Baylee says she’s always had a difficult time feeling comfortable in her own skin, “hence why I get tattoos to make myself feel beautiful.”
“I’m not comfortable in my own skin, and I mostly think it’s because I am way too judgmental on myself (but who isn’t lol),” she explained. “I’m always comparing myself to these Instagram models and I’m just like, ‘damn why can’t I have that perfect body with the perfect shaped boobs?’ I just get so down on myself all the time so when I have an opportunity to feel sexy and beautiful for a day I’m going to go for it.”
Baylee (who is a self-employed Dog Groomer in Philly and jokingly called herself “the patron saint of dogs”) discovered one of those opportunities when she met Mike at the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention in 2018. But it took her until just last year to strike up the courage to ask her boyfriend to do a Couples Boudoir session.
“We did that and I fell in love with the whole vibe of being very sexy, yet classy at the same time. I love the vintage feel of it all. It was so much fun. Being there with my boyfriend, seeing how happy he was…we were just feeding off of each other, the energy was great. Mike was so great making us laugh, telling us we are doing amazing, he was boosting our confidence so much,” she said, remembering that special day.
Baylee was nervous, but also excited to return to the studio on her own for a solo session!
“When I got to the studio for my photo shoot, Mike and Erika made me feel amazing, beautiful, and sexy. My session was amazing, my makeup and hair were beautiful, the sets were beautiful. They are so down to earth and make you feel so relaxed – I told them I didn’t know how to hold my face correctly for photos. They were so sweet in guiding me, getting me out of my comfort zone. Erika was my own personal cheerleader, she is the sweetest person ever, I love her energy.”
When Baylee saw her solo session photos debut her jaw dropped to the floor.
“When we went through the photos upstairs I almost cried, but I didn’t want to ruin my makeup. I never thought in my almost 26 years of life I could be that beautiful. I felt like Audrey Hepburn, just pure beauty,” says Baylee.
Some of her favorite photos are the ones of her on the bed, the ones with the chandelier, and even the close ups of her body, which completely surprised her!
Baylee chose her favorite photos and had them enclosed in our glass topped portrait box.
“I think it’s a classic way to go in case you don’t want to have hanging art,” she said.
Baylee feels like a completely new woman after her recent session.
“I felt like I came away a much stronger woman. I felt like I don’t compare myself to other women as much as I used to and I cannot thank you all enough for doing that for me. I love all of your work and what you can do for people and how you make people feel.”
To anyone thinking about doing a session, Baylee says, “If you are ever thinking about doing boudoir I will always say go for it because tomorrow isn’t promised. If you have the chance to take the leap I promise you, you won’t regret it and if other people try to change your mind forget them, you’re beautiful.”
Crystal has very few qualms about her life. She’s looking forward to celebrating her 40th birthday in a few months, she’s happily married to the same man she fell in love with when she was 15 and she has three incredible kids – a nearly married Marine, a seven year old son with autism who is her everything, and her five-year-old daughter who is too smart for her own good.
Still, she says she lives a far from perfect life. Like many people, Crystal manages bipolar disorder.
“I have bipolar disorder and the depression and anxiety hit hard sometimes and often puts strains on my relationship with my husband. He does his best to be supportive but I don’t always make it easy for him. With the support of my family, friends, and an extremely supportive therapist I am working on dealing with the depression and hard days one day at a time,” she explained to us.
Crystal says she made two changes in her life that have given her a new and extremely fulfilling purpose and helped balance her depression; 1, she started her own business, and 2, she joined some positive, pay-it-forward groups through Facebook, one of which was our Facebook group for VIP members.
“It’s all about positivity and good energy…reaching one end of the country to the other in an ongoing circle of kindness that is just spreading further and further, is an incredible feeling. In the process of starting these new journeys I have made friendships with some of the most incredible people…the groups have helped some of our members, like when some were down and thinking of suicide or in a rut. The group helped them find a reason to keep going and put those thoughts and feelings behind them, and those stories are what let’s you know you are serving a purpose greater than your own.”
Crystal says our group definitely helped get her into the mindset of her second shoot (yes she had such a great time the first time she just had to come back and see us again!).
“I did a couple model call before and I absolutely loved everything about it. I was so comfortable with Mike the first time. With such an amazing experience it was easy to decide there is nowhere else I would go for my solo shoot,” she said.
