Body image is a hot topic these days. Articles and documentaries share startling statistics about how many people struggle with the way they look and point to a toxic commercial and social environment that encourages self-doubt and shame. In response to this realization our society has tried to counteract negative body image with campaigns to “love your body” and “define real beauty.” These campaigns have been incredibly empowering and have done a lot to expose the dark underbelly of the unrealistic expectations perpetuated by the beauty industry. However, the counsel to love our bodies and see ourselves as beautiful unintentionally continues to perpetuate the idea that beauty is one of our most important attributes. I still think these positive body image campaigns are good and they definitely are making a healthier impact on society, but when I think about my body I want to recognize its many other attributes besides just beauty.
I decided to try using mindful photography as a way to improve my body image. Afterwards I found myself more grateful and accepting of my physical characteristics. For example, my nose. I don’t like the way my nose looks. I never have. I’ve struggled with this physical characteristic since before I can remember. When I mention it to other’s I often hear the response “Your nose is beautiful!” or “You’re beautiful!” For years I tried to force myself to love and accept my nose as beautiful, but after practicing mindful photography on my body I finally realized this: I don’t like the way my nose looks and that’s okay. I don’t have to think my nose is beautiful. I can think it looks funny and guess what? My nose is still pretty great. I can breathe through it and it’s really good at detecting smells. So while this beholder doesn’t see my nose as particularly beautiful, I’ve not only learned to peacefully coexist with it, but I’ve grown to really appreciate it.
In this post I’ll walk you through the steps for how to improve your body image with mindful photography.
Grab a mirror
It’s a little difficult to take pictures of your body by yourself. To assist with this find a mirror that will allow you to capture different angles and areas of your body.
Plan to delete the photos
Before you start taking photos, I recommend making a commitment to delete all the photos after your mindful photoshoot. Now if you end up wanting to keep one or two of the photos to remember the experience, that’s fine. However, if you have the expectation of keeping the photos you may find yourself more agitated during this exercise because it will be harder to set aside expectations about how you want to look. This photoshoot is all about learning to accept what your body looks like right now. Keeping the photos may hinder your ability to let go of judgments about yourself in order to embrace the present.
Focus on your emotions
When you first start snapping photos pay attention to the way you feel. Notice the emotions that rise up inside of you. Gratitude? Anger? Joy? Disappointment? Contentment? No emotion is invalid. The point of this step is to help you disconnect from those feelings and see them from a third party point of view rather than being wrapped up in the emotions. Your emotions are separate from your body and they don’t reflect the reality of who you are – they’re just feelings that you happen to have right now. Neither good nor bad.
Focus on your physical attributes
Now that you’ve given some time to focus on your emotions it’s time to let them be. Let your emotions take backstage in your mind and move your attention to the physical attributes of your body. Pretend that you are a painter. What colors on your palette would you use to paint your body? Notice the unique qualities and characteristics that make up what you look like. Notice blemishes, different shades of color, the changes in texture. Look at the shape of your body. Notice bumps and edges of your spine, the bones of your ankles and elbows. Look at the soft rolls of your belly and legs, and the bend of your knees.
Instead of looking at your body trying to convince yourself you are beautiful, look at your body for the story it tells. You’ve been through a lot of experiences and your body is a canvas that captures those experiences. Whether those experiences were good or bad, they are part of what makes your body look the way it does. Your body, just like you, is a complicated and intricate structure and much more than just beautiful – it’s fascinating. Every wrinkle, every blemish, every scar – they are all clues about where you have been. Focus on these physical attributes and accept them. You don’t have to love all of your physical characteristics, but rather allow yourself to peacefully co-exist with all aspects of your current physique because bodies are ever changing and you’ll never look quite like this ever again.
Focus on your body’s function
Now that you have given time to focus on your body’s outer shell, begin taking pictures of your body focusing mainly on its function. Notice how your body moves when you stretch or walk. Move your fingers and toes and focus on the wonder of how your brain communicates through your nervous system. Focus on muscle contractions, your digestive system, the flow of blood through your veins. Watch your chest rise and fall with each breath you take. Sometimes when we get so wrapped up in the way we look, we forget what our body can do. Even injured or damaged bodies still have incredible function that surpasses any complex artificial intelligence yet created.
Yes, we’re beautiful – but our bodies are so much more than beauty. They are the carriages we ride to experience life – they allow us to taste double chocolate cake, to feel the touch of another’s kiss, to revel in the enveloping sounds of music, to reach out and care for each other. Pain, ecstasy, grief, and joy – it all takes place inside our bodies. And when you start to mindfully become aware of that reality, the expectation to look beautiful almost becomes irrelevant. Try it out and let me know about your experience!