The Permission Addict

Luxe Portraits Mitzi Starkweather Photography

Hi, my name is Mitzi and I am a permission addict.

When I was a child, I was very obedient and considerate. It was second nature for me to ask for permission, and if I was ever reprimanded for proceeding without it, tears would flow and sorries would abound. Of course, training children to ask for permission is a good thing. It's how we stay safe and learn about the world.

But when I hit adolescence and opened Seventeen Magazine, I asked it for permission too. "Am I allowed to feel good enough?"

It said no.

Or so I thought... Those makeup ads and sparkly new clothes and ab workouts, were they really telling me I'm not good enough? In a sense, yes - all advertising exists to tell us it will fill a need - but now, at 27 years old, I will say that it was not the beauty magazines that made me feel unsatisfied with my pre-teen weight, hair, interests, or love of film soundtracks and 60s poetry. I was the one who wasn't okay with any of it. Like all humans, I looked into the mirror of media and peers and they simply reflected back to me what I already believed. "You don't fit in. You don't look right. You aren't this, you aren't that." The intense self-hatred I became addicted to as a teenager still would have existed had I never opened a magazine.

As I endured my teenage years I looked for permission everywhere. I joined activities that gave me permission to be smart. I went to church events that gave me permission to dress up. I read books that gave me permission to dream. I poured into friendships that gave me permission to be the more stable/put together/helpful person. I gave up on potential friendships with people who inspired me simply because they didn't chase me down first... they didn't give me permission to believe I was worthy of their time and affection. (This particular issue is one I still struggle with.) "May I have permission to believe I could be loved by you?" is essentially what my heart asks. And it translates to, "May I have permission to be loved at all? Even by my own self?"

Each phase of life has brought new challenges around identity, and therefore new desires for permission.

Am I allowed to charge money for my art?

Am I allowed to have a career?

Am I allowed to have fun?

Am I allowed to say bad words?

Am I allowed to take care of myself?

Am I allowed to say I'm not okay?

Am I allowed choose what's best for me?

Am I allowed to stop seeking external validation?

Am I allowed to say no?

Am I allowed to say yes?

Am I allowed to get angry?

Am I allowed to be myself?

More and more each day, as I work with women for whom giving themselves permission for a three hour makeover and photoshoot is a huge deal, the more I realize I'm not the only woman who seeks to overcome this. For me, change began when women I respected gave ME permission to, well, stop needing permission from "everyone else." 

As a social human being, I think I'll always desire permission to some degree. What's changing for me is where I seek it. I am working to rewire my brain to accept that my own permission is just as valid as someone else's. In many cases, it's more valid. And my own permission should certainly drown out the permission of "people" (yeah, the vague term we use to describe a mass of peers in our social circles - many of whom we wouldn't even say hi to at Target). And again, seeking permission from "people" becomes an addiction, like any other, because it serves us. 

Why do you think many self-employed people complain about being under appreciated and underpaid? We entrepreneurs often look to clients and customers to give us permission to charge decent money, which serves us because we can avoid facing our own disastrous beliefs about self value and money and instead blame "everyone else" for not valuing us. (It's not just entrepreneurs who do this - Just like we accept the love we think we deserve, we also accept the time, wages, relationships... You fill in the blank.) 

When I ask others if I am enough, I don't have to truly look at myself. Because they'll never give me the validation I need (not long term anyway) so I'll always be able to blame them and keep my victim identity. I've asked their permission to accept me for who I am - and when their validation inevitably comes up short, it serves me because I can go back to my comfortable belief that nothing ever works out for me, no one ever thinks I'm good enough... Like the old song goes, "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I'll go eat worms."

Here's a story: It was my first paid Luxe Portrait Shoot. The client was in her sixties, dealing with an incurable illness, desperate to celebrate her life and leave a gift for family. We had planned her shoot in great detail. Fresh roses, lace shawls, a forest clearing... magical locations in and out of the studio and five beautiful dresses. The shoot went perfectly, and that evening my heart was more alive than it had ever been. I started to think, "Maybe my passion will turn out to be a viable and exciting career! Clearly there are women who want this and will trust me to create it for them." 