Crystal came to the studio in the evening for one of our night sessions and she says she was on the edge of her seat all day waiting for it!
“I had an evening session which was amazing in itself, I love the dark, so that alone put me at ease, but the session itself was amazing! Erika and Mike are an amazing team together. They have this energy and vibe that you just gravitate to. They make you feel like a queen and you leave absolutely believing you are one too.”
For this session, Crystal brought a ton of options, from booty shorts, to lingerie and she even surprised herself by doing a few topless and nude shots.
“Before I left the house I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do topless shots but since I need to be more comfortable with that part of my body, I wanted to make sure I stepped out of my comfort zone. I’m so glad I did, the photos were amazing and so worth it. Mike and Erika made me feel so comfortable with them and myself that I decided to do some nude photos,” she said.
When the time for her big photo reveal came, Crystal was speechless.
“There is nothing that can top getting to sit down and watch the slideshow as the music plays, to set the most perfect music! I was just in awe of how incredible they were. How incredible I looked.”
She chose 15 images for an album, 15 reminders that she’s a badass!
“I feel better about myself, I am proud of myself, and I am still feeling the high from my session three days later. When I get down, I remember what Erika had me repeat to myself, ‘I love myself, I love who I am, I am beautiful, I love the bitch I am.’
She continued, “I think about how good I felt and how amazing the photos came out.. I have a new sense of self-pride and confidence! I just want to thank Mike and Erika for everything! You both are incredible at what you do and I will be forever grateful for everything you have done for me!! A level of therapy my therapist could have never given me!”
Katerina had just finished planning her wedding to her partner of 12 years when she began looking into doing a solo boudoir session. She’d realized that while kick starting their new life as a couple, she felt like she’d lost a little bit of herself in the process.
“What attracted me to doing a solo boudoir session was wanting to do something for myself. We do everything together. I saw something about doing bridal boudoir as a gift to your husband and thought ‘why don’t I do one for myself?’” Katerina said.
“I love my partner, but I feel that in the midst of wedding planning, I kinda lost a little bit of my own identity as I was so focused on us as a couple. So I wanted to do something by myself for myself,” she explained.
A quick Google search brought her to Allebach Photography.
“I saw the photos posted on Instagram and the website and was in awe of how beautiful everybody looked and I wanted that for myself. Then I read up on the blog and read about the stories everybody shared about how they show themselves in a new light and learned to love their body in a different way. So I put my name down for more information and committed myself to doing it,” she said.
In some ways, Katerina even surprised herself, as she admits doing a boudoir session is a little more than out of character for her.
“If you ask anyone that knows me if I would ever do a boudoir session, they would tell you in no way would I do one. Growing up, I was the shy reserved girl who studied hard and copiously read and only dressed up for huge events like prom and homecoming, mostly keeping in my own self-designated lane. I’ve been coming into my own being more and more as I have been doing more self-discovery.”
Katerina took some inspiration from Pinterest for her outfits, and also brought along a bridal set she had initially planned on wearing the night of the wedding but had never gotten to wear due to the busyness of the night and her own nerves.
“The day of the shoot, I was still nervous about wearing these kinds of outfits in front of other people, but after we started my nerves went away. Mike made me feel so comfortable in my skin that I was wondering why I was so nervous to begin with. He made posing so simple and broke everything down into simple instructions. Plus it was a lot of fun playing around on set and trying different things.”
She added, “I loved how subtly sexy wearing his shirt was and the sweater look.”
The photo reveal made Katerina see herself in a different light.
“Like most brides, I was a little more focused on my body for the wedding day and being able to see my body and how the work paid off was something I never thought I’d see. I consider myself a pretty person, but not a sensual person. A small seed was planted at that moment and my appreciation for my body and myself has grown and evolved since that moment. There’s been a huge boost in my confidence and sensuality so it’s spiced up our relationship a bit. But more importantly, I find myself holding my head higher and more comfortable in outfits I would usually feel a bit exposed in. “
Even her husband, who of course LOVED the photos, noticed a difference in her attitude towards herself.
“He was a little dumbstruck since it was a little out of character for me. He then said that the reason I’ve been much more comfortable in my body makes a lot more sense now.”
Katerina selected an album and says she wants to get a couple of prints later this year, after they buy a home, so that she can display them as a daily reminder of how powerful and beautiful she is.
