My Perfect Portrait

When Ken and I first married (eights years ago next month!), I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of responsibility. It was as if by signing a marriage license, I’d signed a contract for a slew of household roles: the chef, the hostess, the maid, the mother (eventually), the butler, the baker, the candlestick maker. You get the idea. The crazy thing, of course, is how self-imposed each of these expectations were. Ken and I both held full-time jobs in Los Angeles, working similar hours and sharing chores and giving and taking until we’d established a somewhat fluid groove as husband and wife.


And still, even then, I’d felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. With every wrinkled pant, I felt a similar fold in my heart. It was as if I’d painted a perfect portrait of a perfect wife, and our tiny apartment mirror – smudged from my lack of home ec sensibilities – didn’t reflect that perfect portrait.


Naturally, I love this project from Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian.  Shortly after marrying her husband, she created the series to explore the expectations surrounding traditional gender roles. Household objects typically associated with wifely duties – from cleaning gloves to irons to brooms – veil the woman’s face, creating a skewed sense of identity and questioning the idea of self-esteem and self-worth. Where do our duties begin and our identities end?


It’s an issue worth navigating for sure. As a working mother who still can’t seem to remember to switch the wet clothes to the dryer or water the plants or tear down those wretched cardboard boxes for recycling, I’m often battling a bit of guilt for my non-domestic abilities.


But then I remember this: to me, a lazy afternoon in fresh-cut grass smells better than the lemony scent of perfectly dusted shelving. Cuddles from my daughter are warmer than laundered socks. Laughter ringing through the hallway of our home is a far greater sound than the muffled, productive hum of a fully loaded dishwasher.


I feel grateful to to be able to choose what my reflection looks like. And sure, my portrait might not showcase detergent or knitting needles or shoe polish. But it does showcase love and joy and creative fulfillment – lazy afternoons and great-smelling books and yes, take-out dinners. And to me, that’s a perfect portrait. Because it’s real and it’s true.

And it’s mine.

Image Credit: Shadi Ghadirian

p.s. The many roles women play.

  • I love how these seem to have hidden housework behind a professional, put together self. It’s exactly what you were talking about: working a full time job but still feeling all this self-imposed pressure to keep the perfect house. I’m glad women have more choices, and I hope that we just avoid feeling the pressure to be perfect at everything. Beautiful post — made my day. :)

  • Waw, those pictures are really confronting. And your words are again spot on. Forget the wet clothes in the washing machine -check, forget watering the plants -check, cardboardboxes stapling in the hallway -check,… :-). You knwo what? I feel a lot better about this since we have a cleaning help 4 h a week. When I come home from work on wednesday, as today, the house is clean and the ironing is done. To me that’s such a relief.

    • Oh, gosh, yes! It’s such a great feeling to have a tidy house, and I love that you’ve found a nice balance in yours! :)

  • Awesome. & Inspiring. I hate having my photo taken so I love it!! My roommate had to do self-portrait for her photo class so I will share this with her to see what she thinks…

  • Having lived in Iran (as a child for a year, before the Shah’s ousting), I recognize a woman in a chador. She doesn’t even get to have a face in these photos. A very strong statement for sure that goes beyond cultures.


  • It’s interesting how on one hand, women are so trapped in this image of the perfect housewives and in the other, having to look either hot and sexual or elegant and immaculate, but always available. And a lot of times, we are the ones who auto-impose those things on ourselves. We have to learn not to assume what we see in the media as the truth.

  • This is such a lovely project and a great reminder that there are more important things than keeping a clean house. I feel like I am constantly disappointing not only my own expectations of being a good home maker but the also failing to meet the standards I have seen growing up in my mother and grandmother’s homes. Then I take a step back and realize that if my husband and baby have no complaints why should I? The things that need to get done will get done and the rest can wait for another day.

    • Amen, amen! I often ask my mother-in-law how she managed to get it all finished, and she boldly admits there was a trade-off. The chores were done, but she didn’t get to connect with her kids as often as she’d like. It’s all a matter of making the choices that work for you/your family, I suppose!

  • i have been wrestling with the subject of this post for a while, but not because of the same reasons as everyone else. i cried and cried to my fiance earlier this week because i love to be domestic. i love cooking and laundry and cleaning. and i feel bad for it. i feel as though those are inadequate or frowned upon things to enjoy. because women should be EMPOWERED. they should have careers and be productive members of society. and if they do not do those things, they are not intelligent or ambitious or curious. it seems as though there is a lot of encouragement to “do what YOU want to do. you can do anything! you are free from the confines of domesticity.” because that is what you are supposed to be running away from. but what if that is what you like to do? then what kind of female human are you?

    • Oh love – I sooooo feel for you! You’re right – it’s definitely a new age of empowerment and I applaud you for recognizing that you love domesticity. You know what I think? Empowerment looks differently for everyone and if, by your definition, it means doing what you want to do, then by all means – I think you should use that empowerment to your benefit and get gosh darn domestic with your time. And then invite me for cookies, please, b/c I’ve burned my batch twice. ;)

  • There has been many a day where I have felt guilty over a creased shirt or a simple supper. I am quite undomesticated and although I work part time and also have my own business, I find myself feeling less adequate as a woman due to my inability to cook fabulous meals, iron, and do a PhD all at the same time. I look at others and say why can’t I do all that! My husband says I’m crazy and that I do so much but in my heart I keep wondering why I can’t be better. Why is it that we put so much pressure on ourselves!

  • A good friend and I– she having been married 11 years to my almost 3– have talked about this so many times.. this habit we have of putting such high expectations on ourselves. It really is a deliberate letting go and allowing ourselves, our homes and our families to be imperfect. So hard because as women, it’s been ingrained in us that those things are the very reflection of who we are! It can be such a struggle to not give in to believing that lie.

    I’ve explored this topic through several other artists’ work on my blog, thank you for sharing Shadi’s work! I’ll be adding her to my queue of artists to feature, most definitely.

    PS– It’s Wednesday and I just took out the bathroom rug that was put in the dryer on Friday! And we survived just fine without it. ;-)

    • Ha – I’m quite sure our bathroom rug is still at the bottom of the pile to be washed, so you’re a step ahead of me, dear!

      Loved hearing your perspective – thank you for sharing!

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