There’s been a big movement worldwide towards promoting body positivity over the past couple of years and a huge event held in the UK this year to celebrate it…
With certain Fashion Designers starting to use larger models – which they refer to as plus size, but in reality are actually just normal women – various celebrities speaking out about not being afraid to show a less than 100% perfect life on social media and brands such as Dove using ‘real’ women in their advertising campaigns… body confidence seems a consistently popular topic.
Retail sites such as ASOS are now using more realistic images, people like Tess Holiday and Ashley Graham are championing the ‘plus size’ figure and with a number of viral social media posts of people showing scars, stretch marks and postnatal bodies in their true and unedited form, there’s more and more realness out there in the digital world … yet despite this, I still feel that women as a whole are pretty hard on themselves and their appearance!
When I started blogging I was literally terrified to put pictures of myself online and it took me about six months to put the first one on Instagram … and I know I’m not alone.
It perhaps triggered some insecurities as a result of experiences years ago and I just had this, slightly irrational, fear I was going to be judged and get a negative reaction… actually the experience has been the complete opposite and I would say that my Instagram and Blog have now made me much more accepting of my appearance and I really enjoy supporting the other girls who are doing the same thing online.
I think I feel most body confident when I know I’m making the most of what I’ve got…. dressing well for my shape.
I’m not so insecure that I look at other people and wish I was like them, but I have definitely became aware that I have a rather critical inner voice who berates me about my body at times, or I will compare my body with how it used to look when I was younger, fitter or thinner.
So what does true body confidence mean and how do you find it?
I think it breaks down to 5 main steps:
- Stop making comparisons – looking at others will not help you feel better about yourself. Acknowledge that a lot of images in the media are edited and unrealistic – and try to basically ignore them – just focus on being your best possible self.
- Self perception – consider how you view your body may not be wholly accurate, or as others would see you. What is your perception, think about it and challenge it – Is it fair? Is it realistic? How would your friend describe your body?
- Self-awareness – becoming more aware of your thoughts, listening to that inner voice and the subliminal messages you feed yourself – particularly of any critical ones – gives you the chance to challenge any unrealistic or inaccurate beliefs. Its so easy to beat ourselves up internally and not even truly realise!
- Acceptance – Letting go of wishes for perfectionism and accepting the reality of the body you have at this point literally sets you free from negative thoughts or beliefs you have been holding onto.
- Self Love – Being grateful for that body, irrespective of any flaws or imperfections you may believe you have. They are part of you and your journey and that body has worked hard for you for all of your life so be kind to it!
It made sense to ask the girls in the online community which I’m a part of, what they felt about the subject – what body confidence means to them and how they get it….
This is what some of those lovely ladies said:
@glamourgurunae Body confidence is being confident with the body you’ve been given, despite what we’re told we should look like by media. Body confidence means taking care of yourself mentally and physically because it’s the only one you get.
@_zaralouu My body confidence comes from knowing I’m loved for me and not just my physical form. Loving me for my mind, spirit and vessel is a complete package.
@msaige It means that I show my daughter to be happy with what we’ve got. In turn it is a reminder to myself to love myself.
@floridmaven For me it’s all about feeling happy from within and to accept and continue to explore the unique individual that I am.
@theurbenlife Body positivity means loving yourself the way God loves you! I feel body confident when I’m happy and healthy.
@thefeistyfoodie Body confidence has nothing to do with the body but everything to do with the mind!
@normannicci I really haven’t ever accepted the body I have; I think my lack of body confidence is from within the mind and is very much linked to my inner voice or inner critic. That is where the work for me and many people is needed. Our own view is influenced by our upbringing as well as where in the world we live, fashion and media expectations.
@yourfrugalista When I was younger I always wanted to have more curves so I did a lot of stuff to achieve that but now as I am getting older I feel more comfortable in my own skin.
When I decided to write a blog about this subject I spoke to a Photographer and Author called Susie Mackie who contributes to an online magazine I also write for… and as she has worked closely with so many women, I knew she would have a wealth of insight into the topic!
Susie’s photography career has led her on an unexpected and wonderfully rewarding path.
Starting with wedding photography, she branched into boudoir shoots to offer a unique gift for grooms, but also – and more importantly in the context of this blog – as a result of her seeing the need for women to have their confidence and self esteem boosted.
As a result, Susie’s photography work goes so much deeper and she has witnessed the empowerment and confidence the whole process brings to her clients.
She has worked with many brave women who are cancer survivors, women who have escaped abusive relationships and those who have recovered from eating disorders …. all sorts of life experiences which have led women to a stage in their life where they need to reconnect with themselves and feel beautiful once again.
