I've been getting a lot of e-mails lately asking about my life, and how I got started into photography. I have always been hesitant to talk about my life in depth because it's exposing things about yourself that only those who grew up with you know...and well, I get scared to share because you never know who's reading this blog of mine. But heck, I have a blog. I HAVE A BLOG. I have it for a reason, and that's to share my life in hopes to inspire YOU. Or make you laugh. Or just laugh at myself. Or cry. Oh...crying. It's good for the soul you know. To document, to write, to vent, to just...be. OH & the rambling...I do a lot of that...and well, I'm doing that now aren't I? This is a place I feel that I can do that one thing that I want in life.
Today is the day I share a
Just recently I asked myself...
"What is the one thing you want in life?"
I thought about this for a really, really long time and I finally summarized all of my thoughts into this:
To help people. TO inspire someone, anyone. To change someone's life for the better.
Y'all, that's all I want. That's it. Everything else I have is a bonus.
I grew up in a town of 800 people. There was one blinking red light, two gas stations, one grocery store the size of a dime, a lot of cow pastures, and I went to a school where everyone knew EVERYONE.
I grew up most of my life in a broken home that was only 50 yards behind a railroad track. My Dad lived with us for a little while, but was mostly absent for most of my life. He and my Mom fought a lot, and we were always paycheck to paycheck. We had food stamps. There was even a point where we were on welfare checks just to survive. We didn't live in a nice house. We actually lived in a duplex two houses down from my Mamaw and Papaw that was rent free because there was no way we could afford a REAL home. My Mamaw and Papaw inherited this duplex from my Great Aunt, whom died in this home (that's a story for a different day, but let's just say my friends didn't like to stay at my house because it was haunted! haha). Our duplex sat up on concrete blocks, and we had a screen door that squeaked every time you opened it. You walk in, there's the living room, then my a bedroom that wasn't really even separated from the living room or the kitchen. Door ways were the only thing that "separated" the rooms in the house and the bathroom was only big enough to stand in. Before my brother moved out and went to college, I shared a bedroom with my Mother, and my brother got the extra room that was right by the kitchen. We had a gas heater that we sat next to every night it got cold and slept in front of it most nights because it wasn't big enough to heat the whole house. The air conditioner stuck out of the wall, and it would break just about every summer. Again, it only got "cold" in the living room and wouldn't cool down any of the other rooms.
My Mom drove a Hilton Oldsmobile (beauty at its finest). It was mint green, and it even had the Pine Tree Air Freshener hanging in the rearview mirror. I was embarrassed to drive around town in this car and dreaded it when I had friends over because my house was so different from all my other friends. It was small, old, and falling apart. I apologized for our car and our house to every friend that came over. I remember I had a girl come over once that I really liked and wanted to be her friend so badly, but after she got to my house, she called her Mom to come get her because she didn't like my house. I remember crying all night, and my Mom held me and cried with me. It makes me teary eyed just thinking about that. We couldn't help it.
I went to a tiny small white church in town my whole life. Like, that little white church out in the middle of the country? That was where I went. My Mom raised me to be a believer, and I couldn't imagine believing anything else. Growing up, I was a pretty tough cookie. Emotional sometimes, but tough. I still managed to look past the "poor" and the "unfortunate" cards we were dealt, and wore my heart on my sleeve. I still managed to be happy. I wanted to be friends with everyone. I loved people! I had a desire to build relationships with people from a very young age.
When my Dad left us, my Mom struggled to support my brother and I, but somehow, she managed. She gave my brother and I everything. When Tommy Hifiger was cool and all my friends had 5 different colored Tommy Hilfiger Shirts? She would save every penny to make sure I at least got ONE name brand shirt so I wouldn't have to feel like an outcast. And y'all...I wore the mess out of my Red Tommy Hilfiger shirt. Like, I wore it every single week to the point it turned light pink because I washed it so many times. I had a lot of hand-me downs (holla!) and I embraced those clothes like I was on the runway! :) My Mom became my best friend through all of our struggles, because after my Dad left us...it was just my Mom, my brother, and me. After my brother went to college, it was just us two girls. My Mom tried her best to make sure I had "cool" clothes and the "cool" supplies in school because she knew that mattered to me.
My Mom? She always did without. She would make sure I got the name brand crayolas and not the cheap wax crayons that were $2.00 cheaper. She didn't want people to know how much we struggled. So appearance to her, was everything. She sewed A LOT of my outfits and made all of my halloween costumes. My Mom was so talented, and she never really knew it. She could turn the simplest things into something really COOL. Some people might say she spoiled me, but the only thing she spoiled me with was her time, her love, and her attention. That's more than any daughter could ever ask for. I may not have had a cookie cutter upbringing, but I honestly wouldn't trade it for the world. My Mom's vision for life, & her heart of gold was I guess, inherited to me down the line because my LOVE for life, people and creativity has always been there. She's always made me see the beauty in things, even when things weren't so beautiful.
