One hundred Facebook comments can mean the end of friendships or the beginning of an expansive art project. In writer Leslie Rose’s case, she’d been suffering symptoms like severe fatigue and muscle cramps, even a stretch of three weeks of complete immobility, from what turned out to be fibromyalgia. That’s when a well-intentioned friend told the 36-year-old, “But you look fine.”
“I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t say I was ugly. I said I was in pain,” Rose recalls.
Rose felt unheard and misunderstood. The seemingly well-meaning remark really hurt. So she took to the social media platform with a simple request: If you are suffering from an invisible illness, post a selfie, and nothing else.
The response was overwhelming, and soon “The Picture of Health” was born with a photo exhibit event at The Healthcare Gallery.
Rose, who works in public relations at Baton Rouge Community College and is the founder of CreActiv, has loved photography since she was 7, and so she began taking portraits of anyone who wanted to participate. The project is open to new subjects through May 2020.
Rose gives grace and patience to those who engage with her camera. How much or how little they reveal to the camera or to her is completely their choice. Some display their extensive arrays of medication bottles. Some smile boldly.
“There are always challenging days, but knowing your why is your motivating factor and something you can always fall back on,” Rose says.
Though the Xavier alumna is a veteran journalist, “The Picture of Health” is less an investigative dig into the lives of those in pain and more a therapeutic platform for silent sufferers to share and connect with others who can learn to be more empathetic to those with invisible illnesses.
“My natural inclination is to ask, ‘What can I write about this?’ but it felt apparent that a simple portrait and a quote from each person was the best way to go,” Rose says. “So I’m not telling anyone’s story or being anyone’s voice. This is about enabling people to share their own stories.”
And if Rose had never been diagnosed with fibromyalgia? She might never have understood the need for such a dialogue.
There’s a saying in the spoken-word poetry culture, with which she and her poet husband Donney are integrally involved in Baton Rouge, that comes to mind for Rose when she thinks of the communal creative project that bloomed this year from the soil of her illness.
Like a commanding poetry performance pouring from a stage, the words strike at the heart of what it means to be inspired in the arts, and the place in which Rose has allowed her new creative path to thrive.
“You often hear, ‘You’re either spoken to or spoken through,’” Rose says. “And this is absolutely a project where I feel like I’m being spoken through. ‘The Picture of Health’ is going to do what it’s going to do. I’m only the messenger.”