I went to sleep that night and just as I was drifting off, a voice crept into my head. "You really think today went well? Sure, she had fun, but you encouraged a sixty-something year old woman to wear her extensions, put on false lashes, and twirl around in dresses. Everyone's going to think that's ridiculous! Oh, and even if she pays for this, no one else will." I felt my heart pound. My eyes shot open. "What on earth have I done," I thought. "This IS stupid. Sure, the shoot was fun, but everyone is going to laugh at me, and worse, they're going to laugh at her. What was I thinking?" Eventually I fell asleep. And when I woke up, the first thing I did was review the portraits from the day before. They were beautiful. I thought back to the voice in my head from the night before. That insecurity had always been there, and for years I'd listened to it. I looked back at the portraits, and several days later when the client returned to view them and cried, I shuddered at the thought of needing permission from anyone but her and myself.

And now, almost two years and a hundred clients later, I'm so glad I asked myself for permission to specialize in and pursue women's portraiture. For me, the only other opinion that matters is God's (and I do mean God, not American Christianity), for God wrote this passion on my heart long before I had the words to express it.

And you, friend, are probably a permission addict too. Does your source of permission really have your best interest at heart? I hope it does. And if you're seeking permission from the wrong source, in what way is it serving you? In other words, how is that behavior keeping you from growing or taking responsibility for something in your life?

I'll tell you this right now: If you ever want to learn what you truly believe about life, the world, money, people, and yourself, open a business, run it, and sell the art that comes from deep down inside of you. *makes throw up sound effect* It is a crash course in peeling back layers of wounds to get down to your core beliefs. To grow, you are forced to stare them straight in the face. 

But that's the human life, isn't it? When I was a child, my legs ached at night as I grew and stretched to five foot four. And now, as an adult, my heart aches some nights as I fail and face the choice of getting up or giving up. I can never tell in the moment, but each year as I look back and and I see growth, the sources of permission I feel I need to trust become more and more clear. I know now that I have divine permission to feel worthy - worthy of the love I am eager to bestow upon others - and I hope that if nothing else, you know that you have this permission too.

Love,

Mitzi

Want to say hello? Contact Mitzi Here.

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I want you to see the beauty I see

GIFT CARDS AVAILABLE HERE

GIFT CARDS AVAILABLE HERE

Have you ever seen it? Not beauty - I'm talking about seeing someone revel in someone else while they themselves feel beautiful. Have you ever seen that? It's the way the matron of honor stands back and starts to cry while the bride spins in front of the mirror in her wedding dress. It's the way a daughter looks at her mother when she lets her dress her up and make her feel her best. "See mom? I told you!" It's the way a friend says, "Yes. Get it," when her friend walks out of the fitting room in a dress that makes her shake her hips.

I see this in our studio. Until recently, I think I got used to it. But then I look over at a daughter watching her mother laugh the way only she can and come to life in front of my lens... or I look over my shoulder in a quiet moment while I photograph her daughter and the sunlight beams down over the backdrop onto her hair. I know her mom is watching from the doorway, quietly, trying not to cry.

And you: Who do you love? Who do you think is beautiful? Your mom, sister, best friend, partner, daughter, child... How about yourself? Who do you want to FEEL as beautiful as you already know they are? 

It's the season of giving gifts, and we've made beautiful gift packages available for you. (And did you know all of our shoots include hair, makeup, and styling for two people, and family is welcome to join at the end?) Simply contact us so we can customize the perfect gift for the one you love, or purchase gift cards directly here.

What a beautiful season. What a beautiful year we've had. Thank you as always for joining us on this journey.