As a little girl, I'd fall asleep with colors in my hand. I drawled and colored ALL the time. I loved arts & crafts time. LOVED it. Math? Pshhh, PLEASE. Give me some colored pencils, markers and colors , please. English was okay too. I didn't mind writing.
As I got into elementary school, the poster contests were my thing. If I didn't win them, I'd cry like a baby. I usually won them though, and it was more of a "I got first place, but I'm doing better next time" sort of mind set. I loved art in all forms.
I danced for 8 years. Tap, Jazz & Ballet. I loved dance. Mostly because I got to dance with my best friend, but shaking my tail feather to music...y'all...my soul was found out there in those dance conventions and school auditoriums. I loved to express myself in every artistic way that I knew how.
I played softball, basketball, volleyball growing up. I loved me some sports and I still do.
When I turned 11...I wanted to be a model. I went to an open call for Model Search America and I got a call back. I thought I was going to be America's Next Top Model, a show my Mom and I watched together ALL the time. This is where I found my love for the camera. I wanted to be in front of it. I wanted to take pictures ALL the time. I eventually went to a Top Model Call in Dallas and got one call back that ended up not being what we expected. ;)
I entered my very first pageant with the push from one of my favorite teachers and fellow dance Moms. She took me into her home for a weekend, taught me how to walk, taught me how to interview...and Surprisingly, and by the grace of God... I walked away with the crown the very first pageant I was ever in. Granted, it was just a county pageant, but my Mom stayed up for THREE nights in a row to make me a pageant dress. She put her blood, sweat and tears into this dress. And the look on her face when I walked away with the crown that night? Priceless. I also crowned by Rebecca Robinson, a girl I grew up dancing with, whom also later went on to be Miss Texas 2009. Pretty cool.
I entered a state pageant that spring (Miss National Pre-Teen Texas) and was #1 going into the top 10.
I made the Top 10...and all I needed to do was ace my on-stage question. What did I do? I froze, and answered something to the sound of WORD VOMIT. I immediately remembering the anxiety I had when it was time for the on stage question. I could always answer it in my head, but my delivery? It sucked big ones. I ended up not making the top 5 (for good reason) and met the most amazing group of ladies. I later entered a couple of other state pageants and placed top 5 in all of them. I couldn't ever get my onstage question right. After making the top 10 in the Miss Texas National Pre-Teen Pageant (with my best friend, Hilary might I add), we were automatically qualified to compete in Orlando, Florida for the title of Miss National Pre-Teen Princess. Boy, were we excited! We were going to compete with all of the other top 10 contestants from every state. Talk about a total shot in the dark, right? I think the fact that we were going to be in Florida for a WHOLE week and got to go to Disneyland and SeaWorld during this trip was a WIN WIN situation for sure.
Without going into too much detail (because this post is already REALLY long), this pageant was a HUGE, HUGE turning point in my life.
I remember that week being one of the best of my life. I loved every minute of it. Meeting girls from other states (whom I still talk to to this day :)), competing in talent, sportswear, and evening gown. The thing about these pageants though...they were scholarship pageants. If you won, you won scholarship money to go towards college. Your grades mattered. Your interview mattered. Nobody really wore make-up. Trust me, this wasn't your typical Honey BooBoo Pageant. It was place for girls to connect at a young age, gain self confidence, and most of all, HAVE FUN.
I remember the night before finals. It was Thanksgiving and my Mom said, "Shalyn, let's go to the bathroom before the line gets long."
As WEIRD and ODD as this is...I went into my stall and I didn't even have to go to the bathroom. I had a moment to myself, on the toilet, lol, away from my hotel room, away from my Mom, away from my best friend...just a moment to myself.
"God, if I could ever, ever ask anything from you in my entire, ENTIRE life...this would be it. I have never wanted to win a title more in my life. If I won, God, I would inspire these girls to be their best and I want to be a role model for them God, please God. This is my dream. I can do this."
I then fake flushed my toilet and went about my evening with all the girls.
The next day was finals. I was nervous, anxious and not confident. We did our opening numbers and then it was time to line up to call the Top 10. Name. Name. Name. Name. And our next contestant vying for the Title of Miss National Pre-Teen Princess IS....Shalyn Ming! (My maiden name) haha."
