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.



Want to say hello? Contact Mitzi Here.