What If You had No Fear?
By Cindy Sabato Newport Life Magazine
What if you had no fear?
Would you get together with three strangers, to be made up and have your hair done and your outfits chosen, for a three-hour photo shoot focused entirely on you? Would you trust those strangers to let them capture your inner self, your soul, your vulnerabilities in pictures that you don’t see before they’re shared online? Would you love yourself enough to believe those images will introduce you to… you?
More than 72 women have done these things (fear notwithstanding) as part of The Revelation Project (TRP), an experience of self-actualization or discovery, which some of its participants call an “experience like nothing you’ve ever done before.” Social media, life coaching, story sharing and a sisterhood, built around an unusual portrait session, The Revelation Project is meant to challenge women to become vulnerable, give them permission to reveal all of themselves, let them enjoy acknowledgement, “and ultimately, to empower them to stop comparing and reclaim their fully expressed, unique and unedited selves,” says founder Monica Rodgers of Wakefield.
The project was born quite by accident when Rodgers got together with a photographer friend for an impromptu day of outfits, giggling and taking pictures – self-therapy for tackling post-divorce depression. “When we started looking through the photos, we were blown away. The pictures were transformative. I thought, ‘Oh, There I am!’ There is such power in a photograph,” Rodgers says.
Right away she wondered: Could she create the same experience with other women? “What I’ve found is that culture dictates a lot of who we think we should be and not necessarily who we are. When we have a career, that’s our identity. And when we drop into motherhood, that’s our identity. But who are we once we peel off all these layers?”
Participants are cancer survivors, survivors of addiction or abuse, professional women striving to move forward in their career, young women figuring out who they are, women who’ve endured divorce or who’ve been married for 35 years with grown children, celebrating birthdays, and more.
Ann Marie Evans, 45, wanted to shed the devastation that consumed her after her best friend and husband of 17 years left her for another woman. When she saw a client’s TRP photos, “Right away I knew I wanted to do it. Going through a divorce, I didn’t feel worthy of anything. But in those photos I saw a sparkle in her eyes, and I thought ‘I have a sparkle too. I just haven’t seen in it a while.’”
By the time a woman shows up for her portrait session, her revelation project has already begun during an initial coaching session with co-active coach, inspirational speaker and TRP partner Andrea Willets, who explains the process, answers questions, listens and prompts her to begin thinking about herself in a way she may never have. “Coaching deepens the participant’s experience. We want to help her become aware of where she is in her present life and what stories from her past may be preventing her from living a fully permissioned and expressed life,” Willets says. “Asking powerful questions creates powerful revelations. Revelations are powerful tonic for unlocking the truth.”
That initial conversation initiates an open coaching session that is continued throughout the project. “I love this piece because I get to witness and explore with her in a way that is deeply personal, and raw,” Willets says. “Ready-able-willing, a phrase I’ve coined that describes the courage women muster to show up for the sake of enriching their life.”
Also by the time the woman shows up for her portrait session, she’s completed a written questionnaire of provocative, probing questions that “give us insights into who she is, what she might like to explore, and how we can maybe art direct the shoot, so when she shows up, we know where to push a little,” says photographer Kim Fuller. Her Middletown barn studio is light and airy, peaceful and beautiful, and has no mirror. When the woman arrives, Rogers does her hair and make-up and chooses her outfits. Willets and Fuller review her questionnaire and develop an approach to take her where she needs to go. And she doesn’t get to see the photos. “From the get-go, we’re inviting women to be with the discomfort of the unknown and fear, and to know that she’s part of a sisterhood of women who are here for her and will support her without judgment,” Rodgers says.
The shoot begins with an opening ritual, something participants have called a meditation circle or grounding exercise from which some theme for the shoot emerges. Then, participants’ favorite music plays in the background, conversation and maybe singing and dancing ensue, and the women do three or four sets of images together, beginning casual and comfortable and gradually approaching the edge with far less comfort.
Women are invited to bring things that have special meaning to them – a surfboard, chair, hat, dog, anything – “and in the final set, we’ll get funky with dress up and props. When the woman first gets on that side of the camera, she starts with ‘what should I do,’ but by the end, she’s completely co-creating her experience, Rodgers says. In fact, Evans couldn’t stop thinking about how proud her 12-year-old daughter would have been if she’d been watching.
Jackie Hennessey, 43, felt awkward and embarrassed at first. She’d always compared herself to other girls and always felt ugly – the beginnings of a pattern of insecurity that keeps her from trying things for fear of failure. She did The Revelation Project for a shot of confidence when her book idea generated negative feedback from surprising sources, refueling those insecurities. It wasn’t long before, “It just relaxed me and became fun. Freeing. It was more like hanging out with friends. I felt like a kid again.”
“One thing I noticed early on is that the click of the camera is like a repeated ‘yes,’ an acknowledgement, and it’s like you’re watering a tightly closed rosebud. Every ‘yes’ is another droplet of water, and by the end of the shoot we’re getting these rocking images of these beautiful open flowers,” Fuller says. “We create a safe space where women can come explore, play, try something new. We stop doing all of that somewhere around age eight. So we’re really getting in touch with that inner child again.”
For each participant, the answer to the question What would you do if you had no fear? reveals itself during the photo shoot, “in its own transformative, intimate, personal way to her,” Rodgers says. “Once that revelation is in place, game over; she can do anything. We’ve had women go on to write a book (yes, Hennessey did write that book after all), perform on stage, change careers, make an album, and achieve all kinds of big dreams. Every single woman we’ve photographed is amazing.”
The women know that at some point after the photo shoot – a week, a month, three months – their pictures will be published on the TRP Facebook page and that she’ll have to share them on her own. She also knows that she will not approve them beforehand. Rodgers, a blogger and social media consultant, purposefully designed it that way. She says, “Social media is all about creating communities and audiences and tribes. So right away, once her photos are public, in our private Facebook group she becomes part of a sisterhood who’ve all done this and understand something very special about each other. But also, she’s sharing with people who may have always seen her but never acknowledged. Suddenly her whole community shows up to support her in how she’s revealing herself. It’s so powerful. And it’s one of the most beautiful things to watch.”
“Right away people started hitting the like button and commenting. Their reactions lift you up and allow you to see yourself the way others see you. I’d never seen the woman that everyone else sees – confident and laughing – because I was always trying to change myself,” Evans says.
After a woman’s images are published, the process continues as she shares her personal story on the TRP blog – why she did the project, what she learned, what was revealed, how her life changed, and so on. “Those interviews are very powerful because that’s where a perfect stranger might see something available for herself, see herself in another woman,” Rodgers says. “Ann Marie’s interview moved a lot of women.”
When Evans’ story was published, women she’d never met reached out to her to thank her for sharing her story and to tell theirs. “I had no idea so many women have gone through the same thing. The first time it happened, I was just shocked that a stranger was so moved by my story that she took time to find me, and after a while, these experiences gave me validation and taught me that I had to go through that to get here, a place where I could help people,” Evans says.
In The Revelation Project, Fuller says, “We want to open up discussions and let women know they’re not alone in anything. There is someone out there like you who’s going through something similar. In this space – online or the photo shoot or our cocktail parties – you don’t have to hide belly fat, or divorce, or alcoholism, or abuse, or any of these real things that human beings go through. Rather, we need to reveal them. Because what is revealed is healed.”
Evans had already begun to heal, but The Revelation Project helped her, “become the girl I used to know.” And Hennessey is now working on her second book.
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