Y'all. I about peed my pants right then and there. I walked up and stood in line and tried so hard to hold back the tears. They called us back into a room and had us sit there and wait to go on stage to do a final walk and then answer the dreaded...dare I say it...FINAL QUESTION. I couldn't see my Mom and have her calm me down. I hated the final question. I knew I was going to blow it at Nationals and I had no way to prevent it, I thought!
Then it was my turn. I literally remember turning around this plant on stage and just holding back tears. I couldn't believe I made the Top 10 at Nationals. ME? ME!? This was such a big deal to me, y'all. I could feel that lump in my throat and I tried desperately to hold it back.
"Hi Shalyn, How are you doing?"
"Are you having fun!?"
"Now Shalyn I have a question for you, are you ready!?"
"Yes sir (Lump was getting bigger)"
"Shalyn, if you could be any age...what age would YOU be...and WHY?"
"(Insert quivery voice)If I could be any age, I'd be the age I'm at now, which is age 12...because I'm having THE TIME OF MY LIFE!"
The crowd went silent and then everyone clapped and cheered. Towards the end of my answer I thought, WHOA. I didn't blow it. I didn't blow it!?
We then had to wait for all the state queens to go (the 1st place winners from all the states that were in a different division) and finally it was time to call the winners.
I remember it getting down to the First Runner Up and my name still hadn't been called. I still wasn't sure if I had won, because I didn't know the other girls answers...but my friend Brittany and I joined hands in the middle and we closed our eyes. (Typical, I know!)
"The NEW MISS NATIONAL PRE-TEEN PRINCESS 1999 IS..........
FROM THE STATE OF TEXASSSS, SHALYN MING!"
I totally had a pageant moment y'all. AND they're real. Yes, the tears are real. Make fun of me all you want! :) HAHA.
This moment meant so much to me as corny as this all is. It was a big deal for a 12 year old okay? :) I worked hard in school so I'd have good grades for these pageants. I stayed polite to every girl there that weekend and stayed true to myself. I never compared myself, and I genuinely was just happy to be there.
After that night, my life changed forever. I got to go to watch THE Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey and meet ALL of the Miss America's. I traveled that WHOLE summer to 8 different states emceeing state pageants, helping lead the girls, talking to the girls, and more or less, being a role model. I met so many wonderful, talented, and beautiful girls who all grew up to go on to Miss America, AND Miss USA. I've probably seen 20 girls that I competed with in dance or in pageants grow up to either BE Miss America, Miss USA, or became a closer runner-up.
Hello white face!? Haha.
Do you know how awesome it is to see these girls going for their dreams? I too wanted to grow up to be Miss America, but that never happened for me. My mamaw would constantly remind me when she would see me that I could have gone all the way, and would tell me how disappointed she was that I never went for it.
At the age of 13-14 my body changed. I was a late bloomer, but when I bloomed, boy...I BLOOMED. I got really insecure. My new "womanly" figure wasn't growing into me. It just came overnight and took over world and took any self esteem I had. I thought I was fat, and I really struggled with my self image. I went from one of the smallest girls in the school, to one of the chubbier girls. I ate right, I was active, but my body thought otherwise.
My Mom and I moved to Northern California in the 8th grade and I endured complete culture shock. I got made fun of my girls because I was "nice", I had an "accent" and because I wore skirts and dresses. However, as time told, people got to know me and realized I was in fact genuine. I made friends, still made good grades, had good relationships with my teachers, I was involved in student council, prom and homecoming committees, volleyball, softball, basketball, and I was even Homecoming Queen. I did okay. I did, but I fell out of love with who I was physically and drowned myself in feeling sorry for the way I started to look. I constantly struggled with my appearance and self esteem even though I probably fooled a lot of people.
My senior year of high school, I signed up for my next pageant. I wanted to dive in that world again, but sadly, the system had changed dramatically. It wasn't really about your grades as much. I mean it was, but you had to be a barbie doll. I still went for it, and drove down to Los Angeles with my Mom to compete for the Miss Teenage California title. It was a long weekend, and I felt out of place the whole time. I remember constantly comparing my body to other girls and I guess my lack of self esteem was evident.
I didn't place in the Top 10, the worst I'd ever done in a pageant, but deep down I think I knew I wasn't going to place at all, because I was at such a bad place with myself. My roommate for that weekend was gorgeous. Her name was Jenni and she went on to win the Miss California pageant later down the road and placed 1st runner up at Miss America. The first runner up that weekend was who later went on to win Miss California USA and placed top 5 at Miss USA. She also dated Michael Phelps. So, at least I can say I met two inspirational ladies that weekend. :)
The thing I realized that weekend was that I had a lot of work to do on myself. Where was this girl that wanted to help others? I lost my passion to help. I was a lost soul going through the motions of high school and putting a smile on my face. I had a lot of friends and I was involved in everything, but inside, I felt defeated. I constantly competed with myself and kept telling myself that I wasn't enough. I felt kind of like I had lived up to my potential. "What was my purpose in life?" I even at one point wanted to be an actress...and I even went to a couple of auditions...but they must have seen the lack of confidence there too that I so desperately had forgotten. I got a couple of call backs but in the end, it never really went past that.
