“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a question we’ve all been pressured with throughout our childhood, over and over again. I can remember responding as early as five years old, “doctor,” “lawyer,” “president,” “Olympic ice-skater,” “rock star.” Interestingly enough, at five years old, I also believed I could fly and repeatedly tried to take flight from the top of my living room sofa. (I really freaked my mom out.) The idea that we pressure our children into answering a question, that frankly, even as an adult I have been terrified to answer, is kind of nuts. Most five year olds don’t even know how to read words containing more than three letters. How can we possibly start asking them to think about a career?

The space between birth and adulthood is immense. The most impactful development happens during this time. We are a sponge, soaking up everything around us. We are literally learning how to interact in the world, we are new to it and it is new to us. Words and music and art and numbers and feelings and food and people–all carry a different flavor and a different sound and a different emotion. We need to fully experience as much as we can so we can know all the options. It takes some time to build that experience, and for some of us that experience can be very limited depending on our circumstance.

I knew about poetry and music when I was a child, because my mother would read Neruda to me and my dad would play The Beatles. I knew about God because I went to mass every Sunday. I knew about story-telling because my third grade teacher always encouraged me to write. I knew about science because in fifth grade, we were assigned to conduct our own experiment (of course, I made ice cream from scratch, but…it was gross, turns out science is not my thing). I knew about French culture, because I studied abroad in my sophomore year of college.

Every unique experience I have had has built my understanding of the world…good or bad.

I learned about grief when my aunt died. I learned about racism when someone called me a wetback. I learned about power when I was assaulted. I learned about depression when I had my first episode. I learned about sexism when my voice was ignored, but my body was not.

Altogether, I am made up by the sum of my education, talent, and experience. Some good, some painful, some overwhelming–and almost all out of my control. I have at times felt a victim to life and my circumstance, and while that feeling was human and normal and justified..it was not helpful. Why? Because I mistook that sum to be my identity, before I realized that I have much more control over that identity than I had ever previously allowed myself to take.

Thanks to the opportunity to explore, heal, and a committed willingness to grow, I wake up every day and try my very best to choose. I may not be able to choose who will cross my path today, or what traffic will look like, or if I’ll need a jacket when I go outside, but I do get to choose how I show up in life. I can choose to be kind. Choose to help someone else. Choose to love others. Choose to practice patience. Choose to practice tolerance. Choose to practice joy. Every big choice is made up of even smaller decisions that build up to it: taking a walk, a morning prayer, a five minute meditation, a smile, a moment of silence when all I want to do is scream, trying out that new computer program when I just want to give up and hide. Why? Because I have lived in fear of choice before…and it has only served to keep me frozen, stagnant, s m a l l.

So, the solution is simple: I just have to choose. It’s not about being a doctor or lawyer or photographer. It’s about the values that help direct how I show up in whatever profession I have chosen. That’s my brand.

I choose creativity, authenticity, and joy. Happily, for me, I have also found a way to put these things together and transmit them to you via images and writing. In creating the MA BELLE brand, I have considered the values that align with me and in the last few months of building this business, have practiced putting them to the test. Here’s a bit of what I’ve discovered so far:

  1. Creating a safe space is crucial: We instinctively guard ourselves when we walk around in the world. Perhaps it’s with our style or our attitude. Perhaps it’s through the safety of our computer or phone screens. Perhaps it’s our posture. So, there’s something unnerving about standing in front of a piece of equipment that has the power to zero in on every pore, angle, and wrinkle. Naturally, that instinct to guard ourselves is heightened when we are being observed through a lens. If that guard is to be let down at all (which it must in order to capture even an ounce of authentic expression), the subject must feel safe.
  2. I can be the entrepreneur of every energy exchange: It’s simple really. As the person holding the camera, I have a lot of power and responsibility in the situation. What will show through the lens will be a reflection of the energy I am putting forth. In order to get the best product, I must be the initiator of what I like to call good vibes only. This also means establishing clear, honest, and open communication right from the start.
  3. Beauty is in every single one of us: I see it in everyone. I see it in you. It’s there, and I want to help you let it shine through.

A brand is simply the energy read people get when they meet you, when they visit your website, when they see your product or work. There’s a lot more that goes into MA BELLE, but those three things are probably the most important. It’s simple, it’s bold, it’s clear, it’s in the name. And it’s in my images. A clear, professional image tells a story and tells about the value I take myself to be worth.

Take some time and ask yourself, “Is my brand reflecting my values, my essence?” Is it clear in your website, in your exchanges, in your presentation? Have you allowed yourself permission to envision your business to its greatest potential? Take a chance, take yourself seriously and book those headshots or that lifestyle shoot you keep dreaming about as you scroll through Instagram and Pinterest. Stop calling it a “side-hustle” and fully commit. Don’t let yourself fall victim to circumstance. You are not just the sum of your experience, you are what you choose to make of it.

So make it something good.


xo Mabel

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