When was the last time you felt beautiful?
The words floated up on the screen in front of me, hovering, shimmering like gold dust. I was watching a behind the scenes video on SLDV Portrait’s Facebook page. There was an image of a woman having her make-up done, then sitting in a plush armchair, looking at the camera. The words drifted across the screen, and I had tears in my eyes. I wiped them away, feeling silly.
But the truth was, I hadn’t felt beautiful for a long, long time.
The truth was, I’d been fighting myself, and my body, for a long, long time.
And I was tired of it.
When I met with Sarah, she explained that her studio worked a little differently from most. The portraits were taken over a whole day. There was a make-up artist to do make-up, and a studio wardrobe to play dress up with. Instead of receiving a whole bunch of images on a flash disk, the idea is that you choose your favourites, and those are printed on archival paper that will last for over 100 years.
I loved the sound of this.
Suddenly, having this portrait taken seemed like a way to mark a monumental year. The year I turned thirty. The year my first novel was published. The year I finally, finally gave up on all my disordered behaviours around food.
A few days before the shoot, I started to panic. Did I need to go for an emergency facial? Should I try to drop a kilo or two? These thoughts swirled around my head, but I watched them swirl. I didn’t act on them. I didn’t restrict my food intake to steamed spinach and green apples. I didn’t go on a juice fast. I didn’t stare for hours in the mirror, wishing I was better, or different.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous on the day of the shoot, but I needn’t have been.
The truth was, Sarah (and her assistant, Anastasia) took care of me that day. It sounds strange, but they did.
They made me coffee and let me peruse the studio wardrobe. They chatted to me about make-up ideas. They had put a lot of thought into how I would be photographed—from props, to backdrops, to angles—and they asked for my opinion on everything. They made me feel at ease—at home, even. They fed me vegan lunch and let me bask in the sun with Sarah’s cat. They are evidence of the fact that perfect strangers can make you feel loved.
When I went back to the studio a week later for the reveal of the portraits, it was with trepidation. I didn’t know if I would like myself in the pictures. I had spent a long time not liking myself in anything, in any way, and habits like that are difficult to break.
But as soon as I stepped into the bright studio, and saw the portrait Sarah and Anastasia had chosen as their favourite, I couldn’t stop smiling.
I did look beautiful.
More than that, I looked at peace.
I looked like someone who believed in herself.
Like someone who’d finally found the courage to show her true face, and her true heart, to the world.
This is the real gift of what Sarah does. The beautiful studio, the gorgeous, high-quality products, the pampering—all of those things are wonderful. But the true beauty of Sarah’s work lies in this one fact: her goal is to let you step outside of yourself for a second, to see yourself how the world sees you, how the people who love you see you. To see how you might see yourself, if you loved yourself, really loved yourself.
And that is priceless.
If you’d like to find out more about SLDV Portrait, you can go to their website, or find them on Facebook or Instagram.
All photographs were taken by Sarah-Louise de Villiers and Anastasia Vorisek.
I didn’t receive any compensation for writing this—I just really believe in the work Sarah does.