-Mitzi 

GIFT CARDS AVAILABLE HERE

GIFT CARDS AVAILABLE HERE

Each portrait a story

"Some of us have broken stories, some of us have love stories, some of us have both. But it's up to us what we use it for. We can use our story to bring light to others." -Patty

Patty has a broken story that became a love story, and she generously agreed to let me share it with you to accompany her portraits. You see, when Patty was six weeks old, her mother gave her up to foster care. She was already living with her own mother and had another daughter, so she was told this baby couldn't stay. Patty was eventually adopted, but there weren't the background checks there are today. Her adopted mother struggled with addiction while Patty struggled for her approval. She died of alcohol poisoning when Patty was barely an adult, and all that time had never once told her daughter she loved her.

Patty met the man she then married. He loved her in a way she hadn't ever experienced before. He was strong, hardworking, and kind. They raised a beautiful family together, and for nearly two decades Patty traveled the world for her job. (When I asked her how many countries she's visited, she said she didn't know but they just added twenty pages to her passport.) About a year and a half ago while she was on one of these trips, she received one of those phone calls that you have to sit down for. Her husband had unexpectedly passed away.

On the anniversary she wrote, "January 5, 2016-January 5, 2017. One Year. The saddest, longest year of my life, yet still surreal in many ways. Recently, I heard our bodies produce 30 gallons of tears a year. Surely, my tears would have filled a rain barrel this past year." But she didn't lose hope. In fact, she got the word tattooed on her right arm. "I trust The One who transforms the dark night of my soul into sunlight and hope." 

I talked with Patty this fall after she saw her friend Rachel's Luxe Portraits. We chatted at one of Rachel's parties, and Patty's comments really struck me. Usually, new clients aren't so specific with their vision for their shoot. But Patty told me at our first meeting about how she envisioned portraits showing her love for her late husband, her heart for travel and the world,  and her hope for the future. She wanted to give these portraits to her children and grandchildren. 

Yesterday at her Portrait Reveal, I learned why Patty understands the power of portraits. "I grew up wondering what my birth mother looked like. I would sit and daydream about her. My husband and I spent years looking for her, and eventually, in 1989, we found out she had died of cancer 5 years earlier. But we also found out I had an older sister! The first time we talked on the phone, she told me she would mail me photographs of our mother. I'll never forget receiving those in the mail... To finally see the image of the person I imagined most of my adult life was so powerful. And that Christmas, I met my sister for the very first time."

So many people who come to us have a story like this. They've come to understand the unique power of portraits in their own way. And I think there are two kinds of people: those who have personally been impacted by a portrait, and those who will be. 

What an honor it was to make your vision come to life, Patty. And someday, long after you're reunited with your husband, some little hands will open your box of portraits and then ask their mother to tell them your story. And what a beautiful ray of light that will be. 

With the fullest heart,
Mitzi

Ready to celebrate your story? Send us a message here.

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I believe in you

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The first thing you do is warn me. You warn me that you're not photogenic, that you have stretch marks, that you have wrinkles, that you're awkward in front of the camera, that you don't know what to do. You warn me you're too fat, too thin, too this, too that. And you apologize. You apologize to me before I even have a chance to learn what makes your heart beat fast.

But I don't blame you - I think we women are conditioned to measure ourselves to some ridiculous ever-changing standard and then deal with the ways we ourselves don't measure up. And I know that the thought, "I'm too __________ to be photographed" usually means, "I'm not worthy." 

You, reader. (Hello - we may not have met but I do hope to meet you someday!) Today is November 9. And before I attempt to dazzle you with holiday promotions and beautiful pictures and captivating phrases, I want to tell you that I believe in you. I believe in my own ability to create the best portrait you've ever seen of yourself, and I believe that you can show up for it and yes - actually be in awe of yourself. Why do I believe this? Because I think women are incredible. We are strong, vulnerable, passionate, gritty, delicate, caring, loving, supportive, and selfless. And I believe in your ability to show up for yourself. Facing a camera can be terrifying but when you embrace that space it can be life-changing. (I've seen it.) Because the truth is, in those dazzling holiday promotion photos the women pictured are just like you. They're just like me. 

