I was considered an ugly duckling. -Eartha Kitt
It’s hard to think of Eartha Kitt as anything less than talented, whip smart, and drop dead gorgeous. I grew up watching her slink around as cat woman, wishing I could mimic her voice and moves. As I got older I heard tales of her commanding a room and how men like Orson Welles were so smitten that he called her, “The most exciting woman in the world.” What I didn’t know until much later was how tragedy can play into glamour and how hard she worked on herself to overcome her heartbreaking childhood and transform into the larger than life superstar we had all loved. I would never think of her as a victim and while Eartha knew her wounds and where they were rooted subconsciously and consciously she knew her worth and it could be seen in every photograph, film, and interview.
As a kid I was called “fat Pippi Longstocking” and “fat Orphan Annie.” The boys would make lists in shop class of who the prettiest girls were and the teacher read them aloud. I remember being relieved at being a 5/6. That same year the doctors slipped a brochure in with my parents on our way out of the office. The “Shapedown” brochure sat on the refrigerator door. The girl on the front in stripes and shorts smiling. I hated her and I hated my thick legs that were already getting cellulite. I hated my frizzy red hair, buck teeth, pale skin and freckled face. I wished for brown skin and jet black hair.
As I grew older I began to grow into my features. I moved out of my small town and began to appreciate my body more. In the city curves were beautiful. The Cuban women at the restaurant near me used to laugh. “You don’t even know what you have. We’ll take care of you.” And I loved them. I loved sitting in the cafe with my cafe con leche and talking with them for hours. They made me feel human. In college I was chunky and mismatched. My mid twenties were a time of experimentations in style, and by my late twenties and my Saturn return I had finally gotten a grasp who I was and what I wanted to be. Before that time I had thought of myself as mediocre, someone people passed and never remembered. My art was still forming, I was a late bloomer, and I was still struggling with not feeling good enough.
And then something kind of magical happened. It didn’t fully heal everything but it gave me some perspective. I started to model and take self portraits. I did it to pull myself out of comfort zones and be okay with my body. I did it to become someone else for a moment. I did it to see myself and every personality type that was within me.
There was some kind of magic when it was me and a camera. I liked modeling but when I took self portraits something happened. I wasn’t concerned with how I looked, I played with the camera, the angle, my face, and body structure. I could be whatever I wanted. If I felt depressed I could photography myself drowning. If I wanted to be a snow queen I could be one. It was the first time I really understood glamours and shapeshifting. Over the years I’ve figured out how to turn on the glamour when I need to. I’d look at pictures of movie stars and try to mimic the expressions. I always looked to Eartha because even in glammed up photos there was still something so authentic about her. I would think about her style and how she would look if she was still alive today. Eartha died the year I entered my Saturn return.
I was thinking about her again when I had to book an early flight and a hotel room right after Christmas. I booked a room at the Fairmont Hotel in Boston. While Eartha hadn’t stayed there (that I know of) she had performed at the Fairmont SF’s Venetian room. I figured I’d take a few photos in the hotel and run around pretending I was a old movie star. I have a tradition of taking New Years photos to signify what the year will bring. I wanted this years set would be filled with glamour and luxury. I messaged my cousin and asked her if she’d like to come. She accepted. Stepping into the hotel felt like stepping into another world. Intricate mosaics lined the floors and each ballroom was a different design. We ran through the hotel looking at spaces and marveling at each theme. I wanted us to have a one day vacation. Beautiful images and crowns, a laid back dinner, and some facial time, since I had been in the cold and was preparing for a flight. I wanted a day for each off us to transform. Every time I step into a hotel or historic place I can automatically feel the transformation of numerous timelines. The hotel opened it’s arms to us and the restaurant while completely packed almost immediately found us a table. “You both look so fabulous, I feel like I need to find you a table right away. Although you may bring in more clients just by standing here.” The hostess said as she searched her tablet for an open table. As we were seated the waitress took my hand. “I’m not trying to hit on you but you smell so incredible. It’s not just the scent but the chemistry you have with it. “
Glamour magic is series of small practices that flow into a larger narrative or character. There were stories of Eartha walking into restaurants as if she had flung the doors open just by her energy. Glamour magic however does come with a darker aspect. If you look at the villains of films or exotic women that lure the “hero” away from his “girl next door” there’s always an aspect of danger to glamour. There can also be an air of “untouchable.” I’ve dated men that liked to carry around my picture rather than see the reality in me. They couldn’t understand that I could hike in the woods, take 16 mile bike rides, and stick my hands in mud and still dress in evening gowns. They wanted to keep me hidden, lounging on a bed waiting for them to enter. And other times it’s people who think they can’t approach me. There were years where people wouldn’t talk to me thinking I wouldn’t have anything in common with them because I had been in documentaries and acted in plays. Glamour can sometimes be lonely. There’s a great piece on the darker side of glamour magic in this New Inquiry article.
In order to work glamour magic you must know both sides, both the shadow and the light. In my first article on glamour magic I discussed Marilyn Monroe and the Roosevelt Hotel. Both Marilyn and Eartha both knew the darkness and light of glamour. Eartha however had more steam in her and while they spoke to each other about their traumatic childhoods and never feeling good enough. Being glamorous takes a lot of strength especially in the face of doubt and fear. I don’t always feel glamorous and those childhood years do stick with you. I remember when I first started talking to my now best friend he said, “You have no idea how beautiful you are. I’ve met women all around the world, some of the most famous beautiful women in the world and you’re right there with them and you don’t even know.” I remember being so shocked because no man had ever said that to me before.
It took years for me to find a voice and style. It took hours, days, months and years of mirror and photo work to understand who I was, who she was and how we could combine to create balance. Part of it is my love of land and history and old Hollywood style. Part of it was going deep into myself and finding those places that I didn’t want to touch. When I did find them I took to the camera giving those places a physical outlet. Within each image, holds a piece of me and a piece of glamour. Allow that glamour to glow, to heal, and to teach you each and every day.