While immersing myself in texts, articles, conversations and daydreams to begin putting together a body image group coming in January 2014 (updates coming soon!!), I came across a beautiful and brilliant photo book by photographer Rosanne Olson entitled this is who I am. Within the book’s covers, fifty-four women are photographed nude, each with stories to tell to prove that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes:
“The portraits, taken by award-winning photographer Rosanne Olson with a steady, non-judgmental eye, speak loudly to the American obsession of feminine perfection — slim hims and full breasts, high cheekbones and tiny waists, taut skin and eternal youth — and even more loudly to the way real women, with real bodies and real lives, look.”
I was struck by the pure humanness and depth in the eyes and bodies of all of the women represented in the book — women from all walks of life, ethnicities, ages, and with their own unique stories.
Utilizing this book with clients who are struggling with their own various body image issues has proven to be an eye-opening and introspective journey. We have found a richness in exploring how what we see on the outside does not necessarily tell us the true or whole story. When looking at a photo of a twenty-two year old slim, blonde woman, one might be compelled to focus on her body first and assume (by society’s standards) that she is happy, rich, popular, and perfect. Reading her story, you learn that she has had part of her lung removed as part of complications of cystic fibrosis and that she lives with other complications every day. Look in her eyes and you sense a wisdom, perhaps one that delves into her soul and makes her look older than she is. You sense that she knows her story and its twists and turns.
What do learn or assume if we focus on how a body looks as an assessment tool for how happy, peaceful, confident, healthy, wealthy, etc etc etc a person is? How true of a measuring tool is that? What are the consequences to this approach?
Ms. Olson posed intriguing questions to her subjects in her “goal of complete revelation — not hiding behind clothing but exposing both body and mind. What would we learn about ourselves? Would we — could we — become more compassionate? Not only towards ourselves but towards another?” I invite you to peruse through the other questions she posed and see how you would answer them yourself:
- What do you love about your body?
- How long has it taken you to arrive at acceptance/love of your body?
- What frustrates you or what would you like to change?
- Has your body let you down (if you feel that it has) or have you let your body down?
- How have you supported your body?
- How have your feelings changed towards your body since you were younger?
- In general, how do you feel women feel about their bodies?
- How do you feel the media have affected how women feel about their bodies? (read an excerpt and see some of the stunning photos here)
She then asked each participant why they agreed to be photographed. Some of the women struggle with eating or exercise problems. Some have suffered from medical issues or illnesses that have affected the way their body functions, feels, and looks. They all have had experiences in their lives which have forced them to become more aware of their bodies — whether in a joyful or painful way.
What story does your body hold? If photographed, what messages about your internal state of being would your body send to those looking at the photo? Is your internal state congruent with the energy you exude out of your body?
I have been journaling about my own journey with my body. It has been through so much with me, and yet here it still stands, walks, talks, and dances, my ever dedicated soldier. I am so grateful for my body, though my relationship with it can wind through sticky paths as well as bright ones. In my own recovery, I have learned that I must take care of my body, and this is not negotiable. My body is unique just to me, a gift. I admire the women in these photos who allow themselves to be vulnerable, naked, and yet to connect to each other and to those who read their stories and see their photos in such a powerful way.
We have so much to learn from the wisdom of our bodies. Why must we wait until something life-changing happens for us to tune into and adore them?
Stay tuned for my Body Image Acceptance Group coming in January 2014! The group will be limited to few participants, so sign up quickly. More info coming soon to my Events page.