I had a 5 month human photo hiatus.
I took no photos of myself. I looked at no photos of others. I boycotted instagram altogether, restricted myself to droolworthy, people-less pictures of interiors on pinterest (and primary school literacy and numeracy ideas but that doesn’t sound glamorous at all…), binned every magazine in the house, and even quit browsing for clothes online and in stores so as to avoid seeing fashion campaigns, mannequins, and modelled clothing. I realised that these images were the last big blockade in my recovery from anorexia, and as much as I loved fashion, style, photography, and attempting to build my own blog – drowning myself in professional images of women I could never ever resemble was doing more harm than good. So I went cold turkey.
In July, I decided to brave the world of imagery again, and it was only then that I realised how far I had come.
Enter this fairly unflattering photograph.
With house renovations almost finished, and my latest degree complete, I find myself with more time and energy to start working on my (eternally taking a backseat) blog. I dusted off the ol’ Canon, and took some test shots – and this was one of them.
This photo is important to me because my immediate thought when I saw it was ‘well, that’s an unflattering photo…’ and I flicked to the next.
And ten seconds later – cue fireworks in my brain. This thought, for me, was cause for celebration. It had me dancing naked around a bonfire under a full moon – figuratively speaking (this time, anyway…).
Why? Why would someone pursuing and promoting self love and acceptance herald this kind of thought as a breakthrough? As something to be embraced? Celebrated? Cuddled like a hundred year old teddy? Because for someone recovering from an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, the ability to view one’s image in a mirror or photograph (in this case both), and separate appearance from identity is a huge, hideously difficult, step forward. I used to become bogged down with self hatred, disgust, shame, humiliation at what I saw in the mirror. I couldn’t separate my thoughts about my appearance from my thoughts about myself. What I saw was ‘disgusting’, thereby I became disgusting. What I saw was ‘shameful’, and I became ashamed. I saw ‘unworthy’, and so, became worthless. For the past couple of years I have been striving to separate these thoughts from my beliefs. Recognise that these thoughts are not necessarily facts. Choose not to believe in them. As players in this world driven by consumerism based on highlighting our ‘inadequacies’ I believe we have to learn to set aside the socially created myths in our minds that tell us we are too fat, too ugly, or too wrinkled. The myths that tell us our noses are too big, our lips too thin, our bums too big, and our bellies too bloated. Because the mirror only reflects our thoughts – it does not reflect our truth. I’ve learned that it will never reflect the early morning hike I took with my puppies, or the lazy evening I spent with my loved one drinking wine and playing bananagrams. It will never reflect the hours I spent working on my novel, or the garden, or the house; the laborious study I endured for my two degrees, or the glorious afternoons I enjoyed revelling in the art gallery. It will certainly never reflect the beautiful progress I see in my students, the relationships I’ve built with them, or the relationships I treasure with my parents, my sisters, my nephews, my niece, my friends. And these are the things I have chosen to matter. These are the things I have to consider each time I start throwing hatred towards what I see in the mirror. It won’t always happen as automatically as it did a few weeks ago (though I wish it did). Sometimes, it won’t work at all. But that glimmer of self acceptance I experienced is enough to make me believe it’s possible to set aside the demons and accept the unflattering reflection, because at the end of the day I refuse to choose to be the girl that believes the faults of her appearance are the faults of her identity. I refuse to choose to be the girl that only sees flaws, and will do anything to try to erase the pain of them. I’m never going to choose that girl again. Because I’ve chosen the one that’s now too busy filling herself with the possibilities of living to become a starving shell of a person. I’ve chosen the girl that sees the unflattering photo, shrugs, and moves on. I have bigger, more beautiful, more enriching fish to fry.