I asked Susie her views on the subject of body confidence:
Why do you think so many women (and men) struggle with body image?
Women in particular are susceptible to believing that they are not “enough”.
Surrounded by flawless “perfection” in the media, with messages from huge industries such as the cosmetic and weight loss industries telling us women they must aspire to this, when in fact it’s simply not possible, because that flawless ‘perfection’ is a lie.
Social media puts added pressure to look good, to be seen to be having an amazing time. I really dislike the filters I see young women using, they look so false and it’s a shame that women feel the need to change themselves so drastically for social media.
Women tend to compare themselves unfavourably with others, and find it hard to accept compliments. We need to find ways to approve of ourselves much more, to know that we are “enough”.
One of my closest friends had a boudoir shoot after she got divorced, do you find there are certain life situations that bring people to you?
It’s such an empowering experience that really enables women to renew their relationship with themselves and their bodies. Aside from special occasions – as a wedding or anniversary gift for a loved one, here are some examples of why women have booked a boudoir shoot with me:
- After an early hysterectomy, to feel like a woman again
- To learn to love her body again after miscarriage
- After having breast cancer twice, to celebrate life. Towards the end of the shoot this woman couldn’t stop smiling and was comfortable baring her scars.
- “I’m feeling fat, frumpy and fifty”
- For a confidence boost during an unhappy marriage
- To celebrate their age – there is no expiry date on beauty and sensuality – my oldest client to date was 74!
When clients arrive for a photoshoot, what do you find they are most nervous about?
Nerves are normal, this kind of experience means you are going to place yourself in a potentially vulnerable place both emotionally and by revealing your body in front of the camera.
Women tend to focus on the bits of their body they like least; I encourage them to shift their focus onto the bits they do like, and to accept their not-so-favourite bits.
One client texted me the day before her shoot, saying that she was having a massive wobble, was off work with severe depression and anxiety, and was bigger than she’d ever been and felt she needed to cancel. After a sympathetic text and phone conversation, she decided that she would come after all – and she had such an amazing time that she came on BBC Radio Gloucestershire to talk about her experience.
It changed her life, and gave her the confidence to leave her job and set up in business as a Life Coach.
How do you put the ladies at ease?
It’s important that I dispel the nerves as quickly as possible so clients can relax and enjoy being pampered while having their make up done.
I explain that my camera is an inanimate object, and that I am taking their photo.
I have great empathy as most of the time if a camera is pointed at me I freeze!
While clients are having their make-up done I ask if I can unpack their bag, and we go girlie about the lingerie they’ve brought. We plan which items we are going to use and in what order – I always start with less revealing items and work up to the sexier ones as the client grows more comfortable – and becomes more liberated.
We have a giggle during the shoot and work together – I guide the poses and clients begin to forget their inhibitions and let the fun take over.
You’ve written a book based upon your experiences, sharing the stories of some very brave women who have overcome certain traumatic situations in their life…. and we talked about how your photo shoots have helped many ladies overcome self esteem issues, so it sounds as if some of the sessions must be quite emotional…. I’m wondering how you find that personally – it must be a privilege but also tough sometimes?
Yes, it’s a huge privilege watching a woman make that shift inside – seeing the transformation begin to take place, to witness liberation!
I get quite excited when I know I’ve captured a great moment, so sometimes share that image with my client, showing it to her on the back of my camera. To hear exclamations like “Oh Susie, you’ve made me look really pretty!” (to which I reply that I haven’t made her look pretty, she IS really pretty!)
I ALWAYS affirm. And I mean what I say.
Are there tough moments for me? Seeing a beautiful young woman cry after her shoot with sheer relief at how she now feels, that makes me emotional later that day, because I just wish women could see, and accept, how beautiful they are.
Beauty isn’t about looking like a model, it’s about having an inner glow: watch an average looking woman who knows her worth walk with confidence and assurance into a room and heads turn in response to that …. that certain something. That’s what I want to help women achieve.
And finally, what would be your one piece of advice for ladies hoping to feel more body confident in the future?
Work on your self-perception.
Get help if you need to – body image is far more about the internal than the external.
It’s interesting to know that around one third of our self-esteem is related to how positive or negative our body image is.
This can really affect your social life and intimate relationships, let alone your relationship with yourself.
Susie has discovered some incredible life stories through her work and shared real journeys of transformation with the ladies … If you’d like to learn more, you can find her book ‘Women of Spirit’ here.
My Sensuality Instagram
Susie Mackie, Boudoir Photography
Susie Mackie, Wedding Photography