“Like everyone who’s done a shoot with Mike says, everyone should do a boudoir shoot so they could see themselves in a new light. This experience challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone in order for me to learn more about myself.”
Katerina says right now she is living for our Renaissance of Mom photos and is adding a session to her bucket list once they start their own family.
There’s this magical thing that happens when you are faced with the rawness of a boudoir session. You’re forced to see what you love about yourself. A lot of people come into these experiences worried all they will see is what they wish they could change. But the truth is, you’re actually forced to admit that there are things about you that you can’t deny are fucking beautiful and downright sexy.
When I finally fixed my hair after my quarantine bleach fail, I was feeling so much better and fresher… ‘almost’ confident. I was considering asking Mike to photograph me but was too scared to open that door. It frightened me to think that, while I felt better, none of that would translate because I’ve been photographed many times before and walked away in tears. Well… Somehow Mike has some weird intuition because my first day back in after my fresh new look, he asked if I wanted a portrait done. I said maybe, because I was too embarrassed to admit I had really wanted to ask him.
So as I did my hair and packed up my makeup, I decided to bring the one and only mildly sexy thing I own. What the hell right? I probably won’t do it but at least the option is there. Well as soon as he walked in the office he asked if I was ready for my photos. I felt that embarrassment rush back into my face. I said that I didn’t know and I felt weird. But, just like the moment he made me be in photographs with my daughters, he took a stand for me and said, in so many words, “let’s go”.
So I put the thing on I brought and even threw my oversized shirt over it because I felt silly. I did my makeup as dark and moody as I could, to match the set he was putting together, and I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that he does this everyday and I have nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of.
Now, I’m someone who has photographed thousands of people and pride myself on finding those angles that really work with the person on the other side of the lens. But I’ll be damned if I know what those angles are that work for me. I believed I didn’t have those angles. A beautiful and flattering photograph of me was extremely rare.
I think you know where this story is going…
As Mike queued up the photos, I wanted to hide behind my hands. I wanted to peek through a sliver in my fingers so it wouldn’t hurt as bad. Like I do when I know a jump scare is about to happen in a horror movie and I want it to be easier to get through. But I watched as photo after photo of me appeared on the screen. “Who the fuck is that?” “Is that me?!” “There’s no way…” I honestly wanted to cry but my makeup was too on point, so I choked back the tears, threw my head back, and I’m pretty sure I whispered “What the fuck” to myself before saying anything else.
I didn’t see all those things I wish I could change. I was forced to admit to myself that I have really beautiful skin, gorgeous eyes, my hair is fire, and that top I was embarrassed about made my 2 breastfed children-chopped up with a breast reduction boobs look amazing. It was uncomfortable telling myself these truths. I never had the permission to do it before this moment. I hear women talk about themselves, confidently complimenting themselves and how amazing they are, inside and out. I’ve always admired that. I’d even look in the mirror and try to declare positivities about myself but always shied from my own eyes in my reflection because it was too uncomfortable.
But now I get to look at these photographs and think, “god damn I’m beautiful”. That’s a first for me and I have Mike to thank for it. Of course his talent is unparalleled. That goes without saying. But his ability to show up for you, push you outside of your comfort zone to see beyond the criticisms you tell yourself and admit you’re worthy of love in all its forms… That’s what you won’t experience anywhere else. That’s something you won’t ever forget. It’s a feeling you will want to chase. And every single moment you need a reminder, you will have your photographs to transport you back to feeling confident, sexy, worthy of love, and worthy of being seen.
When was the last time you felt beautiful and sexy?
Whatever the circumstances, you felt like your hottest self… Nothing has changed about who you are and how amazing you are. It’s time!
Megan and Derek met through an online dating app called Zoosk, though they were both hesitant to get back out on the dating scene, having each recently gone through a divorce.
“To give perspective on my situation, in that past year, I had gotten divorced, lost my job and lost my mother to cancer. I was lost,” says Derek.
Meeting Megan for him at that time in his life was like getting a second chance at life.
“She was a breath of fresh air, an angel in disguise. I believe that it was quite literally ‘love at first sight.’ We clicked from the very beginning.”
Megan and Derek have now been together for 8 years, married for 6 of those, and have one child from Derek’s previous marriage.
