I feel like this particular shoot has been a lifetime in the making for me. To understand the why of this shoot, we need to back up.
From the time I was very small, my mom and aunts and sister and all the beautiful women around me "dieting." They were fad diets and they never stuck. It was an ongoing cycle of gain weight, diet, lose weight, stop diet because it was a pain in the ass, gain weight and repeat. I think most of us can say that we lived this as a child. I can remember going around telling people I was on a diet... I was maybe 5-7 years old. All the most beautiful women had small waists, large breasts, athletic arms and legs and of course booty. I wanted desperately to look like that. I ALWAYS wanted to look different than I did. From grade school age. I wanted deep red hair, green eyes and freckles. I thought my dark brown hair and eyes made me boring. Thanks media! Let's skip ahead to my teenage years to continue this story.
I was a normal teenage girl. Trying to make it through high school. What a dreadful experience that was. Best years of my life, my ass. I had a "boyfriend." When he broke up with me, he called me fat. Now, I was no where near any societal definition of fat. I was 5'1" and weighed a whopping 110 lbs but it didn't matter. I was completely broken. How could someone say that to ME? This single event lead me down a road to self destruction. I stopped eating. By this point, I ate supper in my room, not with my family, so they had no idea that I was either feeding the food to the dog, dumping it out the window to be eaten by animals or eating and purging. It wasn't until a friend notified the guidance counselor that I had stopped eating. I was forced to get help. After my anorexia, my stomach was so small and messed up that I couldn't tolerate more than a few bites of anything at a time without vomiting. And so began my life long struggle with body dysmorphia and my journey to self love.
When I met my husband, I was 19. I still weighed 110 lbs because I was cautious about ANY weight gain. I was bad. I was willful and difficult and stubborn and more promiscuous than I'd like to admit. And then all of a sudden, I plopped, quite literally into this amazing man's lap. He was so fun and positive and full of life and he LOVED to eat. This man is seriously a human garbage disposal. He ate ALL. THE. TIME. He would laugh at me when we would go to lunch or dinner because I would get a sandwich and MAYBE eat half. He was SO proud of me the first time that I actually ate an entire sandwich :) I felt loved. TRUE LOVE. I got comfortable and by the time we got married two years later, I had gained almost 50 lbs. I gained so much weight so quickly that my wedding dress didn't fit. I had to have it altered RIGHT before our wedding. We knew we wanted babies right away, so we started trying on our honeymoon. No luck. Tried for a whole year, cause they make you, and no luck. I endured Lupron for 6 months. That drug was literal hell on my body. Between its negative effect on my self image, my weight sky rocketed, my depression and anxiety hit an all time high and it caused a drug induced cardiomyopathy. Then I had to wait and push and pray and cry until I finally found a doctor who would approve us for fertility treatments. From May to July of 2012, I gave myself injections daily, had bloodwork and ultrasounds semi daily. I gained MORE weight. By the time I got pregnant with our daughter in July, I weighed in at my heaviest 175 lbs. After she was born in March of the following year, I had gained more weight.
In June of 2015, I had had enough. I hated myself. I hated my body. I hated my stretch marks that covered my thighs, breasts, stomach, love handles. I hated everything about me. I was at my heaviest nonpregnant weight, 196 lbs. I didn't know anything about self love or self appreciation. Those words meant nothing to me and honestly I thought they were lies. Those things didn't exist. Not for someone like me anyway. Despite my crippling depression and anxiety, I started working out. Slowly at first. I took appetite suppressant pills to help me along. From June of 2015 to January of 2016 I lost 56 lbs. I had a 6 pack, perfect toned legs, arms and back muscles. But I wasn't any happier. If anything, I was more determined to meet my goal weight of.... you guessed it, 110 lbs. The two weeks before I found out I was pregnant I survived on 500-800 calories a day. I did labor intensive grueling workouts every single day plus walks or runs in the evenings. I was a HOT MESS. Food was my enemy. I couldn't eat what I wanted to eat and look how I wanted to, so I gave up on the eating part. Then, I just pregnant with my son. Completely unexpected. Amazing surprise. During my pregnancy, I gained one pound a week until about 20 weeks. Then I gained more. He was a GIANT baby and I was HUGE and for the first time, I started to appreciate my body. He was born via planned c section. It was comforting and wonderful, such a healing event. I nursed him for 7.5 months. I loved holding him. I loved snuggling him. He was the squishiest, snuggliest baby EVER. (He still is <3) I remember saying things to my husband like, "I need to work out, I need to get my body back." He would roll his eyes and nod. I said those same words, probably every day, up until recently.
