I have been thinking a lot about acceptance lately. Especially acceptance of the self. Acceptance of your body. The vessel that you have been given. I have been thinking about this all especially as I spend afternoons at the beach watching all kinds of people wearing small to little clothing interact.
In my fourteen years of photographing professionally, I have literally photographed thousands of people. Thousands. It would be impossible to calculate the actual number. And through it all, I am constantly and continuously surprised by the hang-ups we hold for ourselves. Those things that we view as imperfections. Those things that we use as excuse for why we couldn’t get or do something in life.
So before I get more into it, I’m going to list all of my own so-called hang-ups. Those things that bother me about me. I am just going to lay it all out there at the risk of being vulnerable and also at the risk of being human: I wish I was thinner. I wish my belly was a little flatter. I wish my thighs didn’t caress one another. I wish that scar from bad jewellery choices in my nose in my twenties wasn’t there. I wish my hair was either straighter or either curlier. I wish it would just choose one way. When I see people with pure skin, I wish I didn’t have freckles. I crave that pure, blank, beautiful canvas. I have never known what that would be like. I have always had these freckles and while I have grown to love them, as I continue to age, they are fading. So I wish, too, that they should stick around. To still be there but more prominent, to give me a reason for not having that pure blank canvas. I wish I had longer, more elegant fingers instead of the short, wrinkly stubby ones that I see. I wish my head was smaller, or at least that extra chin of mine would dissipate. I wish that those grey hairs would stop making themselves known.
When you are a photographer of people, you oftentimes become a therapist of sorts. There is something about that camera barrier between you and the subject. It becomes a sort of wall. A sort of safe space for all kinds of insecurities to be voiced. The secrets that I know about the people that I photograph could fill books – but, of course, not a word of these encounters will ever be written because that is part of the sacrilege of the photographer. What happens outside of the frame, stays that way. Unrecorded. Not captured. Quickly forgotten.
What I say to these women and men who hate their faces, their angles, their arms, that little spot over there is: no one notices. These imperfections, these things that we hate about ourselves that we hold on to so tight, that we obsess over, that we waste time worrying about. These imperfections: no one else notices. And no one else notices because they are all so wrapped up in their own worries. No one is really watching anyone else, they are too concerned with themselves.
I have preached this for years to my clients in the pep talks that I give them. You are you. You are beautiful. And yes, there are ways to change these things that you dislike. There are extremes like plastic surgery. There are the basics like eating healthy and whole foods and exercising daily (which regardless about how you feel about yourself and your body, you really ought to be doing anyways). There are things like dying your hair and using makeup to cover up those spots.
And while I have preached that to my clients for all of these years, I still held onto my own insecurities. A few paragraphs above, I said that I wish for that which was written. That all of my imperfections would hit the highway but I am realising that truthfully I also don’t. Because the scars and the grey hairs are something that I have earned. They are proof of life lived. And maybe one day I will choose to cover them up or maybe not. Because that jiggly belly of mine is happy. Because I love to treat myself with poutine and cocktails every now and again. Because these times out make me happy in a way that eating a salad at home wouldn’t and every once and a while, that is okay. I have earned that little bit of jiggle. Instead of being skinny, I want to be strong and my physical workouts will focus on this. Instead of being skinny, I want to be healthy. Eating whole and healthy foods makes me feel good – mentally, physically, emotionally. I know this. You know this. This is what I want to be focusing on. Strength, health. And with that comes all kinds of goodness and beauty.
But ultimately, it all of this comes down to acceptance. Accepting who you are and loving yourself for it.
It’s taken me 37 years and now two consistent weeks of me heading to the beach daily, seeing all types of people and bodies to finally find acceptance in myself. To practise what I preach to all of those beautiful people who pose in front of my camera. I am okay with my body. You are enough. You are beautiful. And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start using our energy elsewhere, ideally on something truly worth our everything.