Say Cheese! How to Be in And Celebrate Photos

How to Be in And Celebrate Photos
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In today’s digital age, photos of ourselves are everywhere. For many people with eating disorders and body image issues, they can be a source of distress.

Do you avoid photos? Do you refuse to let people take or post photos of you? Do you hide in the back when asked to be in a group photo? Do you agree to be in them but then feel awful when you see them because you can’t stop critiquing your body? Do you spend hours looking at old photos and longing to look like you used to?

If you relate to any of these scenarios, you are like many of my patients who feel uncomfortable with their bodies and either avoid photos altogether or obsess over them. I’m going to suggest some strategies that have been helpful for my patients.

The first thing to understand is your anxiety is almost always increased by the avoidance of something that is distressing but not dangerous. When a situation makes you anxious, the only way to get over it is to face it. With time, your brain learns to tolerate it—we call this habituation. This means that avoiding photos entirely will just increase your distress.

Next, consider how sad it is to not be photographed. As Alison Slater Tate wrote in her widely-shared article “This Mom Stays in the Picture”, “I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them.” I’ve worked with patients that have so avoided photos there was almost no record of their lives. How sad for the people that love them!

On the other hand, it is also unproductive to take photos and then scrutinize the results for each of your flaws. This kind of obsessive focusing is destructive and only makes people feel worse. It also defeats the purpose of having taken the photo.

Photo Exposure Strategies for Body Image

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. When you look at a photo, resist the urge to zero in on your areas of body concern with an eye to criticize. Instead, look at the image of your entire body more holistically. Try to be nonjudgemental and curious.
  2. Remember that what you are looking at is not actually your body, but a representation of your body. Many factors influence this representation—the lighting, the angles, the quality of the camera, the capability of the photographer. (How many times have you taken a number of photos in a row and the people look different and better or worse from one to another?). If you take enough photos, it’s an inevitability that some will be good and some will be bad.
  3. Think about the purpose of taking the photo. Set aside social media bragging rights—the authentic purpose of a photo is to capture a moment in time, to remind you of a feeling you have experienced, to recall a place that is special to you, or to celebrate a relationship.

Take, for example, a woman who attended her sister’s wedding. When she looked at the photos, she could choose to focus on how unmuscular her arms were, the imperfections in her hair, or how she was bigger than certain other guests. Alternatively, she could focus on why they took the photo: the joy she felt in sharing this special occasion and her love for her sister.

Also, keep in mind that your perception of the same photo can differ over time. How many times have you hated a photo when it was taken but looked back on it later and loved it?

So this is my challenge to you: when given the opportunity to pose for a photo, seize it. When you look at the photo, practice not critiquing your appearance or comparing yourself to others or to past versions of yourself. Instead, ask yourself what is important about the photo—why you took it and what you wanted to remember about the moment it captures.

November 2017 LACPA Eating Disorder SIG Event

Jamie Feusner, M.D.Date:  Thursday, November 30th at 7:30 PM 

Presenter:  Jamie Feusner, M.D.

Title: Body Image in Anorexia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Clinical and Neurobiological Features

Description: Anorexia nervosa (AN) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) share clinical features related to body image distortion, including distorted perception of appearance and overemphasis on appearance in one’s self-evaluation. In addition, they share obsessive and compulsive tendencies, poor insight, and are frequently comorbid with each other. Despite this, few studies have directly compared the phenomenology or neuropsychological functioning in AN and BDD and even fewer have compared their neurobiology. In this talk I will describe the overlapping and distinct clinical features of these disorders, as well as the neurobiological substrates of visual and emotional processing from our recent lines of research. In our research, we have used functional neuroimaging (electroencephalography – EEG – and functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI) to probe the neural basis of visual processing and to uncover the dynamics of brain connectivity related to fear processing. We additionally have used structural neuroimaging to understand white matter network connectivity patterns. I will also discuss our ongoing study in AN of how brain systems involved in anxiety interact with those involve in reward and how this relates to clinical trajectory. Finally, I will discuss ongoing and future studies to develop visual modulation strategies to address dysfunctional neural systems involved in visual processing, as potential tools to remediate perceptual distortions in disorders of body image.

Bio:  Jamie Feusner, M.D. is professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. He obtained his medical degree and completed his psychiatry residency training at UCLA. He then completed a psychopharmacology fellowship followed by a research fellowship in neuroimaging, and joined the UCLA faculty in 2006. Dr. Feusner’s research program seeks to understand phenotypes of perceptual and emotional processing across conditions involving body image and obsessions/compulsions, including body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), eating disorders, OCD, and gender dysphoria. Dr. Feusner published the first functional neuroimaging studies in BDD, and the first studies to directly compare the neurobiology of BDD to anorexia nervosa. He is currently funded by the NIH to study anorexia nervosa, BDD, and gender dysphoria. His clinical work includes Directorship of the UCLA OCD Intensive Treatment program. He teaches cognitive-behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy, and is a research supervisor for postdoctoral fellows and students.

Location:  The office of Dr. Lauren Muhlheim (4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 245, Los Angeles) – free parking in the lot (enter on Highland)

RSVP to:  drmuhlheim@gmail.com

SIG meetings are open to all LACPA members.  Nonmembers wishing to attend may join LACPA by visiting our website www.lapsych.org