What I learned about my body from taking portraits of others.

There’s nothing quite as liberating as being naked and being ok with it. For those of you who are cringing and groaning, that’s probably because somewhere in your mind you are harbouring ill feelings toward your body. I can hear your thoughts: “I’m too fat. My thighs touch. My boobs sag. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. What if I don’t look the same as the others? I have scars. You can see my ribs. I have no bum. My boobs are like grapes with nipples.”

Oh ladies (said in my sympathetic, soft voice) … let me tell you something.
Listen closely, promise?

It is time that you stop talking negatively to yourself about your body. It is time that we all stop talking negatively about other people’s bodies. It is time for you to renew the self confidence you had when you were two or three and everything was better when you ran around naked.

No matter what it is that you don’t like about your body, I can almost guarantee that you don’t like it because the media has told you (or your parents who then told you) something else is more beautiful. I can also guarantee that you are not the only one with the same concerns. Although all of our bodies are unique, we all have the same parts. Some are bigger or smaller than others, some are dark, some light. Some parts have become ill and have scars, battle wounds or angel kisses. And you know what the best part is? Those are your unique traits! If you tell other people these traits are ugly, they will probably commiserate with you about their own body ‘faults’. But, what if instead of talking negatively about our bodies we just loved them for what they are? Imagine if instead of saying, ‘Oh I hate this birthmark on my right shoulder because I can’t get a tattoo there.’ you say ‘That’s my mark! I can’t be mistaken for anyone else!’ What if instead of telling the world you are ugly and not good enough, you were to hold your head up high and believe that you are good enough and that your body does not define you?

It is time to love your body ladies. The sooner you stop criticizing your own body, the sooner you will stop wondering what everyone else is thinking about your body. Besides, do you really think they are worried about your body when they have their own insecurities to worry about?

Alright, I know that there’s this whole ‘fat-shaming’ society thing happening and yes, sometimes people can be cruel and criticize others. I am aware this exists. But ladies, don’t be part of it! Don’t fat-shame yourself, your friends or your neighbours. Don’t make comments on someone’s weight (heavy or light) on the street. It’s really that simple.

Just. Don’t. Do. It.

And, we’re all adults here … at least I think! So, when your friend starts talking badly about her own body, or that of someone else … don’t agree, don’t get wrapped up in the game, don’t respond with your own faults … STOP HER! It may be difficult at first, but just stop her. Politely tell her that you don’t feel right talking about someone else’s body as you wouldn’t want them talking about yours. Tell her that you’re trying to look at your body more positively and maybe you should both work on it together. Make a love-your-body pact! #LoveYourBodyPact

It’s a movement folks.

The first step is to recognize it when it happens. Whether you are saying negative things to yourself or you have friends who talk about their own bodies negatively. Be aware of this.

Once you are aware of this you’ll be amazed at how often it happens. Not monthly, not weekly, not once a day. You’ll hear it over and over and over.

Once you see how often it happens and how nothing good comes out of saying bad things, then maybe you’ll stop those thoughts in their tracks. Maybe you’ll meekly tell your friends that you don’t want to talk that way anymore.

Time will pass and you’ll grow stronger because you aren’t beating yourself down all the time. Your self-confidence will improve. The next thing you know, you won’t have to stop yourself from talking badly about your body because bad thoughts will rarely cross your mind.

And then … you won’t be so meek when your friends are talking negatively because you won’t want to let that negativity into your life.

Eventually, you’ll make a positive change in the way your friends see their bodies.

Imagine if we could all just do that, one little bit at a time. Support one another with positivity. Imagine what your daughters and the young girls of the world would think? What if they never ever learned from you and I, that their bodies aren’t good enough. Because you know what? That is something that is taught, not something that you are born with. No baby cries because their tummy sticks out or they have a cow lick. Four year olds run around naked because they haven’t learned shame of their body yet.

Yes, I know, everyone can’t run around naked all the time, but I think there are ways to teach your kids about this without making them ashamed of their bodies.

I’m not a skinny person. This is subjective, of course. It also depends on my (and your) definition of skinny. I also don’t consider myself fat. Well, quite honestly, I don’t consider my body to be anything except my body. I’ve been called ‘gordita’ (chubby in Spanish) in a beautiful and loving way, sexy, and most recently, I was told in Turkey that I am beautiful, but I would be very beautiful if I lost 20 kilos. Yes, folks, someone felt the need to portray their beauty standards directly on me. Luckily I don’t care if she thinks I’m beautiful. That’s the benefit of being self confident. My body is only important to me. Hmmm … interesting concept isn’t it?

I, like many of you, have been up and down in weight all my life. I played sports all throughout school and was good at them. I won lots of awards, played on championship teams and was always active. Somehow, I was still not skinny like many of my team mates.

