practicing kindness, loving myself, and taking self-portraits

When I was nineteen, I remember being at a swimming pool and looking around at all the bodies and thinking that they were all so... imperfect. And rather than be inspired by the beauty in the imperfection, I remember feeling vaguely disappointed in myself when I realized that I looked at those bodies and saw the flaws first and foremost. I looked around and determined that not that not one single female body at the crowded pool that day was good enough. 

At the time, I was unhappy with my own imperfect body. I would have told you that I loved myself, but I saw my body as a vessel to carry around my personality. I didn't equate loving myself to loving my body. I felt that the two things were distinct: body and person. I was a beautiful, worthy loveable person. My body, however, was none of those things. And I just did my best to not worry about that too much. 

I don't know when I changed my attitude towards my body. Maybe it would have happened as a natural result of getting older and becoming more secure, though for me, I think it had more to do with motherhood than anything.

Over the past dozen years since that day at the pool, I have learned to love and respect my body because my body makes beautiful children. It can withstand great pain. It is strong and powerful. It has provided my children with sustenance. These actions, these things that my body has done, have made me love it. I am sure that if I had challenged my body in other physical ways, I would have come to feel the same sort of satisfaction.

Once I came to see my body as a part of me as a person, I realized that I had to love it too, even if there was too much of it. Even if it was lumpy and dimpled and stretched.

While it may have always been obvious to other people, it took me a long time to realize that my body was a part of me.

Now when I hear people, and it is usually other women, criticizing someone's physical appearance, I get angry in a way that I didn't when I saw bodies as things separate from people. Before I felt that there was a way to objectively discuss a body that somehow remained distinct from discussing the person who inhabited the body.  Now I know that isn't possible. 

I cringe when I hear someone say what a particular person should or shouldn't wear because of their size, shape, or age. The speaker is perpetuating the belief that only some bodies are better than others. Some bodies deserve to wear leggings or bikinis or tank tops or short skirts. And other bodies should be "flattered," with is to be equated with covered and made to appear to be smaller. 

So it is no wonder that, in a world that extols perfect bodies in entertainment and advertisement, that criticizes the imperfect in casual playground conversations,  when most women see pictures of themselves, they cringe. They cry

Or more to the point, when I see pictures of myself, I cringe. I cry. 

I can look in a mirror and see my beauty. My own reflection never catches me off guard. After years of positive self-talk and training, I believe myself to be  beautiful. However, there is a power to a photograph. It is unyielding. Permanent. I can't dip my chin or twist my waist and alter the image to better suit my own idea of myself. And so that image looks back at me and makes me sad. I thought I was prettier than that.

This makes for a terrible dilemma. The one thing I want most from the pictures I take is the ability to make the women I photograph feel beautiful. How can I expect the women I photograph to see their beauty in the pictures I take, if I can't see my own beauty in pictures of myself? I can't expect other women to let go of their insecurities and enjoy, appreciate, and love images of themselves if I can't do that. 

Like most things, I believe that coming to a place of loving pictures of myself will take practice. Just like I spent years practicing loving my reflection in the mirror, years forcing out negative thoughts and replacing them with kind words, I might need to spend years teaching myself to be comfortable with photographs. But I'm going to do it.

I'm going to keep taking pictures of myself and I'm going to keep sharing them. Even if it makes me uncomfortable.

Especially because it make me uncomfortable. 

self portrait