A great, relatable question came in over email recently and I thought you might like to hear the response!
I recently received professional photos from a happy family event that took place a few weeks ago. The photos are beautiful but I have to admit that I was very unhappy with my own appearance in the photos. I am trying not to be that person who 'hates all photos of themselves' and I'm also trying not to be that person who says to any photographer 'you've got photoshop right? you can make me skinny and make my nose smaller and my hair thicker?' I don't want to be that person! However....I'm having a hard time. What my brain knows to be true about why I am being so critical of myself and the way that I FEEL about myself in these photos are very incongruous. Do you have any tips for helping me to handle this internal struggle?
Hey there, thanks for this question! I know a lot of us can relate to having a surprise attack of body shame while looking at photos from a fun day. It’s painful and I’m sorry you’re going through it. Fortunately, there are lots of helpful ways to handle the internal struggle you're feeling.
Treat yourself with a heavy dose of compassion and let’s dig into a few ways to navigate a wave of body shame.
Remember that the cause of body shame is not your body. It’s not your weight, the shape of your nose, or the thickness of your hair that’s causing you shame, even if it feels that way. It’s not even the mindset that you’re not measuring up that’s to blame.
Feeling badly about your body isn’t your fault. The real culprit is our culture.
So for a moment, take a deep breath, and repeat after me: “My body is not a problem. Our culture’s rigid idea of beauty is the problem.”
When you’re giving yourself a hard time for being self-critical, please remember that body shame is an epidemic because our society is pressuring us nonstop to look a certain way. Not. Your. Fault.
Be gentle with yourself and let your body off the hook.
Unfortunately, as you’ve noticed, even though it’s not your fault, right now you are the one who has to do the work of untangling your feelings about your body from the lies our culture tells us.
Here’s something you can do right now to start feeling differently about your photos:
Connect with how you felt in the moment the photo was taken. What memories will be brightest 10 years from now when you look back at these photos? How you hated your nose or the fun you were having right before the photo was taken?
Look at the photo for a full minute (take your time with this!) and really let yourself feel the emotions that were present. You can probably see that emotion in your expression and body language.
Your body was there for you in that moment, allowing you to experience everything. You might jot down the best part of that day and how your body made it possible – your legs supporting you to stand and hold your kid, or your lungs letting you laugh at your brother’s bad jokes…
Let that memory fully sink in.
Then take this step toward accepting your body long-term:
Look at photos of people who don’t match the rigid beauty ideal. If you primarily see people who match our culture’s narrow picture of beautiful, successful, valuable bodies, it’s easier to stay in the headspace that you have to match that in photos and real life, too.
If that’s the case for you, why not broaden what you see! The things you’re judging about your body are probably features shared by some of your loved ones, strangers on the internet, people at the grocery store, and coworkers. Body diversity is normal and natural, and starting to see diversity beyond the rigid “beauty ideal,” and see it objectively, can help a lot with accepting your body.
You don’t have to fall in love with your body or anyone else’s. But what if you could eventually see the physical features you currently don’t like as neutral and ordinary?
It's probably going to take a little extra effort to really feel neutral, rather than just telling yourself to be neutral about your body. The internet is a handy way to get intentional about it.
In Lindy West’s book, Shrill (please read it if you haven’t yet; it’s fantastic!), she writes:
"Honestly, this “Where do you get your confidence?” chapter could be 16 words long. Because there was really only one step to my body acceptance: look at pictures of fat women on the internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable any more. That was the entire process.”
If you need a place to start, here are some awesome people to follow on social media who post photos, often with commentary about body acceptance: Dianne Bondy Virgie Tovar Jes Baker Megan Jayne Crabbe Ragen Chastain Sonya Renee Taylor Anna Guest-Jelley Ijeoma Oluo Amber Karnes Decolonizing Fitness Kelvin Davis Lea DeLaria Mama Caxx Bevin Branlandingham Harnaam Kaur Lizzo Alok V Menon #Fatgirlstraveling #Whatayogilookslike
Flood your world with body diversity and body acceptance messages! As you do this, you might keep in mind that our culture's beauty ideal, which ranks our bodies and their value according to appearance, harms all of us and it's more oppressive and dangerous to some bodies than others. Untangling your own beliefs from our culture's values about bodies matters.
While you’re taking in all of these new images, give yourself free license tofilter out any mediathat makes you feel badly about your body or anyone else's.
Finally, please be patient with yourself. Reprogramming how you feel about your body takes time. Think about the decades you’ve been exposed to the idea that our bodies have to fit one narrow view of perfection! Your internal struggle makes so much sense, but it’s not set in stone.
I hope you start to feel the joy in your photos soon! If you need more support, let's chat.