawless and fabulous.
Or is it?
It goes back to that time issue. I truly believe it takes time to get to know each teen- not just in a pre-session consult, not just in a “what’s your favorite color, and who is your bestie, and why?” kind of way. I mean in a deep and meaningful way. In a way that lets her know that you SEE her, you KNOW her, that she can really be herself in front of the camera, because she really trusts the person behind the camera.
I don’t know if it’s possible for me to do that on such a meaningful level with all the teen girls out there who so desperately need this.
But you can.
Yes, I said you. Mom.
Think about it. There’s only one girl who I can truly photograph this way, on such a deep and meaningful level. There’s only one person who can really photograph your daughter in such a deep and meaningful way. Mother and daughter. Photographer and subject.
Yeah, I know, I know. You don’t know how to use your camera. Your phone doesn’t cut it. Your daughter wants no part of you or your camera right now. You can’t even get your daughter to open up to you, let alone sit for you.
I know these things. Why do you think I’m proposing such a crazy idea?
What if your camera became your secret weapon instead of the eye sore collecting dust at the bottom of your closet?
What if you actually knew how to use it well enough that you could skip the expensive photographer who really knows nothing about your daughter anyway?
What if you could photograph her yourself in a way that celebrates her real beauty instead of pigeon holing her into society’s warped idea of beauty?
What if your camera actually helped you connect with her?
Crazy? Or maybe brilliant.
This is the way I’m going to become that photographer for all the teen girls out there. I’m going to do it by teaching all the moms out there how to shoot like me.
I’m going to give control to you moms, so that maybe we can put this whole “super hot, supermodel” image to rest already. Our girls deserve so much more than that.
Do you remember what it was like to be a new mom? I remember a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Whether it was our first baby or our third, I remember those first nights, exhausted but so scared. What in the world was I doing? I had no idea how to be a mom! I remember wishing all the time that my babies came with some kind of manual!
Well, fast forward a dozen or so years, and I am realizing that with bigger kids come bigger issues. Bigger worries. Bigger questions. And still, there is no manual.
Recently, I had a wonderful portrait session with some of the sweetest teen girls, who happen to also be students of mine. I even got some of their moms to join us for the afternoon.
Part of the portrait project involved them sharing their advice with me. I wanted to hear their voices, so that I could offer their thoughts to other moms out there who might be looking for some help.
I thought MAYBE I could create a sort of “mini manual” for my moms. I’ve decided to write these out in list and bullet form. Each listed statement has a few bullet points below it. These are the words of the girls themselves. Rather than paraphrase what they said, I’d love to share their exact words with you.
“Teenage drama is not fun.”
“Mean girls are still around, trying to bully me and take me down.”
“It’s hard to live up to the expectations that society puts on us girls.”
“My favorite way to connect my mom is when we sit down and chat right before I go to bed. We talk to each other about the good and bad things that happened throughout our day.”
“I wish moms knew that we need space and we have bad days and we act moody, please try to understand.”
“I wish [my mom] knew that sometimes I just need be alone.”
“My mom’s voice is my inner voice. So the way you speak to your teenage girl will also become her inner voice. I advise you to be mindful of everything you say.”
“Even though your daughter(s) may not admit it, you are the most important thing in the world to them and no matter their age they always need you.”
When asked what they see as most beautiful about themselves, the girls said:
“I think the most beautiful thing about me is my strength. I am a very strong person, and my mom is too. I think I grew up seeing just how much strength my mom has, that I developed it too. I love my mom more than anything, and I'm so glad that we are both strong, beautiful, incredible people.”
“My mind. I believe it’s the most beautiful thing I possess.”
“My compassion for others.”
“My parents always tell me that I have a big heart. I try my best to be a generous person and show my love to those around me. Even when I have my poker face on, one look into my eyes and you will understand every emotion that I am feeling.”
How awesome are these girls? And how awesome are their moms! These moms are doing it right. And you know what, Mom? So are you! Just the fact that you are here, reading up on how you can stay connected to your daughter, how to understand her better- it shows what a great mom you are. So keep it up!
I thought it would be fun to create for you a pretty reminder of these FIVE FACTS. And so that’s just what I did! I created a screensaver FOR YOUR PHONE (how fun!) to help you remember these few tips, and mostly remind you that you’re doing GREAT!
I also want to share with you the link to my FB Group, Love Through The Lens. It’s a group for moms with teen girls, and it’s a great resource to find encouragement and company on this road of mothering teen girls.
We’re doing ok Mom, and so are our girls.
Special thanks to the amazing girls who contributed to this portrait project. And thanks to the amazing moms who are on this journey with them.
Have you ever had those moments where you think, “No way is this a coincidence!”?
Ever find yourself talking to someone and just know that you were meant to meet this person?
