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“I learned to hate my body my entire life.” It still hurts as I write these words and tears trickle down my cheeks. I know that I am now on the right path to heal the deep wounds, and sharing this with you is part of that path. I feel strongly about the importance of this healing from my body shaming that I finally decided to share my story in hopes that others can relate and start their healing path as well!
Growing up I always felt like the “fat one” in my family, even though I wasn’t. It was because I did not have the “perfect physique” that I thought I was supposed to have in order to be pretty. Thinking back, I was beautiful and it makes me sad to know I could never appreciate that.
In elementary school, probably the 4th grade, I was teased by a few kids for being fat. I clearly remember one day, a boy continued to harass me, I just snapped and I fought him. The pain of his words hurt so much more than the physical pain of the fight. In high school, my sister and my best friend had the “perfect” body type but I envied them and felt completely inferior. I tried every diet possible to try to slim down to fit in better. This hatred I had for my body began to engrained itself into personal messages of “I’m not good enough.”
Realizing early on that I would never have that “ideal” physique, I compensated by being the smart one. I disconnected from my whole body and started living solely in my head with lots of negative self-talk about the way I looked. My entire self-worth was contingent upon my academic accomplishments. When I didn’t receive an A, I felt completely worthless because not only did I view myself as “fat” but now, I also felt completely worthless. I was so hard on myself and I had set my standards of life so high that I see now that true contentment and happiness felt virtually impossible.
It was a real make it or break it period. I had a few key people telling me I could never make it through engineering school, however, my mother, who is an amazing woman, taught me that “I could do whatever I set my mind to do.” With her strength in mind, I studied Engineering at Cal Poly. I continued to battle my low self-esteem but I also struggled in this academic environment as a minority woman in a predominately Caucasian male field. I battled the “I am not good enough” message on all fronts.
My college roommate (and now my lifelong friend) helped me immensely during this time. I specifically remember a conversation with her where I was telling her how lucky she was because she was so skinny. She began to cry and explained to me that calling her skinny was my equivalent of someone calling me fat. At just under 100lbs, she constantly battled with trying to gain weight without much success. It was interesting to learn that people shamed their bodies for more than just being fat but that still didn’t change my perspective of my own body.
Thankfully, due to the influence of my true friends and my “soon to be husband,” I began to get into mountain biking and I LOVED it. It didn’t feel like exercise…this was pure fun and joy. Even after graduation, I would commute by bicycle from Milpitas Ca. to San Jose Ca. for my engineering job. At the peak of my fitness, I was still a size 12 and didn’t appreciate my body and I continued to body shame myself. I was devastated. The pain of this shame was the reason why I began my terrible experience of comfort eating. It helped to “numb” the pain while I continued to gain weight. Of course this wasn’t conscious of this choice to comfort eat at the time…I can only say this was the case as I look back. Years later, I realize the diets never worked because I still hated my body…I was still ashamed.
Being pregnant really hurt my self-image and I felt as though I had become so big that there was no turning back. It’s been nine years since the birth of my youngest child and although I’m so grateful to have had so many happy moments and memories with my family, they are also some of the darkest years of my life. I’ve been completely disconnected from myself. I spent years focused on creating a little self-worth through my accomplishments in my career all the while going deeper into shame with my body.
I completely understood that I managed a growing successful business, raised active boys and had been a loving wife, yet I never made time for myself. This was by design. Why would I want to make time for myself anyway since I hated my body? I hated it so much I avoided mom groups and networking with new people for fear of people judging me. This was a strange feeling because when I was forced to meet new people, they would have positive things to say about me and my successful business, all the while I’m feeling like my accomplishments were a fraud. I thought, “If they only knew how much I struggled inside.”
I stumbled into boudoir photography and became successful at it quickly. Most women were doing the boudoir session as a gift for their lover and were dreading the actual experience. I could easily relate to other women who also felt ashamed of their bodies. This empathy helped women relax and feel comfortable with me as their photographer.
I would “pose them to perfection.” Then as part of the “supermodel” experience, I would edit their images to give them the unrealistic yet perfect look that was standard in the media. I was extremely successful at this. For the first few years, I was so proud of our boudoir work, as it showed every woman that they could look like a supermodel. All they needed was access to a stylist, a professional photographer, flattering lighting and editing.
In late 2015, I began working with a life coach that helped me see that I am perfect just the way I am, without all the masks and ego, regardless of accomplishments, failures or what anyone else thought. I started noticing a couple big companies and a few models, speaking out about body image issues and responding with unedited images of women of various sizes.
I began to feel like the boudoir work I was creating was delivering a big disservice to women by only perpetuating the “perfect is beautiful” message and that their real bodies aren’t good enough.
A few months after this revelation was a confusing time and I felt a bit lost. I knew deep down, that the change that I envisioned needed to come from my inner-space first. My work with my coach helped me to stop ignoring my pain from my body shaming. I also had to address my pain of feeling like I’m not good enough. This healing doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m still in the process. One unexpected part of this process came when I was the subject of a “training” photosession for our photography team to learn posing techniques for different body types. We were in this training because we knew we wanted to move away from being dependent on photoshop to allow our clients to feel good. We wanted them to know that they look beautiful without these edits.
Something magical happened during that photo session. I was shown an image of me from the back of the camera and I started to cry. I finally felt that I AM beautiful. Yes, I’m round and curvy and I did not have a stylist do my hair or make-up, yet I looked amazing! It’s almost like I was able to put down the “fat” filters that I mentally built up over the years, and I was able to see the beautiful person that I am for the first time in my life. Of course I’ve had pretty photos of myself before, but I also knew that wasn’t the real me with all the editing that went into it. So that feeling of confidence was very superficial, like I “could” be beautiful, where as this feeling was “I am” beautiful.
My new vision and new goals began to solidify after this photo session. I knew I wanted to focus on fully recovering from my body shaming. My new vision is to love my body now and forever, no matter its size, shape, young or old, or other various states of being such as stretch mark or wrinkles. While I trek on this journey I want to continue to pour my heart into sharing this body positivity message with as many women as possible.
We are relaunching our boudoir line with our new #ConfidenceCampaign. We hope that this campaign will bring awareness about body shaming and help start the conversation about our own relationship with our body image. For some people, this may be about size, but for others maybe it’s centered around cellulite, wrinkles, hair, skin color or chest size. We are inundated with negative body messages and that needs to change. Hopefully this can start the healing process and help raise the next generation with a healthier perspective that beauty comes in various shapes and sizes.
As a body positive boudoir photographer, I’m looking forward to helping women see their natural beauty so they can love their body just the way they are. Boudoir isn’t just about lingerie…it’s just about you in your relaxed natural state. Boudoir translated literally is French for bedroom and although for some, this may mean sexy lingerie, for others it may mean workout clothes or maybe an oversized T-shirt. Whatever your style, we can create a photo session to fit your personality.
To hear about these other beautiful ladies experience, check out this video: