“I understand the struggles of others, and strive to show them the beauty in their lives.” ~ Dawn Kelly

That is a quote from a class I took from the amazingly talented photographer artist Brooke Shaden. As an exercise, she gave us three minutes to write one sentence that describes who we are as artists. That was my statement, and every day it becomes more and more true.

Now I truly know what it’s like to be a photography client. We’ve gotten all of our photos back from Ash Imagery, including my individual photo session that just came in tonight. When I got the email I started hyperventilating. (I am NOT a drama queen!) I was incredibly nervous. Then I opened the email and Mark and I started looking at the photos. I did not like the first few images. I especially didn’t like my thighs (shocker) and my belly (even bigger shocker, she said sarcastically). My heart sank. I thought, “I’m not going to like any of these.” But we kept looking at them, and there were so many… It was sensory overload, and even though there were tons of beautiful images, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ones I hated. So I needed to do something to help this situation, or I was going to go crawl under my comforter with my cat and cry myself to sleep.

I made two folders on my computer – one called “Love” and one called “HATE.” Then I started sorting. The images I loved I put in my “Love” folder, and the ones I HATED, like as in, I’m-so-fat-I’m-never-going-to-eat-again-HATE into my “HATE” folder. A few I was luke-warm to I left alone. Then I saw that I had FORTY images I LOVE, and only EIGHT that I hate! I immediately started feeling better, but the “fat pictures” still loomed in my head. And I started to cry. That little voice was taunting me and I started to cry because it said, “You’re a joke. You’re so fat. You haven’t lost any weight. What a loser. You’re a failure.” And I had a choice… I could give in to that voice, or I could reach out to someone for help.

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I have a good friend who also suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I sent him my forty fave images, and we chatted about my FAVE faves, and why I loved them. He gave me feedback, told me I looked FABULOUS, and reminded me that my brain is not seeing things accurately. I’m seeing myself as much larger than I actually am. Then I showed him the horrific “fat pictures.” He critiqued them and said they’re no where near as horrible as I thought, and that I’m not going to like EVERY photo, duh. As we went through my photos and discussed them, and shared our feelings about Body Dysmorphic and Anorexia, I started to feel better.

But I was still upset, and I started crying again because Mark hadn’t commented on the photos, hadn’t said that he loved them or that I looked good or beautiful. He is not a verbal man. He’s never been one to dote and call me beautiful. His love language is different, better in a lot of ways, and includes taking care of me physically and emotionally, doing laundry and cooking, being my rock, and helping me navigate difficult life situations, like when my dad died.

But still…..

I’d put myself out there, had fought the fear and gotten in front of the camera not once, but TWICE! I’d already been kind of emotional this week about a few of our anniversary photos because I thought I looked fat, but I knew that that’s okay and I’m not going to like every photo.

But still……..

I could NOT stop agonizing over those thighs and this belly. I just couldn’t. Mark came into the office and told me he didn’t know why I disliked any of them, because they’re all GORGEOUS, and I smiled through my tears. Then we went through the photos again, full-screen, and talked about what we liked about each one. I really needed that.

This whole experience, especially my reaction to getting my photos back, really made me think. Here I am, a boudoir and wedding photographer, preaching about positive body image, about how every woman is beautiful, all shapes and sizes are beautiful, we should love our bodies, etc, yet I’m crying because my thighs or belly looks fat in eight photos. Am I being a hypocrite? Does every woman feel this way? Does that make all women hypocrites?

I know I’m overly critical of every photo because I’m a boudoir and wedding photographer, and I am very skilled at having my clients stretch their neck, relax their forehead, arch their back, tighten their abs. But I’m a woman, photographing women, KNOWING that they’re not going to like that angle because their stomach doesn’t look flat, or I should delete a photo of a woman because she’s not going to like how her face looks from this angle. But my husband doesn’t look at photos of me that way. He doesn’t say, “Oh huuhhh… her stomach looks huge in this photo. Oy vey, look at the cellulite on those thighs. Note to self: Buy Dawn tights.” He’s looking at ME. My soul. My being, confidence, creativity, sensitivity, sense of humor, kindness, and value as a human being. This is something I fight to remind myself of every single day.

I also had a very interesting experience last Friday. I had a boudoir client come in for her session, and she is GORGEOUS! Corina is a sweet, humble girl, and I adore her. She’s a dream client. As usual, first we laid out all her wardrobe options, and Summer helped us piece together what she was going to wear. Then she went into hair and makeup with Summer. Throughout the styling I wandered in and out of the kitchen, where they were stationed. I opened my delivered packages, asked Corina questions, but mostly I was in my office working, leaving her to the fun that is playing dress-up with Summer. At one point I was walking through the kitchen and I caught a snippet of their conversation, and they were talking about being put down. Corina said she’s always been skinny, and she’s been insulted for it. She’s been called names, called skinny and anorexic, and that’s hurtful. She said, “It’s like it doesn’t matter what size you are. It’s happens to everyone.”

She did beautifully in her shoot, posing like a rock star, looking natural, having fun, and letting me experiment with horror movie poses (wait for the blog y’all…). At the end of her session, I gave her her Polaroids and with hugs and thank-yous, she went on her merry way. As I was working in my office after she left, I started thinking about how Corina has been hurt by insults about her body. How could this beautiful creature feel bad about her body? Long, sculpted legs for days, perfect toned abs, a gorgeous face, cascading hair, glowing skin… HOW could she think for one second that she’s not beautiful? Then I realized, I am truly not alone in this battle. Every woman on the planet has at one time been insulted, which in turn, has made her feel bad about her body.

Corina emailed me today to thank me for her wonderful experience, and she said she LOVES her Polaroids and can’t stop staring at them. She loves them so much that it’s killing her to keep it a surprise for her fiance. That made my day! 🙂 I’m very excited to get Corina’s photos back from the lab and show her how amazingly gorgeous she is, and how her sweet personality shines through. Because that’s one more women whose eyes I’ve opened. One more woman who will not cry herself to sleep because she hates her body. That’s my gift to the world.

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