These simple three words are something I try to say all of the time. I've always known the key to true happiness lies in that simple, yet horribly difficult phrase to say: “love yourself first.” However, it took me a long time to get there and I realized last week that I'm not quite fully living it. I share a bit more about me and my personal background in my meet she blog, but my story here today wouldn’t be the same without a quick overview.
I grew up with very low self-esteem and had finally been working through it when I experienced significant emotional trauma as a bystander at the Boston Marathon. It set me a back a bit and over the past 2 years my weight has fluctuated significantly (I gained almost 30 pounds after the Marathon, and have now lost almost 50!) I have recently been diagnosed with a major digestive disorder (no, not a gluten issue as I'm asked constantly) that makes it near impossible for me to eat any food without being sick. It's called leaky gut caused by an imbalance of bacteria. If you want to know more about this illness and my journey through it check out my personal blog here.
Through all of this, I have been staying strong. I didn't want to just BE sick. I figured that while I was losing weight from my illness, I wanted to also work on feeling my healthiest. Even though weight has dropped faster than I would have liked, I am working to stay strong by putting my effort at the gym into gaining muscle and strength. I didn't want to feel weak and let the illness consume me. I also have always loved when I felt strong.
So, over the past year, I have literally become a new person. I have started to love myself, flaws and all. I look at myself in the mirror and even if I see physical things I'd like to work on, I still accept them and feel good about myself. I love having strong arms and muscle and would never want to be a size 2. I accept that I am smart, emotionally strong, and a great photographer, along with many other traits I have, all things I never really believed before. I do believe these things. However, I also still have doubts and moments of being self-conscious that creep in. This became even more apparent during a photo shoot last week.
Kiera and I got together to do some she. teaser photos with a few other people. Since we were doing that anyway, I had an idea. For six months, I had a vision in my head of some pictures of myself that I wanted. I had a pair of red heels (the ones that have become part of she.) and pictured a very urban backdrop and maybe a black dress. Well, I have been feeling so amazing with my body and inside as well and also found a black coat that just worked perfectly with what I wanted. The bonus was that Kiera's studio has a great feel outside and inside for what I was looking for. So, I asked if she'd snap some photos for me after we finished our other photos.
I was excited and had put on the outfit the night before, feeling great. But, once I was in front of the camera, I became self conscious. I kept thinking I must be smiling badly, that maybe I looked fat. When she told me to bend my leg and put my heel up on a fire hydrant, I thought, "My leg probably looks fat like this". I felt uncomfortable in front of the camera and very exposed.
Side note, as much as I’ve never loved having my picture taken (something caused by the way I felt about myself), I do get head shots every once in a while because I want to know what it feels like to be on the other side. I feel it helps me connect with my clients and be a better photographer overall.
So, for half an hour of having my photos taken, I was extremely self conscious. I had fun and laughed because, well, Kiera and I always have fun. But, I was thinking of all of my "flaws" and worrying they would show. Once I saw the images, however, I realized just how crazy all of that beating myself up was. I've lost 50 pounds and yet, I still thought my leg looked "fat". And what is "fat" anyway? I wouldn't look right if my legs were any thinner than they are now. My stomach isn't completely flat and toned how I'd love it to be, but it's decent. I have a giant rib cage and I'd look really strange if I lost more weight there. If anything, i want to GAIN muscle and not actually lose any more. For the first time in my life, I actually weigh myself, but not because the number means all that much. I've always gone by how I "feel" not a number on a scale. I also look at the number differently. The number i'm at would have made me think I was overweight in the past and I do not think that any more. We have these beliefs in our heads of what we're supposed to be. I look at women of all sizes, shapes and think they are beautiful. But, I can't always think that about myself, even after working for years to get there and being the strongest, happiest, most in shape and most at peace I've ever been. For me, I carried extra weight my whole life BECAUSE of how I felt inside. I don't think I'll ever gain much back because I truly am treating my body, mind, and spirit like they are the most important things in the world. And they are. As is all of yours.
The photo shoot was eye opening to me. I realize I have to speak to myself, remind myself that I'm perfect even with the "flaws" I still notice. They are what makes me, ME. I can't beat myself up or compare myself to anyone else. I can improve on things I feel I need improvement on but without judgment. I can leave other things alone and just let them be what they are. It's not easy. I even thought I was there and obviously not quite yet. But, we all can feel that way. It will take time. It will take work. It will take a belief that you are good enough. That you are strong enough. That you are worthy and beautiful no matter what. I hope this movement helps us all to LOVE OURSELVES FIRST.
Here is a look at the great images Kiera captured last week. It is the first time I've ever loved many pictures taken of me and it feels pretty damn good.