That’s how I felt a few weeks back when I found myself on the phone, talking with Stephanie LaBonte. A friend of mine had referred me to a website in order to connect with someone she knew had a similar business mission to mine. Five minutes into that search, I found Stephanie’s website and mission, and was so excited about our common values that I immediately reached out. Ten minutes later, we were chatting it up on the phone, giddy over the similarities in our vision, discussing ways that we could share each other’s ideas with our own tribes.
Which brings me here, with you, today. As most of you are moms to daughters, it excites me so much to share Stephanie with you. Stephanie is the creator and founder of Empowered Girls Rise, an organization that strives to nurture self-respect, confidence, and purpose in girls from middle school through college. Seriously, how awesome is that!
Why don’t I let her tell you a little bit about herself and her amazing business herself.
As a high school teacher in an urban school district, I started to notice that with social media there was an upward trend of girls bullying, cyber bullying and fighting. I really wanted to do something about this. I knew the reason why girls were increasingly being mean to one another, it was because they had low confidence, self-worth, and had not found purpose in their lives. So I made it my mission to find a solution for these girls. What I did was start to bring strong, successful and highly motivated women into my classroom to talk to the girls. I figured if it came from outside of me and our world of the classroom the girls would listen more. It started with just one woman and 30 girls in my classroom 5 years ago and blossomed to now over 200 girls per rally plus hands on workshops, incredible keynote speakers, panel discussion, breakout sessions and networking power hour.
Our mission is to nurture self-respect, confidence and purpose in girls ages 11-25 through education, personal development, mentorship and community. I want to help girls globally to find their purpose and connect them with community members that will help them develop and thrive. We do this through Girls Movement Rallies (1 day events- conference style), District Partnerships (1 year programs working very closely with a school), Girl Leadership Series (online).
I decided to focus specifically on these three age groups because I had taught in a middle school and currently teach in a high school. I have college aged girls too because I feel that there are so many real-world skills that they need to know before getting a job. Some are struggling because they still don’t know what they want to be and these girls rallies and connections will help them come out of themselves and into their power. There is one instance that really made me do this- it was my very first year of coaching cheerleading in high school (I had coached middle school prior) and the team was a mess- they were so mean to each other. There was a huge verbal fight with some of the girls and they quit. It was right before a major competition. On the bus ride to the competition, the girls told me the girls who quit were bashing them on Twitter, saying they were going to cause trouble for them at the competition. I was so upset that these girls were tearing each other down and were going to come to a big competition to just bully them? It was in that moment that I knew it had to stop- girls needed to spend their time raising each other up- not tearing each other down.
I can’t forget my babies, though! I do this so that my own daughters can grow up in a kinder world where opportunities for girls are endless!
My favorite part is bringing all of the women together who speak and present at these rallies and hearing the testimonials from the girls. Girls normally can’t believe that these women want to come and talk to them. They will often tell me after, “She is so amazing, I can’t believe that she wanted to even come here and talk to me”. This is the magic because I will often tell them, “Of course they wanted to talk to you, don’t you know how special you are?” I can also give them their contact information and they can connect with the woman that they were drawn to. The greatest struggle is finding funding for the events. Sometimes schools cannot afford this LIFE CHANGING program for girls and that should not be so- I always try to help them get funding for these events if I can and am always looking for sponsors. Sponsors help make the magic happen.
Yes, if they are facing bullying at school Moms should:
I would also advise not to confront the bully themselves since it is not their job to worry about that- if it continues however, that is when you must advocate for your daughter. All kids deserve to feel safe in school and it is the job of the staff to make it so.
I have a Girls Movement Rally on April 26th with extra special keynote Adriana Carrig of The Little Words Project! I also have a confident, savvy girls workshop coming up on May 5th. Girl Leadership Virtual Series will be reopening June 1st for enrollment- this is an online class for girls teaching them to find their purpose. Girls get a certificate at the end as an Empowered Girls Rise Leader and have to complete a project doing something for the community (example, planting a garden, filling in for the school janitor, kindness rocks, volunteering etc.)
They can find me on my website www.empoweredgirlsrise.com
Facebook Empowered Girls Rise
And there you have it! How wonderful is this program? How awesome is this lady! I’m so excited to have connected with her, as she has such a heart for teen and tween girls. She’s passionate about serving young girls, and I’m passionate about serving their moms. Coincidence? I think not!
I would love to leave you today with two treats!
First, Stephanie has a wonderful resource for you. She has created a FREE printable that you can download here, "Five Tips To Have a Conversation With Your Daughter About Staying Safe Online".
And I would love to treat you as well!
If you haven't joined us already, I've created a Facebook Group called LOVE THROUGH THE LENS, where moms of teen girls come together to support and encourage each other as we raise strong girls. Please come join us! It's such a wonderful community!