You see, I preach body positivity. I sell it. It is everything to me and to my business. BUT I wasn't loving my body. I wasn't treating it right. I wasn't kind to it. After I stopped nursing my son, I stopped taking the time to appreciate my body. And I went back to body NEGATIVITY. But, in the last few months, I have been developing an appreciation for this body. This body has survived unmentionable things. I have had surgeries and recovered, because of my body. I had birthed two children with this body. I have held and fed and snuggled and loved and comforted those children with this body. My husband ADORES this body. With all of its cellulite, stretch marks and curves. He couldn't understand what I found so repulsive about it. And finally, it clicked in my head. We all have demons. We all have insecurities. It is SO EASY to see the beauty and power and purpose in another purpose or in another body but it is so DAMN difficult to see the purpose, beauty and power in yourself. So, while every day may not be this perfect event of admiring my flaws, I am getting better. It has had such an amazing effect on my outlook, my mental health, my energy level, my sex life, nd my ability to lift others up.
Today, I stand (or more literally sit) here and tell you that I AM BEAUTIFUL. I AM LOVED. I AM ENOUGH. MY BODY IS PERFECTLY MINE. MY SCARS, MY STRETCH MARKS, MY CELLULITE, MY ACNE - THEY ARE ALL MINE. They are every little thing that helps to make me, me.
Below you will find images and paragraphs from the Body Positivity Shoot that makes me so proud. I hope you enjoy the images and the stories. I hope you take today and lift up yourselves and others.
"My biggest insecurities: Arms and thighs- I was never a petite person. I’ve struggled with all aspects of my body for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned to be comfortable with my tummy - some days I even like it. But, I still struggle to find the beauty in my big arms and thighs. Up until a couple of years ago, I wore 3/4 length sleeves and even sweaters in the summer just to cover my upper arms, and I avoided bathing suits like the plaque so my thighs wouldn’t show. It took my daughter catching me looking at my arm fat in the mirror with disgust (something I vowed to NEVER let my kids see) for me to change my way of thinking. When she saw the look on my face she said “ I love your big arms, Mommy. They’re so soft and snuggly.” She saw something that I had struggled to see my whole life: beauty in my “flaws.” My arms are perfect for giving the big, warm hugs to my beautiful babies. My legs are big - and strong. They’ve carried me through this life of ups and downs. Down roads filled with sorrow and others filled with joy. They’ve carried me through 3 amazing pregnancies and never failed when I needed to walk those babies back and forth around the house until they fell asleep. My body may be different than some; but it’s sturdy, it’s beautiful and it’s mine."
"I’m really insecure of my stomach. I hate the stretch marks, the loose skin, and extra fat around my waist. I don’t like looking in the mirror with my clothes off because it reminds me I don’t look like those “perfect girls” in the magazines. Instead I see someone who has to find clothes that cover all the imperfections. But this stomach is filled with stretch marks because of the two beautiful babies I gave life to. This body created and carried my sweet little boys and now the stretch marks are a reminder of what my body is capable of."
"As a women being asked what you think your insecurities are, I could probably compile a list a mile long. But when I was asked what my biggest insecurities are I could definitely say they would have to be my flat butt and stomach since having my daughter (which I was not comfortable with to begin with). Throughout my life I have always heard “you have no butt”. Which kills a woman’s self-esteem. But in reality this is the butt I was given and it makes it easier to find pants and I KILL wearing leggings and yoga pants. Most women are uncomfortable with their stomachs, especially after having a child. But in the grand scheme of things, YOU CREATED A BEAUTIFUL LIFE!! So what I have some extra skin, and stretch marks. But I earned all of that and looking at my beautiful daughter I would not change a second of it! After the body positive shoot, I have started to learn how to better love myself and the body that I have given."