Sometimes I get so caught up in the day to day grind of work, routine, emails, and details that I forget about the bravery required of my clients. I can forget that they are insecure like I am. They're tired and busy, they've rearranged schedules and set up childcare and gone shopping in preparation for their photo shoot. They've pushed past the last minute urge to cancel because of nerves, and they've shown up. Ready, open, willing to give themselves a chance and see if they CAN indeed stand in front of a camera and then be happy with the result.

A client called me this week. She had cancelled her shoot this summer and wanted to get in before the end of the year. I won't soon forget the peace with which she said these words, "You know, I did a diet and tried to lose weight first but that didn't happen. And I thought, well, this is just me and I'm going to be okay with it." 

You are good enough now. You are worthy. And if you give yourself the chance to believe that, I think you might just see yourself differently.

-Mitzi

Ready to book a shoot? Send me a message here and I'll reply with our beautiful Portrait Guide. We have four spots left for 2017, and are booking for 2018.

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YEARS

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"I'll be 60 years old next year, and I've never seen aging as a bad thing. You know, I love every age I've ever been." -Nancy

Is it still considered rude these days to ask a woman her age? I don't think it should be. Is age something we should be ashamed about or apologize for? After all, do you know the women I've met in my short half decade as a full time photographer? Do you know how incredible they are?

We launched Luxe Portraits about two years ago, and in that time I'd say about half of our clients have been aged 45-65. And do you know what I've learned again and again? That I, at a mere 27 years of age, haven't seen anything yet. The women I photograph are wise, beautiful, comfortable in their skin, sexy, strong, vulnerable, and they are so inspiring. Yes, my 21 year old clients are beautiful too - but I think a 21 year old woman is easier to convince to be photographed than a 55 year old woman.

"I'm too old."

"I've gained weight."

"Can you fix my wrinkles?"

"No one wants to look at me!"

Sigh.

I don't know about you, but when I look at my wedding photos (taken only six years ago), I marvel at how different I was then. I can only imagine who I'll be and how I'll want to be photographed when I'm 40 and 50 and 60 and 90! In fact, next week Jordan and I are having family portraits done for the first time since our wedding. We don't have kids yet, but someday I'll show them who we were in 2017.

After her Portrait Reveal, Nancy said, "I can tell you this. I love looking at my mother's beautiful pictures. I always wish I could have known her when she was young. Her pictures are dear to me. So I would say do it for yourself and also for your family.  It was so lovely to see that Mitzi was able to capture who I am at this stage of my life. I don’t want to try to look 20 or even 40 but it is sweet to feel glamorous and special. That essence is captured in these pictures."

And you, when was the last time you were professionally photographed? We include outfit styling, hair and makeup, and your family is even welcome to join you at the end. Send me a message here if you'd like to get in touch.

Thank you, as always, for reading and supporting what we do.

-Mitzi 

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FAMILY

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I think humans are excellent at getting used to things. We get used to smells, foods, chores, jobs, and people. The first time I had a high quality cup of black coffee, I savored the moment and felt as if my life had changed forever. It was strong, warm, and exhilarating. And now I make a cup of strong black coffee every morning without even noticing it.

We all hear these words, "Your family is beautiful!" or "You're such a lovely couple!" or "Your pets are so cute!" and we say thank you and smile and move on with our days. How often do we stop and think, "My family IS beautiful." 

When I hear the word family so many feelings rise up inside me. I feel love, frustration, longing... I think of memories, good and bad, and I know in that instant I wouldn't trade them for anything.

You have a family, and I would guess that you've gotten pretty used to them. Laundry, schedules, meals, immediate needs, appointments, prescriptions - the way they keep borrowing your conditioner and never put it back in your shower.

