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.

Curate Your Feed with Diverse Body Positive Accounts on Instagram

Photo, Resilient Fat Goddess Instagram

by Sarah Thompson, Resilient Fat Goddess and Lauren Muhlheim, Eating Disorder Therapy LA

“Body positivity can’t be just about thin, straight, cisgendered, white women who became comfortable with an additional ten pounds on their frame.” —Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Shape magazine (July, 2018).

Eating disorders are about so much more than body image, but the current diet culture, idealization of the thin ideal, and “war on obesity” make it much harder for people with eating disorders to recover. We are barraged on a daily basis by media images of people who represent only a small portion of the population.

As Dr. Muhlheim discussed in a previous post about fat photography, the mainstream media images we see are not diverse, and the images we do see of larger bodies are often portrayed in a particularly negative and stigmatizing way, adding fuel to the fire.

Thus, an important exercise for people of all sizes in recovery is to curate their social media feed by removing accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and expand the range of body sizes and types to which one is exposed. Adding diversity to your social media feed isn’t only important for people in recovery, it can be just as important for partners as Sarah Thompson wrote about here. It would even be useful for parents and family members of those recovering.

The term used to describe the absence of representation in media was coined by George Gerbner in 1972. This phenomenon is “symbolic annihilation.” Gerbner was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and communications professor who researched the influence of television trends on viewers’ perceptions of the world. According to Coleman and Yochim, Gerbner explained that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” Representations, or lack thereof, lead to assumptions about how the world works and who holds power.

Gerbner did not assign symbolic annihilation to any particular group, so it has since been applied to many different identities. We can apply the concept to non-dominant systemic identities, such as larger bodied people, people of color, trans and gender-expansive people, disabled people, etc. If we don’t see bodies like our own represented, we may come to believe “my body doesn’t matter”. Often, this can turn into “I don’t matter”. This means that for people whose bodies are marginalized in any way, it is essential to see images of people that look like them.

We have developed a roundup of Instagram accounts to help you on the journey. While it is not comprehensive, it is a starting point. What follows are some Instagram accounts that show body-positive images that celebrate diverse bodies in ways that mainstream media does not.

At the time of this posting, these accounts are free of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, and disordered eating. Some are people in recovery from eating disorders. If we missed one of your favorite accounts that consistently publishes photos of bodies at the margins, please email us and let us know!

Larger-bodied women

@madeonagenerousplan

@iamdaniadriana

@themilitantbaker

@fatgirlflow

@fatwomenofcolor

@cosmiccollette

@bampowlife

@danielle_bex

@fatlippodcast

@shesallfatpod

Larger-bodied men

@bigboysarecute

@johnasavoia

@abearnamedtroy

@chubstr

@bear_skn

@zachmiko

@300poundsandrunning

People of color

@iamivyfelicia

@onebeautifulyes

@thefriendineverwanted

@nalgonapositivitypride

@sonyareneetaylor

@virgietovar

@genizeribeiro

@ihartericka

@diannebondyyoga

@mynameisjessamyn

@biggalyoga

@sassy_latte

@adydelvalle_

@melissadtoler

Gender diverse people

@transfolxfightingeds

@comfyfattravels

@chairbreaker

@thirdwheeled

@alokvmenon

@nonnormativebodyclub

@shooglet

@resilientfatgoddess

@thefatsextherapist

@watchshayslay

Older people

@efftheiragingstandards

@idaho_amy

@lamplight.space

@gidget3304

@glitterglama

@fruitbat5150

@26kleisen

@finally_bopo

People with disabilities

@the_feeding_of_the_fox

@dietitiananna

@theonearmedwonder

@rollettes_la

@disabilityisdiversity

@the_hapless_roller

@spookyfatbabe

@disabled_fashion

@princesscakep0p

@everybodyisworthy

Multiple Identities

@thebodyisnotanapology

@decolonizingfitness

@subversesirens

@fatkiddanceparty

@adipositivity

@underneath_we_are_women

@lkt_consulting

@flourorchalk

Other body positive accounts to follow

@sweetamaranth

@iamannachapman

@nolatrees

@bopolena

@bopo_watercolour

@shoogsart

@shelby.bergen

@neoqlassicalart

@lovefromdanica

@bopo.boy

Source

Coleman and Yochim. The Symbolic Annihilation of Race: A Review of the “Blackness” Literature. Perspectives. Spring 2008. http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/spring%202008/Means%20Coleman-Yochim.pdf