When I started to feel invisible to my family, I called a professional photographer and arranged a solo photo shoot. They are perfectly lovely people, my family, but sometimes it feels like they don't acknowledge or even notice the heavy lifting I do behind the scenes to maintain the ecosystem in our household.
Do I need them to validate my every good deed? No, but all human beings appreciate a little credit where it's due. My partner has a demanding job, my teenage stepdaughter can't be bothered to speak to me, and my cat is, well, a cat, so her affection is inconsistent at best. Rather than trying to pry recognition out of them, I decided to look internally for the gratitude and visibility I longed for.
First, I questioned where this need to be seen was coming from. Why was I eager for someone to acknowledge that I brushed the cat's teeth or coddled a fiddle leaf fig back from the dead? Was this really about getting a thank-you for folding the laundry? (Narrator's voice: It was NOT about getting a thank-you for folding the laundry.)
This was about connecting with who I am outside of grocery shopping and mastering the KonMari Method. This was about recognizing my great capacity for creativity and adventure. This was about addressing the root cause of why I felt invisible in the first place. I felt invisible because I'd become hyperfocused on family-ing and no longer prioritized the artistic, autonomous aspects of my identity.
So I started to nurse my individuality back from the dead, just like the houseplant. I started small with dinner and a movie by myself, a hike in the hills, and dance classes. These activities were great reminders that I can adorn, challenge, and witness myself. This alone time created space for introspection, which is how I came up with the idea for a more blatant approach to feeling seen: a photo shoot by myself.
It sounded like a great idea until the day of the shoot when I remembered how awkward I can be staring down the lens of a camera. Unless I don't know that a picture is being taken of me, I deliver "deer-in-the-headlights realness." But with the help of a Lizzo album and the "yes, gorgeous" affirmations from the photographer, I channeled my inner Celeste Barber and ran with it.
The experience brought a few things into focus. My family wasn't outright ignoring my existence: they were investing in themselves and pursuing their interests. I'd clearly missed the memo that I too could pay attention to the things that make me happy. I realized that I felt invisible because I'd become completely consumed with family business and failed to prioritize my own hobbies, creative projects, and joy. It's a classic case of needing to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.
Does one photo shoot solve all my insecurities and longings to feel seen? Nope, sure doesn't! But it allowed me to take responsibility for my feelings and prioritize self-discovery. I learned that regardless of how little or how much external validation I receive, it will never be a substitute for self-recognition.