"After having 3 children I dreaded looking into the mirror. That's where I saw all my flaws including my saggy belly and stretch marks. I hated looking at my body because it doesn't look at all like it did when I was 18. But now I look at myself in a whole new light because my body created those 3 children. They rolled in my belly, kicked me, stretched my skin and created my tiger stripes. My kids will come running up to me and lift my shirt just to jiggle my belly and they think it's the funniest thing in the world. I used to be ashamed of this body but now I'm thankful that I was able to carry my own children and as much as I hate my jiggly skin, when my kids laugh about it, it's one of the best feelings in the world to me."
My biggest insecurity is my excess skin from weight loss surgery, and my weight. All my life I have been bullied from boys, girls, grown women, men, etc. and it's always triggered towards my weight. From middle school, all the way through my college career, I was always the "bigger" girl. The "curvy" girl. I was never looked at by guys because of my size, girls would look at me as a joke because of my size, I'd get criticized for what I ate or what I wore even though I tried my hardest to eat good, diet good, and dress good. Because of my weight, I never felt good enough. I constantly used to see myself as a burden and an absolute hog, literally, because of my weight. I finally decided that I deserved more than the bullying that I was getting and I needed to take control of my life especially since I was at my lowest point in my life and at my heaviest, but most importantly I needed to do something to make myself happy. After always putting others first, I took the steps to get the gastric sleeve (a form of weight loss surgery) after struggling and failing with fad diets. It was time for me to get my life back because I DESERVE to be happy about myself like everyone else. I took the plunge, and completed the six month program my doctors required, and finally got my surgery after struggling for 10+ years for my weight. So far, I'm down 75 pounds which is GREAT. I have the minor issue of loose/excess skin on my arms, inner thighs, and stomach but I much rather have that than be overweight, depressed, hating myself, and the back pain I used to have. I took control of my life like I should've done years ago. By doing this, I can finally say that although I'm not at my goal weight yet, I LOVE myself! I have more confidence now than I ever have before. I found a man who loves me, even though I'm not the "model" size and he helps build me up. I have learned that I am so much more than that number on the scale. I am a warrior, a fighter, a lover, a compassionate Surgical Technologist who brings new lives in the world, I'm a strong woman, and I AM BEAUTIFUL. I overcame one of my biggest insecurities and I am always working on bettering myself. Just because I have flaws like my surgical scars, stretch marks, loose skin, moles, they make me, me. I am only one person, and this is my only body I will ever have and I'll be damned if I ever let somebody else make me question my self worth or make me ever feel less than I deserve. I've been through hell and back, and now nothing will ever stop me. I love myself and my new life, and every woman should love themselves just as much because they deserve it, no matter what flaws they have. We're all goddesses."
"My biggest insecurity came after the birth of my third child. His pregnancy was a long, hot one as I finally gave birth on the last day of August. It felt like my body was stretched and swollen to epic proportions. After a traumatic birth, it was revealed we'd had our biggest baby yet: he was a whole 10lbs 1oz. Unlike my other two pregnancies, I didn't bounce back. It seemed like my abdominal muscles were affected past repair. While my body in general shrunk down a little bit, my stomach continually looked like I was at least 6 months pregnant. I had to learn how to hide my body in clothing to disguise my stomach. Seven months after my son's birth, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed meds that helped my brain but caused me to gain so much more weight. I can't begin to describe how defeated I was. My son is now just over two and I am finally comfortable with the body that birthed three children. My mental and physical health is more important than a narrow view of what my body should look like. I now love and appreciate what this body has done for me."