When asked what he loves about Megan, Derek says, “one of the plethora of things that impressed me with Megan is how quickly and seamlessly she assumed the Mother figure role for Aidan. That only made my love for her grow even stronger.”
Shortly before the couple was to be married in 2014 they found out they were pregnant with twins. After many visits and procedures, they miscarried a month before the wedding. Though Megan still struggles with this at times, being a motherly figure to their son and their niece has helped fill that void.
Megan first came across the studio through a couple she worked with who had posted their artwork on Facebook. She began following Allebach on social media and brought up the idea of a couples session to Derek.
“I thought it was so awesome, but initially, in my mind, couldn’t see myself doing it. When Mike’s post about the modeling call for couples boudoir call up, I was immediately intrigued. Knowing that if we waited for the other person to take that leap it could be forever, so without telling Megan, I put together an email to Mike, along with a picture of us. And to my surprise, we were chosen!”
Derek explained that with the extra daily stresses that the pandemic has put on Megan at her job this year, he wanted to give back to her in a way she deserved.
“Unprecedented times with COVID, Megan works on the front lines every day tirelessly to make sure that her residents in her community have as normal of a life as they can. I wanted to give her an escape from reality so that she can finally see with her own eyes, what I’ve been telling her for 8 years, how beautiful she is.”
After the couple had their first initial phone call with Mike, any nerves that they had immediately disappeared.
“Our session was sooooo amazing! From the awesome hair and make-up artist to Mike and his undeniable skill as not just a photographer, but at making you feel so comfortable in your own skin,” says Megan.
The couple went right “to it” so to speak and skipped the dress up part and were half naked before they knew it! They felt completely comfortable in their own skin.
“During the session, we felt a type of connection, electricity, that was unlike any other feeling. As though we were not actually doing a photo session but alone just the two of us. We felt reinvigorated with this even deeper sense of passion brought out by the amazing direction of Mike and allowing us to be ourselves,” says Megan.
“We also really enjoyed the time being unplugged from all distractions like social media, etcetera,” Derek added.
After sitting through the unveiling of all of their photos, they had an extremely hard time narrowing down their favorites because they loved them all!
When they did finally manage to narrow it down, Derek and Megan chose the Storyboard Collection for the bedroom wall, as well as 6 of their favorite prints with mat.
“It brought out so much emotion, and even tears to see us portrayed in such a light,” Derek said.
The couple took away so much from their session.
“A deeper connection with each other, a greater self confidence for each of us, and one of the most memorable experiences of our lives thus far. We cannot thank Mike and his team enough for allowing us to create memories and photos that will last a lifetime!”
“I love you.” I cannot tell you how many times I croon these three words to my infant son in a single day. I can say “I love you,” with ease in the morning to my husband before he leaves for work. Hell, I even tell my dogs how much I love them on a daily basis. But to tell myself “I love you?” I have to admit – my first thought was this sounds a little narcissistic. And my second thought was even worse. “Why should you love yourself?”
Mirror work – also known as the mirror exercise, mirror technique and mirror gazing – is a powerful tool for building self-love and one that I have to admit sounded too silly and too easy to work.
“Most of us when we look in a mirror we criticize ourselves, make fun of ourselves. We say derogatory things to ourselves. It’s a habit. The mirror, as small as it may be, can really help you connect with yourself,” says Louise Hay, author and self-help advocate.
The idea is simple; you stand in front of a mirror, stare deeply into your own eyes, and say to yourself, “I love you.”
There are all sorts of variations to this practice. You can repeat those words over and over again to yourself, or you can add positive affirmations like “I am enough,” or “I am beautiful in my own skin.” You can talk to yourself like you would an old friend – positive self-talk is the key to this practice.
I decided to start with the mirror exercise first thing in the morning because they say that’s when your mind is the most susceptible. First thing in the morning, by the way for me, meant disheveled bed head, pajamas, and no makeup.
I stood in front of our full-length mirror and took a breath, already starting to criticize my pores, untamed baby hairs, and saggy chest. All that in just a matter of seconds!
“I love you,” I whispered, not in the mood to be overheard by my husband and having to explain myself. “I love you,” I say again a little louder this time, looking into my eyes. I cocked my head and made a dumb face at myself. This seems silly. I repeat those words a few more times before deciding to tell myself just what I love, or at least like, about myself.
“I love your soft, fine hair.”
“I love the shape of your ears.”
