by Liza Andrews
In my early career as a marketing and HR consultant, I worked for an American company that had clients all over the world, and we traveled extensively overseas. I was hard-working and ambitious and increasingly tried to prove my value by accumulating more tasks, traveling more often, and resting/sleeping less. The process took a physical toll and I started suffering from a severe hormonal dysfunction that affected my pituitary gland, thyroids, and ovaries.
A few months after my diagnosis, I looked in the mirror and saw someone I barely recognized. The condition made me lose a lot of weight and acquire aging spots on my face. My hair, once full and long, started falling out; first, it got thinner and dull, then holes started to show up on top of my head revealing my scalp. I did not feel so ill, but I looked like an ill person. The doctors told me that dysfunction was not life-threatening, but other than ruining my looks, in the long run, it could also affect my bones, memory, the capacity of bearing children, to say a few. The treatment involved hormones intake and with 40% of my family having suffered from cancer, I was terrified of the side effects of my treatment. To make matters worse, after having worked hard on a business deal that week, my boss asked me not to attend to our party because I looked fragile, and it might affect my credibility with clients if they thought that I was ill.
That was the greatest wakeup call. I made it a mission to push fear and depression aside and fix my problem. I engaged in the treatment, aided by special diets and exercises, and used photography to monitor my results. I took pictures of myself once a week no matter how bad I looked and kept a photo-log. Studying those images taught me how to highlight my good features and disguise the ones that were not so great. Since I had been practicing portrait photography since my teens, I had already mastered the tricks of looking good on camera. But through my illness, I gained full awareness of my body, and how to successfully improve my image when I looked bad. I discovered new resources like special makeup to even my skin tones; hair interlaces and wigs that seemed natural, and the power of wearing the right colors and tailoring my wardrobe for a perfect fit. Most importantly, I learned how to love myself when I was down, and that it was possible to reinvent a new — perhaps an even better — me, as many times as I needed.
During a two-year recovery period, I created and perfected my signature method, using reinvention photography. When I was well, I volunteered to teach my 5-step process to cancer survivors and others recovering from illness and depression. After losing hair or a breast, a woman is feeling anything but feminine. She wants to do anything but taking photographs. So, my job is to demystify the idea that taking photos is for beauty, for sharing online. Photos can be the most efficient self-knowledge tools during a crisis and it can help one see the light of hope and change in the end of the tunnel. It starts by knowing how deep into the tunnel you are, and in which direction the light is, so you can move steadily and confidently toward it until there is no more darkness. To help these women recover their femininity and discover what worked for them after the trauma of aggressive cancer treatments, I created a production wardrobe with all types of accessories, a variety of wigs in all shapes and colors and outfits in a diversity of textures, designs and materials for them to experiment with. Makeup is also a fundamental part of enhancing one’s facial beauty and I constantly gave tips to “my girls” and hired makeup artists to visit our studio. I taught then how to become more photogenic, how to highlight their best features and disguise the ones they were not crazy about. I showed them how to make the most out of their body types, and the body language to exude charm and confidence. The results of the initial years of my volunteer work with cancer patients was extremely effective and gratifying. Through word of mouth, people experiencing different self-esteem issues due to divorce, aging and other life events asked for my help and I started to create new, customized programs and devote more time to it. My company, PictureCure, in New York City was the natural result of this work that became my life passion.