This is a woman that I have photographed a couple of times. I have photographed her wedding and a few other sessions. When she wrote to me about it finally being the time to do a boudoir session (we had been playing with the idea for years), I had to know why NOW? What was it that finally gave her that push to get outside of herself and be vulnerable. What I wasn’t expecting was how much her answer would resonate with me. I truly believe she speaks for so many women:
“I hope you're enjoying the summer. It's been an incredible one for me, filled with lots of growth, and challenge, and dogs (of course!). I just incorporated yesterday as an LLC under my name. I'm officially a company, which seems weird. And I have a website, which is also weird.
My goal is to create opportunities for people (specifically those who identify as women) to truly experience connection, to each other and to themselves. I believe that we are our happiest, best selves when we feel that we belong and when we feel confident in our own inner voice.
This summer I finally pulled Brene Brown's Daring Greatly off my bookshelf. I've loved other books she's written, and I'd started this one a few times but hadn't made much headway. Reading through it this time has given me priceless takeaways and lessons that have been exactly what I need right now. For example: In terms of shame, "the primary trigger for women, in terms of its power and universality, is ... how we look". As I approach my 30th birthday, I've been really thinking about how much I think about how I look.
Earlier this year I had begun to notice the judgment and shame I feel around my body. I was hiding myself by covering up in baggier clothing, hating the things I wore and hating how my body looked. One night, looking through old pictures of myself in college and thinking "how great I looked back then", I remembered that I was just as uncomfortable in my body then as I was now. Even when I had a "great" body I didn't like it, let alone love it.
So, approaching the big 3-0, I've been working through some strategies to feel better about my body. And they might not be what you expect!
I'm eating what I like
I'm showing more skin
I'm celebrating my body as is
Yup! In terms of building my body confidence, I've decided to focus not on what I can to do make my body "better", but to confront and work through the emotional blocks that are separating me from my body.
Eating what I like: This doesn't mean I'm eating queso dip all the time, but I am still eating queso dip. After trying lots of different types of diets and meal plans, I've learned this: I need food to be fun. I generally feel better about myself when I'm eating plant-based foods, but sometimes I want some heavy dairy intake (ice cream and cheese are my favorite types!) and sometimes my body craves a hamburger. And I will ALWAYS eat any food offered to me in friendship and love (think birthday cake, dinner cooked by a friend, cookies brought into the office to share).
The biggest challenge with this: figuring out what I really want. I've started to notice that lots of times when I'm craving food, especially the kind that's definitely not what I need, I'm normally feeling really tired, bored, or frustrated. Eating a BigMac won't make my body feel good, and, really, it won't help me be less bored or tired either. I'm starting to become more aware of this and learning when I *actually* want the food.
Showing more skin: Last summer I was feeling so self-conscious that I got rid of all my two-piece swimsuits. I only wore one-pieces because I was afraid of showing my belly. Even when I wore the one-piece bathing suits, though, I still felt too big. I didn't feel like me. Instead of feeling free and playful, two emotions I associate with summer and beach playtime, I felt overly conscious of my body shame. I went to the beach less and wore cover-ups whenever I was out by a pool or by the beach. I was actually trading my physical comfort and enjoyment away for the sake of not exposing my midriff!
This summer: the two-piece returns! My belly isn't any smaller. I don't have a "beach body". But I'm refusing to believe that my body is something that needs to be hidden away. I'm also starting to wear fewer clothes while teaching and taking hot yoga classes or running outside. Instead of my leggings and baggy tank-tops uniform, I'm breaking out some of the shorts and adorable sports bras I've been covering up. When I hear the old whispers of "you're not fit enough to wear that" bubble up from inside, I'm learning to respond with patience and love. I tell myself my body is the vessel through which I can interact with the world. Its shape doesn't change that.
Celebrating my body: This one has been the hardest. Since I got married I've wanted to do a boudoir photo shoot to surprise my husband. But I kept feeling that I wasn't "ready". I should diet, work out more, and then I'd be willing to pay the money to have professional photos taken to document my "good" body. I was literally stopping myself from doing what I wanted because I didn't think my body was worth it. When I realized that, I reached out to a wonderful photographer who I trust. I told her I wanted to do this for myself and for my body, to acknowledge that I am worth it, and I am beautiful, and to have photos to look back at when I was feeling those negative voices act up.
The actual experience was amazing and empowering, but leading up to it I was a wreck. My old fears were saying that I should get a haircut, I should work out every day and diet hardcore the week before the shoot. But I started being able to talk back. I wanted to look like me. When I looked back at the photographs I wanted to feel good about ME, not good about the pictures and still harnessing judgment and anger at my normal self. I just saw some of the first proofs, and it is exactly what I thought it would be: hard to look at initially, but incredibly powerful and beautiful.
I still feel shame around my body, but I'm learning and getting better at answering the judgemental voices in my head with kindness and love. I know that I have lots more room to grow here, and I'm excited for the process to continue!
What are some of the ways you celebrate your body? How do you respond to body shame, from within and from without? I'd love to keep this conversation going!”