By Amy Frykholm
Author, ‘See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity’
When I was twenty years old, a friend of mine was working on a photography project. As a women’s studies major, she wanted to engage women in the process of creating photographs of themselves. The results would be a mixture of portrait and self-portrait. Marlene would be the photographer, but the subjects would be involved in the creation at every step. In principle, I thought this was a good idea. But collaboration with me proved difficult. I was an impossible subject. I loathed photographic images of myself, and I couldn’t think of a single photo of me that I would want taken. After much conversation, we decided to do a photo session at the local coffee shop where she and I often went to write. When the proof sheet was ready, I looked at the photos with hatred. All of them were bad, I said. Not a single one did I want on display in the art building. We tried again along a creek bank where we sometimes walked. Again, I loathed the results and rejected them. Perhaps my dislike of the photographs was a form of youthful self-consciousness, akin to narcissism. But the fact was that I wanted out of this project, and I started thinking about how to tell Marlene.
Meanwhile, I was in the middle of significant changes. I was discarding the religiosity of my adolescence and trying to find something new. I was in and out of poor relationships with men, struggling to demand of them thoughtfulness and kindness. I found it harder than perhaps I should have to imagine myself as worthy of goodness. At root, I was trying to envision new and better ways of loving and being loved.
One day, Marlene and I were sitting in the lounge of our dormitory, discussing dating, when we struck on an idea. We decided to continue the photography project in the little chapel where I had been going for more than a year, alone, in an attempt to pray. Every morning, often before sunrise, I went to this little chapel for about an hour. It was an ongoing disastrous experiment that probably did the better part of killing my capacity for prayer for two decades. I spent the hour fighting sleep and chastising myself for dozing. I didn’t know what prayer was, and attempting it on my own for such a long period of time meant that I was cultivating mostly self-disgust…
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