On Friday, December 9th, 2016, I attended a photography exhibit in Chelsea called “Women: New Portraits” by Annie Leibovitz. Gloria Steinem was also heavily involved in the display of this exhibit, which included photographs of important women in their own element. I loved that the pictures included important women of all ages, ethnicities, national origins, and occupations. I was happy to see Katie Ledecky, who was catapulted into fame during the 2012 Olympic games as a competitive swimmer, in the pool, her body beautiful and strong, and a look of sheer peace over her face. There was an almost nude photo of Serena Williams, which showcased her lovely and unapologetically chiseled body. Another photo showed her embracing her sister, Venus. These two photos of Ms. Williams show me what I have known about women all along: women are STRONG, yet some of the strongest women in the world are also incredibly soft, caring, and loving. We do not let those qualities go when we become strong and powerful and accomplished. 

One of the most interesting pieces in this collection was a photograph of a fully clothed Yoko Ono laying in bed being embraced by a naked John Lennon. This picture in particular spoke to me. As products of Western media and advertising, we are taught that a beautiful woman is several things. She is thin. She has blonde hair. She is petite. She is stupid.  She is scantily clad. And most importantly, she is White. The Yoko Ono photograph turns these conceptions of beauty on their head. Not only is Yoko Ono wearing all of her clothes, but she has her beautiful, decidedly jet black hair splayed out before her. She is not smiling but rather appears pensive, even though John Lennon is kissing her. The way the photo is laid out, John Lennon has his legs drawn up so he appears much shorter than Yoko Ono. Finally, Yoko Ono is a woman of Color who here is represented as the love object of one of the most successful White men in music history. As a woman of color who also has a White male partner, I found this photograph to be the most thought-provoking. 

It would be wrong for me to write this blog post without writing about the photograph of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I have to first start with the description that was assigned to this photo: “Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States, former Senator from new York, and former Secretary of State, Washington, D.C., 2009.” At first I was startled at the simplicity of this description. I thought Mother Hillary should have a paragraph listing all the times she fought for people like me and praising her for every last ounce of her effort. But then I thought about it for a minute, and I realized that this very simple description is all Mother Hillary needs. I know what she did for me. Exhibit attendees in Chelsea, New York City know what she did for them. I do not need paragraphs describing the work Mother Hillary did because we all watched it play out on the national stage just last month. I feel liberated that the Annie Leibovitz and the rest who helped put together this exhibit did not feel like they had to defend Mother Hillary and list all of her accomplishments the way that nearly every Hillary supporter had to do this election season when faced with questioning or outright hatred of our candidate. She and we can finally rest. Honestly, if they had just labeled this portrait “Mother Hillary,” it would have been just as well. My eyes were drawn to this picture as soon as I walked in, but I saved it until last. I knew looking at Mother Hillary in her element, at her desk, cool as a cucumber, with incredible confidence of self and belief, that I would immediately start crying. I knew it had to be the last photo I looked at. Finally, the time came for me to see this photo. Hillary has a coaster on her desk that says “Never, never give up.” She is staring out while reviewing some papers, pen in her right hand, wearing a pantsuit (of course!), and resting her other arm on her chair. I started to tear when I saw that coaster on her desk. What really got me, however, is when my eyes followed her figure to that hand that she had resting on her chair. She is wearing a gold bracelet and a ring, and honest to God, her hand looks just like my own actual mother’s hand. And all the reasons I supported and voted for Hillary came rushing back to me in full force. Hillary was always the woman I could look at and think that she is like me in her womanhood. She knows what it is like to be discriminated against and treated poorly simply for being a woman, even though we may have put in equal or better work. Hillary has advocated and protected women like me her entire career. I could look at Hillary and see someone who worked to protect me and empower me the way my own mother has, and the way all of my women mentors have. We see recently that Hillary is going without make-up. She is owning her natural self, the way she owned her element in this photograph. She laid out her undeniably feminine adorned hand, and while others may attack her femininity and use it as a sign of weakness, I hold this display of femininity very dearly. The hand of Hillary, the mission of Hillary, and the platform of Hillary is the same one that my own mother has always wanted for me. For this reason, I have always called HRC “Mother Hillary” and will continue to do so.

Mona SalehComment