The first time I heard my sister’s voice, I remember feeling like a failure. It wasn’t really my fault – my parents lied to me and my brothers. They said that if we would just keep it down, we wouldn’t teach the new baby to cry so much. Then when they called to say I had a sister I could hear her crying. Obviously something went wrong.
Then I met her. That was also a bit of a disappointment, too, but only because she turned out to be a baby. I was seven and I wanted a sister to play with. This one mostly just liked to sleep and she was kind of heavy and loud if I tried to play with her. At least she looked cuter than my “Baby Rachel” doll with the grey ratty hair and eyeglasses printed on her plastic face:
As she got older, we did sometimes play nicely together:
On the other hand, there was always plenty of more adversarial content in our relationship too:
Note that I didn’t always make her look completely terrible:
Or sometimes it was only as a caricature:
Somewhere along the line I started to see her as her own person, not just my sister to annoy and whine about and sometimes protect. She has always been sensitive and opinionated, sweet and sarcastic, forceful and vulnerable.
It was hard, when she was a teenager, to see her not appreciate herself properly. When I took a photography class, I saw it as an opportunity to show her how beautiful she was to me, how she fit into a tradition even if it wasn’t what she saw everywhere.
I didn’t just take photos, of course. I also recommended many books that would help her analyze the messages she was internalizing that were hurting her sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
She loves to recommend these ones now, some were ones I suggested, others are ones she discovered on her own:
- The Body Project: an intimate history of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
- The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women by Naomi Wolf
- Reviving Ophelia : saving the selves of adolescent girls by Mary Pipher
She’s much more comfortable in her own skin these days, as proven by the fact that I’m more likely to do a “photo shoot” now to document her own experiments with artistic expression and creativity:
Of course I’m still going to look for opportunities to show her off when she’s done something particularly clever and cool:
She’s grown into herself, into her own ideas and goals. She knows her passions and how she wants to go out and improve life for others. The path hasn’t always been direct for her, but she’s taken the time to get to know what it is she wants for herself. We know that she will be great at this.
Today is an anniversary of that first phone call. She’s just a short walk away right now, but in a week she’ll be living almost a thousand miles away. She is leaving us and following her dream and we are all so, so proud of her hard work and resilience.
She’s earned these opportunities – and I’m so glad she’ll be able to take that drawing class she’s been dreaming of and make much better self-portraits than the ones above.