Over 12 years ago, I took the stage at the Miss USA pageant representing the District of Columbia. With that title came a year of photo shoots, appearances, and many glam sessions. That pageant was my first and only foray into the world of being glamorous.
When the title ended, I went back to my life as a civilian. I was back in the world of academia and work, far removed from a glam squad getting me ready for red carpets. As time went on, I felt more and more removed from the person I was when I wore a crown for a living. I missed her, but I tried to run away from the longing I had to feel connected to that glamour girl I once was.
I ran as far as I could, but then the pandemic lockdown hit. I was alone and forced to confront some of the things I'd been avoiding. I missed investing in myself and the fantastical version of me. I'd lied to myself for 10 years. I believed the pageant girl MacKenzie was an aberration. That it was never me, a temporary person I got to try on for a year, bequeathed to me by my pageant coach. My self-image was in a strange place.
Like a lot of people, I found myself scrolling through TikTok during this time. My For You Page landed on a page of a man portraying how shy and reserved his portraiture clients were when they came in for sessions. He contrasted it by showing the end result of their work together—and they turned out to be confident butterflies. As weeks went on, I saw this person show that anyone is photogenic, that there was confidence locked in every woman. It was an instant follow for David Suh.
After a few months of following him, I reached out about scheduling a shoot. I convinced myself I would be the only person in the history of his business to prove he couldn't make anyone look gorgeous. I rescheduled my shoot four times, trying to put it off until I felt I was perfect enough to deserve it.
But I couldn't put the shoot off anymore, so a few months ago, I shot with Suh.
Shooting with David is unlike anything I've ever done before. He's the king of uncovering confidence. I expected the room to be blaring with Beyoncé, phones ringing off the hook for bookings, and the organized chaos of a man building an empire. Instead, I was met with one of the most comforting and homey shoots I've ever had. An in-house barista made me one of the best matcha lattes I've ever had, my clothes were steamed, and my makeup started with a relaxing facial massage. Unleashing my confidence through comfort was obviously the name of the game.
Suh shoots happen without mirrors—you mirror David. David has a background in dance. Feeling so graceful and soft, I can credit my posing coach and photographer. Each look was assigned three words of my choosing. The most confidence-boosting part of the shoot? There was no yelling, no critiquing in real-time, and no showing me the images until David felt I was ready to see them.
When I interviewed Suh and mentioned the calming energy of the shoot, he says, "I really pride myself in being able to create that space, that beautiful introspective safe space for anyone. … For them to craft their inner Lizzo and then bring it out, you know? It's how can we have lots of love and care, craft that voice and competence, and bring it out. And I pride myself in being able to do that."
In all the photoshoots I've done, I've never had a photographer allow me to relax, be myself, and just shoot the shit. If I could wave a magic wand I'd give every person, especially those of us struggling with our self-confidence, the chance to shoot with David. It says a lot about Suh, that his dream client is the average person. Even in a fantasy situation, it isn't J.Lo, it's you reading this article.
Although he doesn't see the parallel, I found it profound that he started his photography career taking pictures in Seoul of discarded objects around the city as a street photographer. I consider this a superhero origin story for seeing something beautiful in something forgotten.
Then his street photography transformed into portraiture. "When a friend of mine and or any classmate would take a photo I took of them and tag them on Facebook and make it their new profile picture that would just bring me the most joy," Suh says. "And then on the opposite side of that, what made me really confused and sad was when someone would say, 'Hey, can you untag me from that?' And then I realized more of my girlfriends would personally message me saying 'Hey, like, I look blank here. Can you take me off?' Or my sister saying, 'Oh my gosh, do I look big here?' And I just couldn't understand that, which is where it really opened up my eyes to understanding the beauty standard that is different for women, especially in Korea. I was like, 'Wow, there's so much for me to learn, and I don't know about,' and that's really where I got into portraits and helping people see their beauty."
It's clear from watching Suh's content or being on set with him that he infuses joy in his movement to help people see the beauty in themselves. Heavy emphasis on "themselves." Every client can bring their own vision to life, every client can wear whatever they want, and your experience is unique to you. One subject that I love that David touches on in his TikToks is that there's no such thing as masculine or feminine posing. It's about the energy you want to exude.
"When we make the tie of posing being a way of communicating, you can truly communicate however we want, without the segregation of gender and stuff," he says. "So I always say, at the end of the day, it's a spectrum. What are you trying to communicate? Are you trying to be really soft and tender? Are you trying to be really cool and rigid? Powerful? You can be everything in between and anyone can do that. No matter how you identify."
If there's one thing that David could tell you about your beauty, it would be this: "Your idea of you not being photogenic is written by other people. It's taught by other people. It's not an idea that you came up with by yourself. At the end of the day, you have to know that you are inherently beautiful, you owe it to yourself to see your beauty. … It's your choice, you have to see your beauty. And you owe it to yourself honestly to change that for yourself and for once in your life embark on a journey to show yourself that."
I used to chuckle to myself when Suh would show clients coming in and ordering wall art-size prints of themselves to put up. I assumed you either had to be a narcissist or a supermodel to even want a photo like that of yourself. But I'm now the proud owner of two wall art-size photos of myself. Those photos are of me at this moment, not 12 years ago when I thought I deserved that kind of attention.
I left my session with David with something I didn't expect, a renewed relationship with myself. Thank you, David, for reintroducing me to MacKenzie Green, she's pretty amazing, and I'm not letting her get away again.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions.
This Founder Shares Why We Should Start Celebrating Rest
Burnout is nothing to be proud of.
By Kia Topps
Why Dr. Deepika Chopra Believes that Optimism is Resiliency
Why you should start embracing every feeling.
By Kia Topps
11 Things to Do If You're Dealing With Anxiety at Work
These can help.
By Casey Clark
Here's Why I Make Time for "Play" Every Day—and Why You Should Too
It's one of the best things you can do for yourself.
By MacKenzie Green
How to Choose a Plant Based on Your Personality Type
Do you have a green thumb?
By Sarah Yang
If You're Super Stressed Out, These 17 Things Can Make You Feel Better
By Sarah Yang
I Tried Pottery Classes as a Way to Better My Mental Health—Here's What Happened
I left my classes with more than I bargained for.
By Kia Topps
I Host a Mental Health Podcast—Here Are 5 Important Things I've Learned From It
Give Been Better… HBU? a listen.
By Sarah Yang