Yesterday we had a family in our home studio. Funny thing is, it used to be their home! Just 18 months ago the six of them lived here, ate here, slept here, laughed here, cried here. As they sat for their portrait and teased each other by arguing whose pose was most challenging, I thought about family and the decisions we make that affect us all. The times we move, the times we laugh, the times we support each other and the times we wish we had. I think about how every year is so precious (their oldest son is about to graduate high school), and I think about how quickly kids become grown up kids.

And then I think about Portraits. How they not only freeze a moment in time, but how they capture feelings, emotions, memories... things that stop us in our tracks when we stumble across an album or a print in a drawer. I think about how these kids in this Portrait will someday have kids of their own. 

So whether you're a mother or a daughter or a son or a father, think about all this when you tell yourself, "I'd love a portrait but I need to lose weight first..." Your family is what it is now, and THAT is what's beautiful. You see them every day - for now - so it's easy to forget how special they are. And how quickly they're changing. That's why I've reminded you.

Remember, no family is perfect. Love is what makes them so intricately beautiful.

-Mitzi

To reserve your Luxe Family Portrait in time for the holidays, contact us here. We'll tell you what to wear, how to pose, and even have a pro take care of hair and makeup if you like. 

CHANCE

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Last year I thought to myself, I want to go to Paris! And I want to photograph beautiful women there. I want to pick out their gowns, do their makeup, and show them how to dance beneath the Eiffel Tower. I want my husband to come with me and have a week of perfect, romantic dates. And as I would think these beautiful thoughts, doubts would creep into my mind. I would "adult" my way out of it. "But... but... but... but..." My responsible side would win over my imagination and I would end with the thought, "Well, someday." But somewhere in the last year I realized that "responsible" and "someday" are usually code words for "you're not worth what you want" and "it's nice to dream but let's get real." And thank God I cracked that code. Because I went to Paris and it was better than I ever even imagined.

You know what I love? Cliches. I am a lover of language and I love cliches because of what they reveal about a culture's belief system.

I want to crack some cliche codes for you. Are you ready? If you're like me, you've probably used some of these before. And odds are, you might not have thought about what they really imply. These are cliches that have been said to me since I returned from my trip to Paris.

1. "You're so lucky!"

SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE because it sounds positive, encouraging, and agreeable. 

DANGEROUS because when I tell myself someone achieved something I also want to achieve purely by "luck," I remove all responsibility and blame from my own self and actions if I do not ever also achieve that thing.

2. "I'm so jealous!"

SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE because you're supposedly making the other person feel good for doing something you see to be of importance.

DANGEROUS because while desire itself is not negative, you've attached a negative component. Your ego is saying, "I should have that but I don't for some reason. I deserve that but for some reason, I don't have it." (Hint: if your ego is piping up, you probably ARE capable of achieving that thing, and the "reason" you aren't is because of your own dang self.)

3. "I would love to do it... if I ever get the chance."

SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE response to the person who said, "Yeah the thing I did was cool, and you should do it too!" 

DANGEROUS because you are, once again, placing yourself in a passive role by assuming the other person also passively "got" the cool thing that you wish you had.

REALLY DANGEROUS because the core belief that good things happen to people by "chance" means you are likely giving up agency in your own life where you should really be taking charge.

4. "Maybe someday!"

SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE (kind of) but I think we all know in our hearts that's just a way of putting what you desire at the very bottom of your priority list. 

DANGEROUS because "someday" is not a goal. There is no time frame, no end goal from which to work backwards and take actionable steps. If you think about it, "maybe someday" can logically mean "maybe never." 

So now that I overwhelmed everyone with "goal setting" and using the word "actionable" (sorry, but I think my Dad will be proud), I want to challenge you.

Please look at your life. Look at what you value. (Hint: you spend the majority of your time, money, and energy on it.) Do you value yourself? Like, really. I'm not talking about binging on oreos when you have a hard day. You know it's bad for you and it's just a coping mechanism. I also don't buy, "No Mitzi, I value my children," because you can absolutely value yourself too (and what are you teaching them about self value?) What I mean is, do you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others?

