You know that moment when you give someone a compliment and their immediate reaction is to tell you how fat they're feeling that day? Or when you're eating an amazing meal and the person across from you is eating the same thing but talking about how they should have gotten a salad? Or when someone smiles at you in that way that makes you feel special, only to have them say that they are so disgusted by their yellowing teeth?
How do you feel when absorbing these words spoken by someone else? I feel...dampened. I feel sad. I feel like the wind was let out of my tires. And if I let myself spiral, I feel incredibly insecure in that person's presence. Because you know what? Whenever anyone makes negative comments about their own body in my presence, I have to try so darn hard not to let myself criticize my own body, too. I definitely fall victim to this kind of self-depreciation frequently, but it's almost worse when it's brought on by someone else. It's as if the other person's lens of criticism is a communicable disease, and they just sneezed into my coffee.
And folks, this happens. All. The. Time. I photograph people (and their perfectly imperfect bodies) for a living. I see every type of person, at every level of fitness, at every degree of self-acceptance. And let me be the first to tell you: Body acceptance and body excellence are rarely aligned. I have photographed beautiful (and I mean this is in the objective, THE WORLD MUST AGREE THAT THEY ARE GORGEOUS kind of way) people who have the lowest opinions of their physical appearance.
I truly hope that through my job I can make an impact on people's impressions of themselves. I hope that holding a standard of positivity in my studio helps increase positive mental anecdotes, even for just the short time we’re together. But the truth is, that's not my work to do. That work happens before people arrive and after they leave the studio, and when they see the photos, and whether they choose to tear themselves apart or affirm their beauty and value.
That said, I take a lot of pride in being able to have a small but very real effect on the self-image of the people who walk through my doors. The majority of my clients walk in willing to love themselves. They walk into my space ready to feel good and take that chance and be vulnerable in front of the camera. We are all on the path to self-acceptance. No one is perfect. I just ask that people show up willing to try. I am so lucky to have so many people show up for this challenge and affirm that I’m on the right path. But dammit, I’d be lying if I said I wasn't exhausted by the few people who choose to be so unnecessarily hard on themselves.
If we’re being honest, when I’m in the presence of a critical person, I’m ten times harder on myself. All my body insecurities light up and I spiral down into my list of things I wish I had the time, the motivation, and the budget to change. I begin to obsess about my failures, my daily struggles and my bad moments in front of the mirror. It's like choosing to stand in front of a bully and get punched in the gut over and over again. And I don’t want to live there.
I am far from perfect, I have so much to work toward, but I refuse to think less of myself in the meantime. I refuse to think of myself as a project, as something not yet complete and whole and worthwhile. Because, newsflash, that will never happen to me. (And I believe that it rarely happens to anyone.) I don’t have time for perfect. I am many more important things than a dress size or a number on a scale: I am a business owner, a boss, a best friend, a daughter, and a leader. I don’t have the time to also be perfect. What I can do is be my best. I can hold myself accountable. I can be kind to myself every day. Because if I am kind to myself, the world will follow my lead.