Now I have arrived at ripe ‘ol age of 32, I’ve finally come out of denial of the fact that I do actually have some kind of relationship with my own body. My body had not just been given to me to serve my ambition and house my thoughts, its as much a part of me, as my thinking and feeling self. Before I officially start this blog post, I thought it might be useful to mention I have never and hope to never suffer with any eating disorders, nor have I conducted and kind of negative behaviour towards my body as a result of the way I look. More than anything, I just wanted to discuss, in blog post format, what lead me to feeling brave and actually putting myself the other side of the camera and going through a similar process that potentially my clients would too.
I’ll start by addressing the picture of me at 17 that you can see here on the right.. I’m practically giving Mrs.Doyle (of Father Ted fame) a run for her money. I tried hard not to acknowledge this body, believing that my impeccable wit and cracking sense of humour, alongside my sensitive, caring nature would pull me through life and people would just think good things about me. Proper people pleaser. I shoved 90% of my physical presence under the carpet, so nobody could even see it. I dressed as if I’d made some kind effort, but not enough to draw any attention. If I’d worn baggy hoodies and jeans, people might have thought that I was trying to hide my body, when the reality was, I just didn’t really have any connection with it at all.
I looked like this pretty much up until the age of 30 (see image below), when I started to hit the gym and became more aware of my body and what it could/couldn’t do. I knew I wanted to be strong and thought that that concept alone, was enough to keep me engaged in my gym pursuits. It just didn’t enter in to my thoughts at this stage that I might be in there to improve my physical appearance. The idea of wanting to ‘look my best’ in my conditioned mind, I actually believed was very attention seeking and superficial. I thought that, as we all have the capacity to do great things, especially great things for other people, what a selfish thing to do something entirely for yourself. As I type this too, I realise that this thought process in fact followed through to the way I dressed, the make-up I wore (if any) and the hair cut I had. I felt that the effort that I made was purely out of respect to other people, I certainly wasn’t doing these things for myself.
I don’t really know how body conscious I was then and now, compared to other people. Its not something I’ve really talked about much with my friends nor in relationships, apart from my more recent ones, because as it goes, once you step into the world of strength training, people who do the same thing, want to be your friend. However, previously, the discussion has felt a little ‘off the table’. I certainly wouldn’t have talked to my family about how I looked. I wouldn’t want them worrying that I had a negative view on my body and I wouldn’t want to think that I wasn’t grateful for having a fully functioning body.
At about the time I turned 30, I began working with working with an amazing PT whom I now consider one of my greatest friends. He listened and he understood where I was coming from, which is the best thing you could possibly do for someone as they begin to open up and talk about their own physicality. I decided pretty quickly that I was going to to do the best my best by myself and try to make the improvements necessary for me to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I started looking into my relationship with my body and began to challenge the reason as to why I was trying to hide it away.
Skip to the age of 32 and I've been running a photography business for nearly 5 years and it becomes more apparent than ever what it is that I really enjoy about photography. The thing I enjoy most is documenting the 'real' and making people feel beautiful, its really that simple. The nature of this kind of shoot, means that you are opening yourself up to feeling quite vulnerable. This is what I wanted to experience in turning the lens on me. I wanted to understand the feeling of not knowing what I’m doing, having all those wild, insecure thoughts; 'Does this look right? Does this pose work for my body? Am I good enough to do this'… etc…and being able to put my trust in someone to photograph me in my best light. The second part of the experience is that after the shoot, I wanted to feel the fear of exposing myself to some potentially negative feedback, in particular my own negate self-talk and ridiculously high expectations.
Learning that you have no control over what people think of you is a very adult lesson I’m still working on. I will always care what people think to some degree - about the way I look, the way I do my job, the way I interact, the way I form relationships. This means that I am hugely self reflective and probably have a tendency to be far too unkind to myself. How on Earth was I going to feel seeing all of my imperfections laid bare for not only other people, but more importantly, myself? (There is no pressure, by the way to share ANY images from a shoot, I just knew I wanted to and that this was part of the entire experience for me).
We all know by now, if you do something that scares you, you are probably doing it for the purpose of personal growth. That leap of faith goes hand in hand with quickly feeling really uncomfortable.
If I now skip to the day of the actual shoot, I’m not going to say that I immediately felt relaxed and at ease sat there in my underwear. It did feel somewhat exhilarating, but I still had plenty of nervous, negative dialogue running through my mind on the shoot. This sort of lasted until I had my clothes back on. Then, after the shoot, I had the experience of actually seeing my photos too. This part of the process, I had control over as I selected and edited the photos I preferred and I edited them in my own special style. Being part of this selection process with your images is important and will be part of anyones Darkroom shoot. There are options to select your preferred photos from the shoot. Once I made my selection, I looked at them again and again and what happened was I started to think ‘actually, I’m quite proud of this particular part of my body. Also, I’m really proud of myself for following through with something I was really scared to do. Actually, fuck it, this feels really liberating and I’m glad I did it and here is now the evidence’. Then what happens, is you get some amazing feedback from your friends and loved ones, which totally reinfoces this whole exercise in empowerment.
Everyone that I’ve worked with on a Darkroom shoot has felt these kind of feelings. Nobody has stepped in front of the camera thinking ‘yeah, I look great’. Most of us have huge insecurities and hang ups, I certainly did and still do. But, this fact alone means there is more need for this kind of work to be shown. To prove to yourself that you can do it, in spite of all of these thoughts. Also, just as a side note - without ever putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, you are playing it safe and leaving room for the ‘what ifs’ to creep in. Just sayin'.
I chose to do the shoot now, because it felt as good a time as any. Of course, I look a little different to what I did when I was 17 and also I look different to what I did 2 years ago. I don’t believe there is a ‘good time’ to do the shoot as I’m always going to be a few steps behind my ‘ideal version of me’. The goal posts will always be moved. This is why I did it.