We write about what we struggle with. And me... this is my struggle. I live with a severe auto-immune disease because throughout my teenage and young adult years I stressed and worried about pleasing everyone around me. (Thank you, body, for telling me chill. I'm finally trying to listen to you.) I thought doing anything for myself was selfish. I got things like stress rashes and had friendships that were one-sided. I felt guilty for spending money on myself or doing things I enjoyed in my free time. I gave and gave and gave to EVERYONE but myself. And wouldn't you know it? I got bitter. 

I still struggle with this. And I find that many of my clients do too. 

Portraits are powerful. For many women I work with, portraits are an oxygen mask they didn't know they needed. And you know, that's also what Paris was for me. While I photographed Kelly and Emma, the world stood still. I saw these women - smart, beautiful, hard working, unsure of what it would be like in front of the camera - and I watched them come alive. I saw them be inspired in the most magical city in the world. They were celebrating themselves. As we walked through the city, women would stop and look at them with wonder. What a gift: to celebrate the the beauty of the everyday.

You know what I wish was cliche? Women who celebrated themselves. I get it - it's more blessed to give than to receive. We're often eager to put ourselves at the bottom of the shopping list. But do you know what's heartbreaking? The fact that so many women focus on all the ways they fall short and fail, and never on the reasons why they are an irreplaceable human being in this world.

Maybe it's a trip to Paris, or maybe it's just choosing a bubble bath over a sink of dirty dishes.

Hear me, woman: you are worthy of the gifts you are so eager to bestow upon others. 

You are worthy.

-Mitzi

Where in the world do you dream of being photographed? Let us know, and we'll meet you there.

Want our luxury Portrait Experience in Joplin, MO or Houston, TX? Send us a message here.

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We love you Paris,
you are what love is
to all of us.
-atticus

Who Has the Time?

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When Tristan sat down on the couch for her consultation several months ago, I asked her what prompted her to book a Luxe Portrait shoot for herself. She laughed, "I'm just... crazy!"

But like with everyone, I quickly learned there was a story. As we talked she told me her strong, healthy, grown son had a stroke the previous year. "I watched him for days. He wasn't waking up. That experience made me real... It's not until you experience pain that you find out who you are." 

Last month, she opened a boutique in downtown Webb City (Twisted Oak) and after rescheduling once, finally did her Luxe Portrait Shoot.

"I almost cancelled my shoot. I was just so tired... It was the week we opened our new Boutique. But I thought, if I don't do it now I'll never do it. And I'm so glad I did. If I hadn't done this I would never have thought I could look this way - at age 62. You know, there's beauty in having lived."

"When everything happened with my son, I changed. I say yes now! I don't shy away and say no anymore. I think, If I don't do it now, I never will." 

Isn't that just the thing with time (or any resource?) We feel like we don't have enough time... for ourselves. Because the thing is, everyone gets 24 hours in their day. What is your time filled with? Remember: put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. Spend some time on yourself so you can be the best friend/coworker/mother/wife/sister/daughter/spouse/human being you can be. 

When's the last time you did something for yourself? We spend our resources (time, money, etc.) on what we value. Do you value yourself? I invite you to my studio. Let me plan a photo shoot with you, then return for a half-day makeover and portrait session. Dress up, be pampered, laugh and enjoy having the attention on YOU for a change. Sure, you'll go out of your comfort zone. Like Tristan, you may describe the experience as "terrifyingly wonderful." But then you'll return to see your portraits on the wall and stand in awe of yourself for (likely) the first time.

I promise that when you leave, you will be changed. You will honor yourself and the ripple effect will be unstoppable. After all, there is beauty in having lived.

-Mitzi

Start planning your photo shoot here and we will send you our portrait guide.

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