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Healing through photography

July 9, 2013

I wrote in my last post about how I no longer based my self-worth on how I looked in photographs. This has been a long journey for me, but an online course I recently did really helped me make some major breakthroughs. Well, I say I did the course, but I did week one and half of week two, then got a bit behind. It’s on my list. The course was called “Healing through photography” (now called Body Beautiful) and is run by my friend, photographer Jessy Paston.

Partly, I did the course to support Jessy’s new business. Partly, because I am still on the journey of Body Acceptance. And partly because I’ve never been a touchy-feely artistic type, preferring hard-nosed scientific thinking. But I’m learning to challenge myself, and have seen some incredible progress using these creative media, despite not really having a creative bone in my body.

Anyhow, I revisited the first week’s exercise when I was writing about the Fuck Yeah! Fat PhDs project. I was going to quote a little bit of it in that post. But reading through it, I decided it was worth its own blog, so here it is, in its entirety. The task was to take a photograph of yourself. You could do it anyhow, anywhere, but you had to use the first photo you snapped, no do-overs. And then you had to answer a list of questions, using only the image in the photo to go off, as if the picture were of a total stranger.

This is the picture I took.

This is the picture I took.

This is the photo I took on my mobile phone. And what follows are the questions and my answers to them.

Who is the person in the image?

She’s a middle-aged, professional woman. She has blue eyes and freckles. She isn’t beautiful, but she looks happy. She likes her life. She has wrinkles around her eyes when she smiles that speaks of things seen and done. Her nose has been broken, probably doing something cool. Her hair is tied back, but messy around her face — she isn’t overly worried about her appearance.  She isn’t wearing any makeup. She’s relaxed about how she looks in front of the camera. She looks very friendly.

What are they doing?

She’s just sitting at home, in the living room, while somebody she loves takes a picture of her. It’s silly and playful, but she quite likes it that he wants to take the picture.

What do they need to say if they could talk?

If she spoke, she would need to say: I care about you. I love you. You make me happy. I’m glad I found you.

What is obvious about the picture?

It’s obvious that she’s very relaxed.

What 3 things do you like about the image?

She has a nice smile, nice blue eyes, and looks completely at ease in her skin.

What 3 things do you NOT like?

She has bad skin around her chin, one eye is a bit droopy, but I don’t like that she’s cut off — I’d like to see more of her.

Who would say these things??

Bad skin: me, my mother. Droopy eye: my parents.

Where did you first hear that voice? Whom did it come from?

First heard about the eyes while I was a young child. Discussing what to do about it. It was something that needed fixing. The skin — mum offering me a facial when I’ve had bad skin, probably in my teens (and many times since!).

What or who is missing from the picture?

The rest of her body is missing from the picture. Her surroundings are also missing. I want to know where she is, what her life looks like. I want to know who is making her smile like that. What they were doing that day, why the picture was taken.

If you were to going to give this picture to anyone, who would it be and why?

I’d give the picture to my friend Lizbeth. She loves me as I am, and it would help her remember me when I’m not there. This picture was taken in her house. She wouldn’t mind the bad skin, the droopy eye. They’re just part of me and I’ve never looked any different to her. She thinks I’m cute.

Who would you NOT give it to and why?

I wouldn’t give the picture to my mother because she’d tell me my hair needed doing, and would I like her to book me a facial. I wouldn’t give it to my husband because it isn’t the most flattering picture and I want him to have pictures of me looking really beautiful.

When making this image, did you have someone in mind?

I didn’t have anyone in mind when I took the picture — it was just a task. I was surprised by how much I learned from it.

Did your answers surprise you? Is there anything new you have learnt about yourself?

Two things surprised me. The first was that the woman looked so relaxed, as if she was having fun, and truly loved the person taking the picture — you could see it in her eyes. As this was a self-portrait, that was a surprise. The things she would say to the photographer — that she loved them, that they made her happy, that she was glad she found them — was also a revelation, and very poignant.  The other was that I was absolutely clear I wouldn’t give the picture to my mother because I expected criticism over my appearance. I hadn’t realized how much this irritated me, I’m glad I chose not to give it to her as a form of self-care, but saddened that her criticism of my appearance has weakened our relationship.

I learned that I like myself in a way I never have previously; that I have come to appreciate myself and be at home in my own skin. My responses to the “what would she say” question, made me tear up a bit.

Never Diet Again Sigs

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Duckie permalink
    July 9, 2013 11:17 am

    I am an art therapist. This was a wonderful activity! Thank you for sharing your process!

  2. July 9, 2013 11:47 am

    Thanks for sharing this exercise in self acceptance and image perception.
    This is something I really need to try, because it’s the last (?) issue I really have to deal with regarding my looks/size/self-acceptance.
    I have excluded myself from soooo many happy “Kodak moments” with family and friends because of my deeply rooted aversion to seeing myself captured forever on film and in pictures. (and also mirrors, which I never really use other than from the bust up).

    I guess it comes down to what I (actually) FEEL like, and what I (actually) LOOK like…the two just don’t seem to match! I don’t FEEL so gawdawful fat, but damn, when I look at pictures of myself, well, frankly, there’s no escaping the reality that I AM fat. But I just don’t look the way I feel!

    I don’t FEEL “huge” like I’m taking up too much space, nor do I feel cumbersome. Actually, I’ve always been quite graceful and coordinated; never lumbering about, knocking people over or slamming down heavily into chairs or whatever…
    But anyway, I’m going to try this course and hopefully it will help me get past this … issue…. of being in pictures and videos. Thanks again, “neverdietagainuk”! ❤

  3. Dizzyd permalink
    July 9, 2013 8:15 pm

    Art therapy huh? Sounds interesting. I’ve thought of that myself (but I think I’d still lean more towards music). Love the whole article!

  4. Lizbeth permalink
    July 10, 2013 11:00 am

    Awwww, shucks. Made me cry. I’m keeping the picture, AND the blog. You rock, kiddo. And yes you are adorable.

  5. Paul permalink
    July 10, 2013 11:34 am

    Oh dear God! If you’re ‘middle aged’ that makes ME ‘ancient’! 😀

    I have not know you for as long as Lizbeth, but I DO know that you ARE a beautiful person. You actually ARE good looking too, but the beauty inside is so much more important. Why did I put ‘beautiful’ in inverted commas? Because beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder. I am sure that everyone can talk about some physically ‘beautiful’ person who is hateful and horrible.

  6. July 10, 2013 12:40 pm

    Thanks all, and I’m so glad my process is helping others on their own. Good luck all!

  7. July 12, 2013 4:48 am

    Thank you so much for posting this Angie, your words are amazing x

  8. July 13, 2013 5:56 am

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Maybe one day I can get to this point. I hate, hate, loathe, despise having pictures taken of me. I think I’m so incredibly ugly that I’d break the camera. I’ve tried, but it’s really hard to stop thinking this way.

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