(1905, South Carolina)
He appraised me slowly, his eyes narrowed, as I entered his studio timidly, holding to the frame of the door with one hand.
"Come inside, Raffaela," he bid me impatiently. "Do not hang upon the entrance like a timid spirit when I have summoned you to my studio. It is not as if I have never done so before. Nearly nine years old and still meek as a mouse," he muttered, shaking his head. "It is strong women who are valued, Raffaela, women who hold their heads high and push onward unapologetically. These are the women who are wanted and admired by all, for in their confidence they OWN their beauty, and seem very much desirable. You will never be wanted in such a way if you do not show more backbone."
I had heard this before- many times before, sometimes, it seemed, nearly every day of my life. But I always felt the same shame and embarrassment each time. Even now I dropped my eyes, feeling my cheeks flush. I tried, I really did, to do as she asked, to be confident and bold, but I did not feel confident and bold, nor did I feel like a woman rather than a child. Never did feel beautiful, and and that made it very difficult for me to own it when I felt I did not possess beauty.
"Yes, father," I murmurred, and I stepped inside his studio shyly, still averting my eyes. I could see that his large, bulky black camera was ready on its tripod, the pink, rosy backdrop set up for my use.
He looked at me again, nodding his approval as he observed my new buckle shoes and stockings, the lacy pinafore and blue dress with the puffed sleeves my mother had helped me into today. His eyes shone as he turned them to my face,my hair. Mother had curled it today, long spiral curls, and tied a white bow on top. Father always told Mother he liked to see me in curls and bows, like a proper little girl. He very much disapproved of little girls in disheveled clothes, with dirty faces and hands, mussed hair, like a servant. He took care that I did not become such a child.
"Very well, Raffaela, I see you have kept yourself in order all day like a proper child. Step closer."
I came to him hesitantly, standing still as he frowned, adjusting my bow slightly.
"There we are," he said briskly, going to stand behind the camera, "now undress for me, Raffaela- and then stand before the backdrop."
I stood momentarily, stalling, for I despised this. I always felt cold, no matter how warm the temperature might be, and I was always embarrassed for my father's eyes to be on my body, even though I knew he had seen it many days before. It felt strange, bad, as though I were doing something horribly wicked. But this could not be so, for my father would not allow me to do something wicked. And it is part of his job- and mine- my duty as a daughter to earn my keep. It cannot be wicked to do so, though it is uncomfortable. I am surely not the only daughter who does this for her father- I am silly to be so timid. My father has said so many times.
I began with my shoes, unbuckling them slowly, then my stockings. My father had to help me with my dress, unbuttoning it in the back, and slipping it over my head, so as not to muss my hair. Already I was shivering.
"Do not be ridiculous, Raffaela, it is not cold in here," Father reprimanded, but he was smiling now. He always was pleased with me when I let him take pictures of me, and sometimes this was enough for me to tell myself that it was enjoyable for me.
"You see the cloth with the the lace trim?" he asked, indicating a rather fine cloth near the backdrop. "Wrap that around you and kneel before the backdrop."
I did as he directed, or tried to, feeling clumsy and foolish, but relieved to cover myself. Evidentally he was not satisfied, for he frowned, then came to me, fixing it himself.
"Hold it below your shoulders, Raffaela- there. Now inch it down a bit further- just under your right... Yes, excellent."
He returned to the camera as I sat very still, trying to stay pale and unflushed, trying to hold it exactly as he had said.
"Look up... yes. Now hold up your chin, Raffaela! Remember as I told you...you must become a beautiful woman in order to be desirable. This is how you will learn. Good- precisely-"
He clicked the shutter, and I held my breath, my heart hammering. I wondered as I so often had before if I truly looked as father said I did... I had never seen a photograph he took of me before.
"Now lie down- take the cloth away first, toss it to the side. Lay flat on your stomach- curl your legs to the side. Yes, very nice, Raffaela. You are improving."
He handed me to a rose, and I took it slowly, trying to avoid pricking myself on its thorns.
"Hold this just under your nose, as if you are smelling it- yes, exactly. Stay as you are..."
He returned to his camera, and I stayed still, aware of how pale and strange I felt sprawled on the floor. As he clicked the shutter once more, I hoped that this was all he needed of me for th day. I did not feel beautiful or confident- I was certain that no matter what Father told me, I never would.
As I lay there, I wondered idly if Mother had to pose for Father too. Must she earn her keep as well, or was it only me?Author notes
this actually happened... when i was nine i started collecting old pictures of children. one of the first two i bought was of the same little girl. i was too young to notice until several years later that it was actually a child porn picture from the early 1900's. the child is holding a sheet up to her chest... and you can just barely see her nipple on one side. i thought as a child that it was a low cut dress... it's very subtle. another picture of her is very shadowed, but now that i am older i can tell she is naked and posed like a woman. in both pictures she is holding a rose. it disturbed me to say the least and i had to write about her