"For as long as I can remember I've never felt good about my body and have always been super sensitive about what I perceive people are saying about how I look. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I was 21 that causes me to have many skin issues among other things. Some days I can look like I have crazy sunburn, red blotchy, bumpy rash or super dry, cracked skin. Couple that with swollen joints and I rarely have a day I feel presentable, let alone "pretty". As we know, our bodies change dramatically as we age and bear children. My butt is flat, my breasts are droopy. I have scars and stretch marks, love handles and cellulite. That's my story. I'm a survivor of this crazy autoimmune disease. It no longer defines me. My skin tells my story. My flat butt looks awesome in leggings, and my breasts are droopy because I fed my children from them. I am beyond honored to have been chosen to participate in this shoot that shouts beauty and strength. Everyday I become a little more in love with myself. I don't see the flaws as often these days."
"It's all about how you see yourself. Having the personality trait of a perfectionist has always influenced how I've negatively internalized the image of my body. I've had to stop and ask myself if my perception of beauty is distorted from decades of media exposure that glorifies an unrealistic ideal or if it's a result of my own demons. It's probably both. I often think to myself that if I lost weight here or there that I would gain instant gratification. But would I really? If you think about it, these self-destructive thoughts develop at a young age. Starting in 8th grade, when I returned from Summer Break in a C cup as opposed to the sports bras and A cups I had previously adorned, society might as well of called me up personally and told me I was in trouble. And so began my journey of a disproportionate body type, with a side of degrading and demoralizing comments from my peers--whether they knew I heard them or not. In my senior year, we watched a documentary on bulimia and anorexia in a psychology class and I stopped eating for 10 days, but I soon realized that going down that path would only add to my disproportion, shrinking my stomach and only drawing more negative and unwanted attention to my upper body. A year and a half ago, when I finally had enough, and literally took the weight off my chest through a reduction mammoplasty, I thought my days of disproportion were over. After all, what could be more disproportional than a HH cup on a 5'3"-120 lb.-23 year old? But being a woman in this day in age, the steps to self-appreciation are never over. Now I'll catch myself picking on my stomach or my thighs, simply because I can see them now when I look down. There are still many hurdles I'll endure. So how do I survive day-to-day? CONFIDENCE. I'm reminded of a quote, "I may not always like my body, but I'll always be proud of it." Recognizing and acknowledging my feelings, and the body sensations that come along with it, helps me to become more comfortable in my body and lessens my tendency to suppress feelings and revert to unhealthy, negative inner attacks against myself to escape uncomfortable feelings. Am I positive everyday? No. Do I have fun? YES. Because in spite of any indications or expectations, the beauty of another woman, is not the absence of your own."
"My “Negative” is that I have scars; scars from having c-sections with both of my children, and scars from having a breast reduction. Yes, they may not be seen by anyone, but I see them when I look in the mirror daily. Before the breast reduction my negative would have been that my chest was entirely too big for my body. I used to be made fun of because they were just not proportioned to my body. Having the surgery has given me so much more confidence and self-esteem that I didn’t have. So when I look at those scars I just remind myself just how strong I actually am, to have endured the pain of being made fun of for years and the pain of the actual surgeries. And I also look at my 2 beautiful children and think I would rather have that scar on my stomach than not have them."
"When I look in the mirror I see a body struggling to look feminine because of my chest. My chest is broad and it is flat. Growing up I was always told "You'd be so hot if you had boobs." I may not have the most feminine or fullest chest, but I have a husband who loves me, an awesome personality, and I can go braless wherever I want. Any woman out there can relate to how awesome that feels. I'm a silver lining kind of person, and I'll be damned if someone makes me feel like less of a person because of my bra size. If you don't want to show interest in me because of my bra size then that's your loss because I have a lot to offer, and I'm so grateful to have a man by my side who has helped me realize that."
"My negative about my body is my stomach and my cellulite. I hate me “pouch” that I can’t seem to get rid of and the stretch marks. My legs when I stand look like cottage cheese and make me feel very uncomfortable. The way I get over these “insecurities “ is my husband. He is always telling me that I am beautiful and he loves the way I look. He looks at me the way I never imagined anyone ever could. He is an amazing tattoo artist that helps me express myself and helps me “mask “ the things I hate."
In closing, I am SO ridiculously proud of these women. For getting in their underwear in some random field. For supporting each other. For sharing their insecurities. For doing all of that and letting me share these images and their stories.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3