I want to share this with you, not only because Sanchia's transformation story touches the heart, but it could have benefits for us all.
I was at work when I got her call. Sanchia said she would like some boudoir shots of herself, which would show both her strength and her softer feminine side. She had been through a very tough year and half and had gained a little weight, but had been working out and wanted some artistic images to record her progress. I asked her how she found me and she hesitated, which made me all the more curious. She said it would probably sound weird, but her gut had told her to seek out a photographer and when she saw my website profile photo, her instincts said I was the one. I was very touched by this and I thanked her for being brave enough to listen to her gut.
Sanchia had chosen to have her photo shoot experience at the beautiful country estate called Shabby Manor. On the morning of the shoot Donna (the owner) and I busied ourselves setting up gear and moving furniture around. After a few delays, Sanchia finally arrived. She was very flustered from being late and was buzzing with nervous energy. A beverage and styling consult put her at ease and once she had relaxed into the makeup chair she asked me if I wanted to know her story. Of course I as curious so I said yes. She proceeded to tell me about her life growing up in South Africa. Because the details of her story are so personal and may trigger those who have been victims of domestic violence, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share them. Suffice it to say that her story was shocking and had me reaching for the tissue box. I had to take a moment, gather myself together and carry on… for Sanchia.
Once her transformation was complete Sanchia had gone from looking very windswept and interesting, to glamorous and elegant. She had gained fresh confidence from her new look, which helped her relax, have fun and even crack some jokes. Seeing how well she was getting into the swing of things, I gave her some trickier poses, and she nailed them… even improving a few! The three of us paused midway to share a bottle of wine, a platter of nibbles and stories about the roller-coaster ride called life. With renewed energy, we did a couple more look changes and were having such fun, we didn’t notice the hours flying by. When it was time to say our goodbyes, the tired but happy Sanchia hugged us and left.
Sanchia and I were reunited at her viewing appointment a few weeks later and as always, I as excited to show my client her images. Although I had the tissue box handy and warm hugs at the ready, I was not prepared for Sanchia’s response. Her slideshow was only a one or two images into its sequence when she started to shake. I could see she was fighting for control over her emotions, but they won, and the tears flowed down her cheeks like rivers.
“I AM beautiful!” She exclaimed. I put my arm around her and said, “Of course you are!”
It was like she was seeing herself for the first time. She had never felt beautiful before and needed some time out on the deck to catch her breath before coming back in to choose her images. This was a difficult process because she loved them all! She opted to display her favourite images in an album that I would design for her. When I asked her if she would like to approve my design before I sent it off to the lab she replied, “No. Surprise me!”
The reason why her gut had so strongly insisted on finding me became apparent not long after Sanchia’s viewing. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she looked so healthy, it came as a total shock for the both of us. We once again expressed our gratitude for the guidance she had received in the nick of time. Had Sanchia not listened to her intuition and acted upon it, she would not have her beautiful images, which now meant even more to her than before her diagnosis.
After Sanchia’s double mastectomy and before she started her chemotherapy, she booked another shoot with me, immediately after which she shaved her head and sent me a selfie with the text “I’m ready!”
Due to the debilitating effects of the chemo, Sanchia was unable to drive, so I personally delivered her album to her at her house. It had been a while since I had seen her and at first glance, was unable to recognise her from a distance, but when she smiled, I felt the warmth of our connection and knew I was at the right address. The chemo had diminished her sparkle and she moved very slowly. As she sat and looked at her album for the first time, the tears started to flow before she had even gotten past the front cover. From the first to the last, every page elicited a sound of approval from deep within her. She hugged her album to her chest and thanked me and said her precious album would provide her with the inspiration and strength she needed on the long path back to recovery. That was the ultimate in positive feedback a photographer could ever hope for. My heart melted.
Sanchia and I have remained in close contact and she affectionately calls me “Mum” whenever I tend to be a little over-protective of her. Her strength, courage and positive attitude is an inspiration to me and I am grateful to call her my friend.
What Sanchia’s story has reinforced for me is the importance of listening to our inner guidance system, our intuition. Listening and being heard is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, especially our relationship to our bodies. Unfortunately, because of all the other extraneous noise we allow into our lives, that little voice often gets drowned out and we forget to regularly ‘check in’ with ourselves. If your inner voice is trying to tell you something, please listen, you never know what your body is trying to say to you through your subconscious.
"Hi Vanessa, beautiful lady. I just wanted to drop you a note to say I had the most awesome day with you. You are a superb photographer, give great clear instructions so that your client can look her best and just make them feel so at ease and beautiful. Obviously being in lingerie yourself would help when showing the moves, but then perhaps not, as your client will just get too distracted by you. Hahahaha. So thank you! I’m glad I chose YOU to do it! My GUT was right. It was the experience of a lifetime.”