Thank you again, Stephanie. I look forward to seeing what’s coming next for you, and for all the girls you help empower!
***Special credit to Marisa Balletti- Lavoie of Sassy Mouth Photo who took the beautiful photos of Stephanie shown here.***
It happens every single time. I’ll walk into my daughter’s room and find her sobbing over something horrible that happened at school that day. Or I’ll be making the kids’ lunches, and I’ll look at her lunch tote, and this overwhelming fear will hit me, as I imagine her sitting completely alone at lunch. Or I’ll notice a boy’s name doodled on a piece of paper on her desk and I’ll wonder… what worries me more- that he doesn’t like her back, or that he does?
And every time, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I will hear my mother’s words playing in my mind, saying, “Girls are SO MUCH HARDER to raise than boys”.
I might have been a teen the first time I heard my mother say those words. And I remember getting defensive, and well, just outright pissed about it. What the heck, Mom? I’m like the greatest daughter to ever walk the earth! Yeah, I think I thought something like that.
In any event, I didn’t really know what she meant, and I took it personally. I still had no clue when I had my own daughter, more than a decade later. No, it wasn’t until my own daughter hit those delicate, hormone driven, emotional roller-coaster, “Holy Cow, who is this stranger in my house and why does she hate me so much?” tween years that I ABSOLUTELY COMPLETELY 100% UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY WHAT SHE MEANT.
When it comes to boys, even into the teen years, the fear is more that they will break themselves, or someone else, or someTHING else. I hear my boys wrestling, screaming, banging into walls upstairs, and I think “Oh good GRAVY, please don’t make me have to go to the ER today!” I know that it would be naive to think there won’t be some major worries on the horizon, but even that fear is different. I should also note that I’m very aware that I live seeped in the luxury of white privilege and there are fears I will never have to consider for my boys. But that’s another post for another day, perhaps. The bottom line is that my boys somehow feel solid.
My girl feels so much more delicate, more breakable. When I catch one of my sons checking himself out in the bathroom, I know he’s either sniffing his armpits to see if he needs a shower, or he’s examining his upper lip for evidence of a mustache. But he’s not questioning his value or his worth. When I catch my daughter looking at herself in the mirror, my heart skips a beat. I can see it in her eyes already. She’s questioning something. She’s scrutinizing her hair, or her tummy, or the color of her eyes, or her skin. She’s wondering if she’s pretty. She’s doubting herself. So delicate. So breakable.
Whatever it is that this delicate creature is thinking about, whatever it is that she’s struggling with, questioning, worrying over- somehow it’s my fault. Despite the fact that I see nothing but beauty in her from head to toe, despite the fact that I’m the one girl in her life who hasn’t mistreated her or broken her trust, despite the fact that I’m the one person she’ll always be able to depend on, and despite the fact that I don’t even know who this boy is or that girlfriend, or that “no of course she is not FAT!”, somehow this is my fault. I’m the one who gets the tears, I’m the one who gets yelled at, I get the stomping up the stairs, I get the eye rolling, the silent treatment, all of it. Half the time I don’t even know why, but I’m Mom, so I get it all.
THIS is usually the time when my mother’s voice comes back to me.
I think this is what my Mom meant when she said raising girls was so much harder. This whole paradox of having this girl in your life who has a hold of your heart like nothing you’ve ever known before, this beautiful young creature who means the world to you, and having her also be the one person who can set you off faster than Flo Jo in the 1988 Olympics! This idea that someone can take you from your highest highs to “oh no she did NOT just look at me like that” all before breakfast!
Well, for starters, she can share her secret. That secret that she loves this sweet girl living in her house, but oh my goodness, she is going to lost her… stuff on her if she gets that look from her just one more time! I can’t get over how every single time I share my pain with another mom, that mom just laughs and says, “oh my GOODNESS, I know!!!”. There’s comfort in the community of other moms of teen daughters. I’m finding so much encouragement in connecting with other moms.
It's why I've created a FB Group especially for moms with teen daughters. It's called Love Through The Lens, and it's a place for moms to share their stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's a place to ask questions, to learn about mothering and about photography. It's a place for all moms, EVEN IF your girls isn't QUITE a teen yet. All moms are welcome!
Discovering we’re not the only ones going through this- it’s so encouraging. So I’m looking for moms everywhere to commiserate with, to celebrate with, to hold hands and walk through the scary parts with. I know it’s just going to get scarier. My daughter’s 12! This joy ride is just beginning!
One more thing I have the luxury of doing? I can call my mom and laugh and say, “Umm… yeah, remember those teen years of mine? Yeah, I’m SOOOOOOO sorry! And please HELP ME!” I do that every now and again. And sometimes, even through the phone, I can see that smirk of hers, and hear that smile in her voice, and I think, “Yeah, she knows she was right. I HATE it when she’s right!”