“I love the multi-colors of your eyes.”
“I love that you don’t take yourself too seriously.”
“I love that, even though you sort of hate the way your breasts look right now, you are putting your son’s health first by nourishing him with them.”
While it was nice to acknowledge some of my surface traits (like my hair and eyes), what struck the biggest chord with me was when I dug a little deeper and looked at what my body does for me and for others.
“I love that not only do you have cute ears, but those ears help you to hear the world around you, like your son’s belly laugh!”
“I love that not only are your eyes a fun kaleidoscope of colors, but they also help you see and navigate a beautiful world!”
I left our mirror feeling a little goofy, but nonetheless happier with myself and ready to move forward with my day.
The goal of the mirror exercise is not to become self-centered or narcissistic, I realized, it’s about being thankful for your body and developing a healthy self-perception.
While I started off small with my exercise, I plan to continue on a daily schedule, moving first from loving my outside to then focusing on what’s inside.
Christine Wolkin is a freelance writer and writes for Allebach Photography. Learn more about our studio at Allebachphotography.com or by texting 610.539.6920.
“I just want to feel like me again.” She said in soft slow tones explaining why she wanted to be photographed, “Last year was a hell of a year and to be honest I got really lost. I want to feel at home in my body. I’m getting older and my body is changing. I want to love myself again because I’ve lost my way. I don’t remember who I am. Life has gotten so busy and I have to handle so much to do, so many people to take care of. I’ve forgotten who I truly am. I don’t know what it means to be me, I want to remember that.”
This is what my clients share with me Every. Single. Day. It’s so common, I’ve come to understand it as the new American anthem. People have lost their identity. They say, “Help me find me. Help me love my skin, organs, muscles, and bones. My body is changing. I’m getting older and if I can’t love myself now, when can I?” Or they say, “I want to look back on this body and appreciate it.”
Some days I hear the opposite. “For so long I’ve hated this body and now we’ve come to speaking terms. I’ve worked hard to get here I want you to document me. I am ready to be photographed”
Most people would agree, when we feel great we give the world our best. We show up for others. When we feel beautiful, when we own the space, when we carry our weight with pride, when we feel strong and hold our head high, despite all the things we were taught to hate about ourselves, we live our best lives. But how?
I work in the business of bodies. Specifically, I photograph them as a boudoir photographer. In simpler terms, I make space for people to play dress up. They get made up, strip down, try on different identities and clothes and peel off false ideals like onion layers off of their soul. They explore relationships with themselves or others in a safe place.
But this story didn’t begin as a photographer. It started 19 years ago when I played guitar in an idealistic punk rock band and penned the words in an anti-body dysmorphic anthem “Covergirl, you’ve been lied to and you’ve been tricked”.
The song goes on saying “I want you to love me for who I am.” Present-day Mike is still asking the same questions as high school Mike, “Are we our bodies?” and “What is acceptance?”
Before I dove into the question of body, soul, mind connection I had some personal work to do.
Living in a Culture of Body Dysmorphia
As a photographer, I’ve gotten to watch hundreds of people see their photos for the first time. It’s amazing to experience people seeing their photos for the first time and squealing with joy. “I can’t believe that’s me!!!”
And occasionally watching them notice things no one else would notice or things that aren’t there. I’ve photographed people medically diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition that affects 2.4% of the population. This condition causes people to obsess over parts of their bodies in an OCD way. It causes people to see their bodies in ways other people can’t see or imagine. What does that leave the rest of us with? If we haven’t been diagnosed, what is it that we have?
Body-negativity is the only term I can think of. I think we are living in a culture of body negativity. It sells. We are the collateral damage from years of marketing, messages, and media saying “we are not enough.”
Although we don’t have the disorder, the same messages have soaked down to our soul.
I will love my body when….
I will love my body if…
I will be worthy when…
And at the end of each of these statements is a host of companies selling products promising that result. The rhythmic drumming beats of the American marketing machine “You Are Not Enough.” Hundreds of times a day we hear that in subtle ways.
No wonder why we struggle to love the skin we are in.
