Why Tween Portraits

I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember my tween years (insert shudder).  They weren’t filled with the stuff of adorable Disney channel icons with glossy hair and sparkly smiles.  I wasn’t forever getting myself into silly predicaments that had tidy conclusions in 23 minutes.  Instead, my tween years were filled with me forever wishing my hair, my teeth, my clothes, my house, my talents, were all different…all better…all something other than what they were.

I was trying to figure out who I was, who I was going to be.  I was confused.  There were a lot of voices in my head and none of them were good.  This was also the advent of MTV and we had just gotten cable.  So, I remember singing into a tape recorder, pretending to be a pop star.  All the while hoping and praying my voice wasn’t as bad as I had sneaking suspicion it was…(and would later get confirmation of when I attempted to present said recordings to my sister while declaring my intentions of being a singer one day.)

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I remember envying the Jordache jeans the two “it” girls had in 7th grade, (who I still remember the names of, Sherry and Betsey) along with the perfectly curled Farrah Fawcett wings framing their faces.  My hair would never curl like that, despite innumerable disastrous attempts.  My haircuts happened at home (and mostly still do).  What’s ironic is, I don’t think I can tell you the names of anyone else I went to school with prior to highschool…except for Sherry and Betsey.  Mean girls have a way of sticking with you, long after the snide comments and disapproving glares are past.

I remember Sherry and Betsey teasing me in the gym locker room, the way mean girls have a nasty habit of doing, because my eye shadow application did not meet their standards of what was acceptable.  Add it to the list; it seemed to be growing daily.  Someone had voted them the purveyors of fashion protocol, I guess, and I had just made another blunder.  I remember being perplexed because that morning I thought it looked beautiful (insert head drop).  There was no Youtube to guide our pubescent explorations into trying to be older and more beautiful than we were.  We just took stabs at it and the learning curve was far from graceful.

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Riding that steep learning curve meant most of us just fumbled our way through life, with a fair amount of scrapes along the way that we were doing our best to hide.  We tried to figure out who we were, who would accept us and who would allow us breathing space from the constant state of tension the social networks at school pumped out in no short supply. I was always the new girl, and found myself, just about every year, trying to figure out the culture of a new school and deciding how best to blend in/standout all in the same frustrating spiral of confusion.

And that gets us to the topic at hand.  Why would I want to create portraits during what is notoriously the most awkward phase of life for most people?  Why?  Because my clients keep asking.  They don’t want to wait till their younger kids are seniors to have unique coverage of them on their walls.  Why?  Because we’ve realized these precious ones are missing from portraits that chronicle them at an age when they are trying to figure out who they are.  Their lives have a story to tell and it’s being grown during these bumbling years.  There is a strength that is being grown in them and it’s often forged through the fire of these years. It’s part of their story and too often it’s missing.

Children are photographed prolifically, typically until school age, then occasionally the first few years of elementary school.  However, they conspicuously disappear from the family records the same time teeth begin to come in at all the wrong angles and skin begins erupting like Vesuvius.  The 5-8th grade time period is a no man’s land and tweens are the first ones to put a hand up when the i-phone is coming their way to make a record of this.  They often don’t see themselves as beautiful, so they can’t imagine how anyone else could.

These are the years tweens often grunt out their exasperations at everything frustrating them in life while parents become the safe whipping post for these ventings. They are in the most self conscious, high monitoring and confusing phase of their life.  Most of them find their amazing elusive.  They are quick to find it in others, longingly, but rarely in themselves.  This stinks, all the way around.

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But I’ve found I love showing tweens what is beautiful about them, what is unique, what is crazy cool in portrait creation that sometimes feel like a timeless piece of fine art and other times feels like an editorial piece they just flipped to in a magazine.

Creating portraits for JDP jrs. is a chance for me to say what I wish someone had said to me all those years ago.  I’d tell the tween me, “Don’t sweat it girl!  I know this feels overwhelming, but hold on, I promise you it gets better!  Remember how you didn’t gain the approval you were seeking from the IT girls?  Well, in time you’ll realize you’ll never stand out in life if you spend all your time trying to fit in. So instead, you are going to make a mark that is lasting.  Your print will be made on the hearts and minds of those you engage with through this life.  You won’t be caught dead wasting your time on the shifting sands standards that other people set for you!  You also are hot and heavy in the growing phase of a strength that will make the crippling approval of others unnecessary for you to hold your head proud.  And remember, growth hurts…it always does but, it’s worth it!  God never wastes pain.”

I’d tell the tween me, “You will figure out what true acceptance looks like and that it starts with loving yourself, instead of someone else’s notion of you.  You can quit straining for the approval of those who change the requirements, and this will mean you get to surround yourself with people who call out the best in you, who laugh with you, who act crazy silly stupid with you and cry with you.”  I’d tell that girl that there was beauty in her.  It didn’t really matter that no one was telling her it was there, it was and one day she’d see it, too.  I’d encourage her to see her worth was not found in the glossy surface, but instead in the child of God she was uniquely created to be.

I’d acknowledge that these years are rough and most days you won’t feel like smiling. I’d encourage that that girl to live out loud, to surround herself with a cheering section of people who do the same.  I’d remind her that those will be her people, the ones who will hold her up when she feels like falling and they’ll be the ones she’ll stay up with till 3:00 a.m. laughing till she almost (or does) pee her pants!

I’d tell the tween me that every single person is just trying to be loved and trying to find their spot in life where they feel like they matter.  They are all, at least,  just a little bit afraid they won’t measure up and they are trying to figure out how to do just that.  How they approach it will look different, but we are all on the same journey to find our love and acceptance. Essentially, everyone walks into a room and wants to make a room full of faces light up with joy. That’s ultimately what people are seeking in this life.  Some will do it in a way that fills people with hope and joy that feels contagious, others scrape their way to the top by trampling whoever’s in their way to get there.  Just clear the lane and let them through–you want no part of that.  Some take the path of tearing others down, thinking it will elevate themselves.  And it often does, for a time, but it’s a hollow and small way to live that never allows for rest.

I’d tell the tween me that these years are also beautiful, and I make it my life goal to show people the beauty of right where they are in life.  That’s what I want to show our JDP jrs.  They are given permission to embrace what makes them unique, while showing them the work of art God has crafted them to be.  They are given permission to literally laugh out loud and live out loud in a safe place while creating portraits that will remind them of that feeling…always.  When they are feeling crushed and battered by these confusing years, they can look and remember how they felt to be celebrated and showed their own brand of special. I’ve heard time and time again that the experience we create for our clients ranks right up there equally in value to the portraits we create and they cherish.  That’s because I lay it all out there to pull out what’s most amazing, for every single client who steps before my lens.

JDP jrs. portrait work is dedicated to showing 5-8th grade kids their unique beauty as it’s captured in ways that make them proud.  Most often these will be one hour shoots with 2-3 outfit changes, in studio.  Some parents go all out and have us create the whole shebang like one our JDP senior shoots.  You decide what’s the best match for your family and budget and we talk about that at our pre-consult planning time where we cast a vision for your portraits and how you’ll enjoy them in your home.  Click here to contact us.


If you’d like to chat with us about creating portraits for your tween, to have their live out loud time captured uniquely, we’d love to chat with you about that!  Click here to contact us.

  1. […] Curious about the emotional “why” behind tween portraits?  Click here to read a blog about the personal take for Jennifer.  […]

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