I struggled with uniforms that didn’t fit properly because my bosom was too big or my legs too thick. Nothing like making someone feel self conscious by making them wear a uniform that’s too small for them! And, even worse, having the largest uniform available for the team and it still not being large enough. And ladies, I was really not that big! I played basketball and volleyball like a champ.

Jump forward a few years to when I was in my early 20’s and started my photography business. I was busy taking family portraits, children’s portraits and wedding photos. I began to see, very clearly that people generally disliked having their photo taken. Why? Well, because it was never good enough. Even if it was a beautiful photo of them, they wished they could look like someone else. Almost always stemming from someone wanting to be a thinner version of themselves because of course that is more beautiful! *sarcasm*

As the years wore on, this attitude tugged at my heart and eventually I couldn’t keep ignoring it. The more women would tell me to take 20 lbs off them in photoshop or to get the best angle to get rid of their double chin, the more I wanted to cry for them. What kind of life is it to live if you don’t believe in your own beauty? And, for those skinnier than me, who do you think you are complaining about being fat to someone who weighs 40 lbs more than you? At first, that hurt me. If you think you’re fat, you must think I’m a disgusting blob! And then I realized their opinions of their bodies had nothing to do with my body, nor did it change the way I see my body. This was a very big life lesson!

I can remember being frustrated with so many women during my photo shoot days. They had hired me to be a professional photographer and capture their family (or business shots … whatever the case). They were paying me to take photos of them. About 95% of the time, before I ever lifted my camera to even get light readings, the women were telling me ‘Oh. I hate having my photo taken. I never look good in photos.” Followed by one of the following qualifying statements, “I have a double chin. I don’t want my freckles to show. Make sure I look skinny. You can edit to take 20 lbs off right?”

80% of the time when I showed them their photos they were pleasantly surprised with them (and unedited at that!) and relaxed for the rest of the session. The other 20% of the time were women who either didn’t care what their photo looked like because it wasn’t important, or who had already made up their minds that it would be so ugly that they didn’t even want to look. If you are one of those women, please, give yourself a break. Beauty is so much more than outward appearance.

In the midst of all of that, I told myself I would never ever point out my shortcomings or body criticisms to someone else. For one, I don’t want to talk negatively to, or about myself. And two, it makes other people uncomfortable when you talk about yourself negatively! From that point forward, I would not be ashamed of my body, I would not talk negatively to myself and I would walk proud in the skin I am in. Seven or eight years later, I still live by this rule. Sure I slip sometimes, but I overcome it. Sure there are times when I would like to lose some weight, but if I choose to do that, it is for my health and comfort, not to look beautiful for someone else. There is a big difference.

I also decided that if someone was kind enough to give me a compliment, I would accept that compliment with a ‘thank you’. No more of this ‘Aw, no. I’m ugly’ crap. It really isn’t that difficult to bite your tongue, swallow those negative thoughts and spit out ‘Thank you.’ Once you get used to it, amazingly you’ll get more compliments. Funny how when someone compliments you and you react negatively, they aren’t as likely to compliment you again. How backwards are we women who want others to see us as beautiful and then we turn our backs when they tell us what we wanted to hear?

One day, I had had enough with women bullying themselves and dragging me into it.

My polite, politically correct statement for nearly every woman I ever worked with who expressed her concerns about having her photo taken was as follows, “I am a profesional, I will use the best lighting and angles to make sure you look your best.”

Inside my head and my heart I was screaming. “No, I am not going to stroke your ego. No, I am not going to argue with you that you aren’t too fat or too skinny. No, I am not going to commiserate with you that your body isn’t perfect. What is it that you want from me? If I tell you that you are beautiful you will only deny it. Oh, right … you want a beautiful photo! Well, let me see if I can help with that because I cannot be your psychologist.”

Eventually, I started explaining to women, “If I tell you there is an elephant to your left, would you look for it?”
“Yes,” they all replied.
“If I put a ball cap on right now and then asked you if my hair was natural or died and if I had roots, would you know the answer?”
“Um, probably not,” most of them would say.
“Well, I want to share a little life lesson with you to put you at ease. I am a professional photographer, who you have trusted to capture beautiful photos for you. I am going to do my best, as I understand lighting and techniques that are great for portraits. It is my job to capture the best you; a photo you are happy with when we are done, not one to cringe at. I am not here to take bad photos of you and I’m not just pointing and shooting like snap shots that your friends take. In order for me to do my job, the one that you are paying me for, I need you to be comfortable. I promise any photos that do not represent you beautifully, I will delete. Please, however, I want you to know this … If the first thing you point out to someone is all of your faults, what do you think they are going to see? Yes, that’s right, your faults. If you don’t want someone to focus on your faults, the best thing you can do is not point them out! It’s like saying ‘don’t look for a blue car’ and then all you can see are the blue cars on the streets. If you tell the world you are fat, they will see you in one of two ways, either fat, or insecure. If you say nothing, the world will see you as you. Even better, if you see yourself as beautiful, so will the world. I think you are beautiful. Now it’s your turn.”

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