I asked Teri Ledgerwood, founder of Body Image Bootcamp, why people are uncomfortable in their own skin. She said, “There are a plethora of reasons starting with the way our brain is wired for survival, comparison theory, and negativity bias. Combine that with the over-representation of one body type (thin, white, blonde). Marketing understands the way to get people to spend money is to highlight and create problems where the only solution is for people to buy a product or service to rectify such ‘problems’. This causes us to feel like we don’t fit in. Then, you add in the people you surround yourself with who have their own believes about certain bodies and you grow believing that that is true, until you start to do the work necessary to combat it. People think they want to be individuals, but what they truly want is to be accepted as an individual.”
One of the biggest surprises as a photographer has been seeing this in all types of bodies, no matter their type or gender. Body negativity does not discriminate. I’ve seen this in men who are skinny, those who aren’t, and every single body type in between. I’ve seen this in muscular bodybuilders. Even worse, how athletic men compare their bodies to their bodies at 21. American culture has given us two extremes that most men don’t fit into. While I’ve found most women’s insecurity about their body is more prevalent in day-to-day experience, most men have low-grade body negativity. It only comes into play when the subject of photos is brought up or in swimming situations. With many males it doesn’t affect them on a daily basis, they just will not want their photos posts.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
This is where I’m at and this is my work. When I love others, I love myself. When I love myself, I love others. When I accept, I am accepted. When I do the work myself, I allow others to do the work.
“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
Taking My Own Medicine
“Seeing yourself in a new light” is a phrase I love to use because this work is visual. Photography is light work. There is something magical and healing about seeing yourself in a new light, captured by a different human. To see yourself through new eyes is an incredible gift. So it was time to take my own medicine. I was photographed by 3 different photographers in 3 weeks.
What I realized, when being put in front of the camera, is how much all of these things are brought to the surface with photos. I don’t enjoy taking my shirt off on the beach or to go swimming. Maybe the image of hairless ripped tanned men on the beach has etched itself into my psyche. My ego wants me to be seen but not that seen. I feel like I don’t match a stereotype or projection.
Although photographing people from all backgrounds and all body types has been freeing, I haven’t been able to completely shake the image of the “perfect man body.”
In being photographed three times in three weeks I was left with haunting questions. Do I have a low-grade body-dysmorphia? (maybe, I don’t know) Am I able to see myself in the way others do? Does any of this even matter?
Viewing the photos, there were many photos I liked and there were some I didn’t. But photography did the light work, I felt seen. My body became a thing that is. Even in the moments where I felt awkward and exposed, I felt alive. Being photographed by an accepting human is both slightly nerve-wracking and life-giving. Emotions and feelings are tricky. Is this excitement or is this anxiety? I’m not sure. What I do know is it was healing.
When I show people photos in the studio I prefer to have a supportive partner in the room. They see with beautiful, loving, compassionate, supportive eyes and explain the photos to their partners in moments; maybe for the first time.
This is the beginning of seeing yourself in a new light and this is the healing power of photography.
Unlike the marketing messages, photography starts with the statement that “you are enough at this moment, at your age, in your state in your body”.
Bodywork: Attaining Neutrality
What does self-acceptance and bodywork look like? Certainly, it’s not a destination or arrival. Maybe it’s not even quite a realistic goal in this image-driven culture. I love Mary Lambert’s suggestion in her song Body Love
Take your hands over your bumpy love body naked
And remember the first time you touched someone
With the sole purpose of learning all of them
Touched them because the light was pretty on them
And the dust in the sunlight danced the way your heart did
Touch yourself with a purpose”
Perhaps it’s a process of letting go of our ego’s nagging through questioning and inquiry of our own thoughts. It’s holding the door open to the possibility our way of thinking could be flawed. Are we flawed in thinking we are flawed?
Where do thoughts bubble up from anyway? Who puts that idea there? A marketer? Myself? Or, was that belief buried deep in my DNA?
We can only guess where thoughts come from.
The author Byron Katie has simplified this process of examining our thoughts into four simple questions simply called The Work.
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without that thought?
Finally, she recommends exploring opposites. What is the opposite of your thought?
Like all practices, it’s work (pun intended) and it’s a beginning to see ourselves, our truest selves. And it only works… when you work it.
“In my opinion, attaining BODY NEUTRALITY is much easier than body positivity. Body positivity is inherently shaming in that, if you have a moment/day/week/month that you don’t happen to feel “positive” about your body/rolls/cellulite/stretch marks, then you may fall into an intense shame & guilt spiral. You might feel like a failure and like you’re doing it all wrong. It’s just really a whole lot of pressure.