After graduating high school, I moved back to Texas. I went to Sam Houston State University, and slowly, but surely, I found myself again. Sure, I had weight struggles, and I switched my major halfway through college because I finally figured out that I had to do what I loved. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to make a change in my life. It was time I slapped myself in the face and lived a beautiful life, no matter what obstacles were in front of me.
In college, I met Andrew (DDHP) and he too dealt with my insecurities. I even went through a time where I felt like he was TOO good for me. I would tell him that he needed to find someone who was pretty and skinny and he basically just looked at me like I was on crack or something. That boy loved me for me. Even through weight gain. Even through my PMS. He told me he loved my heart and that was what did it for him. He had never in his life met someone who valued relationships, love, and people the way I did. I never, ever saw this, but he did. All this time, I spent feeling down on myself, he was there to remind me that I was enough and more. He made me realize that I had something to offer, and that was my heart.
We later got engaged (HOLLA!), and I graduated in August of 2008. He still had a semester at Texas A&M, so I moved to College Station to work until we got married in March. I had to find a job, and well, wedding planning was a blast. I KNEW I loved the weddings. And along this entire story I just told you...well, I had about a million little plastic kodak cameras to capture every single moment. I found JOY in life and I wanted to take pictures every second I could.
I was always THAT girl that ALWAYS had a camera. I'd use my allowance ($5.00 to $10.00) to buy a disposable camera and then wait to develop the film as soon as I got my next allowance. It was a repetitive cycle. I took pictures of my friends and would have them over ALL the time to do "Glamour Shots." I'd do their hair and make-up and then take them outside to take pictures by the tree in our backyard. I was THAT professional, y'all! We couldn't wait to ride our bikes down to the pharmacy (where my Mom also worked) to see if the mail guy had dropped off the prints. We were impatient what can I say? :) When I graduated high school, I won a digital camera at Project Graduation. My step-dad at the time had also bought me my first Fujifilm Digital camera, and boy was it COOL! I took pictures like it was going out of business. People got annoyed all the time, but did I care? Not one bit.
During my time in College Station, I had seen a bridal magazine at one of the little wedding shops in downtown Bryan, Texas. I needed a job BAD and so I called up the lady that was listed in the magazine as the Regional Advertiser. She was pleasantly impressed that I had just picked up a magazine, called her and asked for a job. I did. I called her up, met up with the president of the magazine at a bridal show, and got the job. I was a Regional Director for a bridal magazine. How cool was that job for just being out of college? They even let me talk about our story in the magazine too, which to me, was really cool!
The only downfall? It was right when the economy SANK and NOBODY wanted to buy anything. I spent HOURS AND HOURS a day trying to sell a magazine that nobody wanted to buy. If I didn't sell a magazine...then guess what? I didn't make any money. It was all sales commission. SO, since I had only made $900 in 6 months (I'm not lying...you read that right), I had to find a way to make some money on the side. Fortunately, I found a job with a creative company that branded businesses. I was her assistant and handled e-mails and such, and it was a cool job. But, then I got married (with the help of my pageant scholarship money!), and Drew and I got back from our honeymoon and moved to Austin to start our lives.
When I got to Austin, I looked for a job for THREE months. During this time, my beautiful niece had asked me to take her senior portraits (DUH!) and after my first official photoshoot...I walked away feeling like I had found my passion...like a new person. Shalyn...WHY are you just now figuring this out!? I had mentioned the photography business about a year before we got married, but it was just a thought. I was scared and I wasn't confident enough to know if this was what I'd be good at.
I continued to work for the marketing company, but quickly learned that photography & being in the creative business was where my passion was.
If you've read this far...thank you. I know it's rather lengthy, but I just basically covered 23 years of my life. Not ALL of it, bc I left some out for the sake of privacy, but I feel pretty exposed today. And, guess what? It kinda feels good.
I just felt like sharing a bit of my past with y'all...bad hair, puffy sleeves, and all.
If you made it this far, I then you're probably somebody I want to know. :)
I will be back soon to talk about Part II which will address my leap of faith, learning to believe in myself again, and of course, getting "started" into the photography world.
Love you guys SO much!