Look — the body positivity movement has done a lot of good…it’s definitely started the conversation. But I feel that body neutrality is actually where it’s at!
Accepting your body for what it is – in a factual way, not positive or negative – is something you’ll need to do first anyway before reaching body positivity. Your goal may not even be to ever reach body positivity…and that’s totally okay. I don’t even think I have body positivity as a goal – it’s body neutrality for me. “
Who were you before you recognized yourself in the mirror? In human development, we begin recognizing ourselves between 12 and 18 months. What was your story before then? What would it look like to go back there? With the recent passing of Ram Dass, I stumbled upon his description of a body which I hope you find as helpful as I did.
“When I was born I donned a spacesuit for living on this planet, it was this body, my spacesuit, and it had a steering mechanism which is my pre-frontal lobe and all the brain that helps with coordinating and stuff. Just like those others who go to the moon and learn to use their spacesuit…how to grab things and lift things so I learned how to do that. And then you get rewarded with little stars, kisses and all kinds of things when you learn how to use your spacesuit. You get so good at it that you can’t differentiate yourself from your spacesuit.”
I find this interesting. I am not my body. An ideal many Eastern and Western religions seem to agree upon and one that science is catching up to.
“Our quest for happiness leads to attempts to satisfy our desires – whatever they be. But in so doing we become attached to things that are unreliable, unstable, changing, and impermanent. As long as there is attachment to things there will be suffering – when they change when they cease to be what we want them to be. Try as we might to find something in the world that is permanent and stable, which we can hold on to and thereby find lasting happiness, we must always fail. The Buddhist solution is as radical as it is simple: let go, let go of everything.”
While it’s a beautiful idea, I’m not there yet. Can I let go of my attachments just slightly? I’m not quite ready for this Buddhist idea. I can see its value though. My mind does attach to the image of our bodies as a spacesuit. Buddhism points to the reality of our body is ever-changing. If we are attached to our ideal that this body will remain the same, we will suffer. When we use our spacesuit well it, or body if you prefer we will develop lines where we laugh, marks where we stretch and grow and scars where we bleed.
Mary Lambert paints this picture
“Love your body the way your mother loves your baby feet….
This is important
You are worth more than a waistline
You are worth more than beer bottles displayed like drunken artifacts
You are worth more than any naked body could proclaim in the shadows
More than a man’s whim or your father’s mistake
You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4
You are no less valuable as a 32A than a 36C
Your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood
It is wisdom
You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out
An Invitation to Body Neutrality
Take this as an invitation. Like many things, this is just the beginning of a new way of seeing. Journeys aren’t straight lines, but zig-zags. You won’t shame yourself out of thinking this way. This is a journey of love. Meet your thoughts with love. Examine them. Question them. Talk to yourself with the love that you hold for your 5-year-old niece. Isn’t she is beautiful dancing in the bed in her pajamas with not a care in the world? So are you. Bathe in that light for a moment and try on that truth.
For some, this path starts with make-up, surgery, working out, movement, or gaining physical strength. I’m not here to judge your journey. These methods, like photography, are on-ramps. Choose your own adventure and turn to the next page.
My personal journey involves running, movement, meditation, inquiry, and breath-work (read about it here). I’m not there yet. I haven’t arrived. There are days where I subconsciously or consciously avoid looking in the mirror. But this is why I hold space for others to do the work. The work looks familiar. My soul knows this path.
Lastly a note, self-love isn’t selfish. It’s the deep well where we meet others. When this water is poured into our own lives it spills out into the world. Whether we start with ourselves or others doesn’t matter. See the beauty, and when you can’t… get closer.
So my hope for you is that you know you are worthy of being seen this year. That this is a beginning to regard your stretchmarks, scars, bumps, and lumps as parts of the story. Begin to deeply love this story you are living. May you learn to love the spacesuit you’ve been wearing and share this message with sons and daughters and share new realities with the next generation. May you allow yourself to be documented, recorded and treasured. It’s time to be seen. Get in that photo!
In short, I hope this is the year you start owning your time and space.
Extra thanks to MooseKleenex (buy artwork shown here) and Terri Ledgerwood & Elizabeth Zimmerman of the Body Image Bootcamp for giving their amazing insight. Check out the Body Image Bootcamp on April 2-5, 2020 in Austin, Texas.