Loving yourself

It's taken me a little while to write an introduction for The Body Love Project. Initially, I had given it a different title, "Body Positivity Project", but I'll be honest, I felt like a fraud. Here I was, about to start what I intended to be the most life changing project for me - and for others - and I didn't feel the least bit positive about my body. The aim of this project was to help women of all ages, backgrounds, sizes, all walks of life - including myself - to feel proud of their bodies and their journeys. And if I could help them feel just a little bit more confident and happy in themselves, then my mission would be accomplished. Self-love should be the foundation for any human being, much less a woman. But here I was, standing in front of my bathroom mirror,  and all I could see was a young girl carrying half-moons under her eyes from too many late nights editing photos, and scrutinising the little stretch marks across my thighs, like road maps to a time when my body began changing. I sighed heavily, leaving the bathroom defeated, and calling it a day. I knew this project would be challenging, but truthfully I didn't know quite what I was getting into. Little did I know that this whole concept of self-love was about to get a lot bigger than my own internal struggles.

The next morning, I woke up to the familiar sound of my phone buzzing on my bedside table, and I drowsily read a text that had popped up. I am not a morning person even if the finest coffee was beside me, but I always make an exception for friends. The message was from a dear friend of mine, who had read my Facebook post about The Body Love Project and explained just how much this project meant to her, as she had been facing some personal demons herself, and this was exactly what she needed. I was teary reading this heart-felt message. I was moved. There was a tone of such vulnerability and honesty in her words, and it really hit home. All I could think of was how courageous this woman was for opening up to something so painful. And this was just the beginning of it all. 

I was swept away by the overwhelming amount of emails, messages, comments on my post, and amount of people tagged to be involved too. This was a community of women feeling the exact same way as me. They wanted to feel proud of their bodies, their personal journeys, struggles, and all that they had accomplished. I had complete strangers - many of them mothers - pour their heart out to me about their journey in motherhood, the guilt of not being a perfect mum, the guilt of not getting back into shape, and all of these messages - including my own struggle - had one singular theme in common - shame. And this is a critical issue for most women; feeling ashamed of their beautiful God-given bodies. It's not something openly talked about either, and I have such incredible respect for these women, for being so open and strong (though maybe not realising it at the time) and reaching out to me. 

There was my answer, staring at me with endless messages. I am not alone in this fight. We are all in this together. And it brought me back to the original purpose of the whole project. I am going to celebrate and love myself more than I ever have before, because when you love yourself, that is what beauty truly means. You are not a number on a scale, a dress size, and your beauty isn't even based on your reflection in the mirror. Someone once said to me, "You are bigger than your dress size", which at first horrified me, but I realised they meant you are worth far MORE than your dress size. And let's be honest, the very idea of self-love is such an uncomfortable topic, I'm even squirming in my chair as I'm writing this. Loving yourself, wholeheartedly, with every ounce of energy you have, is one of life's greatest challenges.

I know full well it's not easy talking about loving ourselves more, let alone being able to sit or stand comfortably and allow someone to take your photo. I discovered this personally, as I set upon a little adventure to a garden in the city and attempted to take a few self-portraits for this project. I take photographs for a living, this is who I am, surely this should be easy taking a self-portrait? I mean, it's just like a selfie really... isn't it?

Oh my god - no it isn't. I propped my camera awkwardly on my backpack, pressing the timer for 10 seconds, ran over to the grassy area, plonked myself down ever so eloquently, and attempted a 'pose'. It's lucky I always manage to find the best and prettiest secluded areas in gardens, because this was becoming hilarious. Normally I would be getting a boiling point of frustration, but instead I decided to laugh. I ran back and forth to my camera setting the timer, for at least an hour. And when I scrolled through all the photos, the only one I liked was when I was about to let out a big belly laugh. When I was laughing, I was completely immersed in this moment and completely forgot what I was worried about in the first place. I actually loved this photo. And if you've ever taken a thousand selfies, and only liked one, then you and I just might be soul mates. 

It made me realise just how awkward people must be feeling with a camera in their face. And yet, they hardly ever revealed it in the photographs. I realised this is probably because in every photoshoot I've ever done, I manage to make them laugh and have fun, and it never really felt like a photoshoot at all, actually. Still, I completely understood the inner feeling of "Oh my god am I pulling a face? Is this angle flattering enough? What if it shows my tummy?" And the endless self-criticism continues. But when the person - including me - looks at the outcome, regardless of all the little nit picking, we are completely surprised by our own unique beauty. Not by what is on the outside, but the radiant glow of us genuinely happy and smiling. 

This is beauty. This is what I needed to understand, that true beauty and self-love must come within. All the little things that I was anxious about had completely vanished. And I so needed to see this. I didn't notice any exhausted look on my face, or any of the usual nit-picking flaws; all I could see was a woman radiating happiness, and even with just a little self-love and kindness, I realised that was the real me. This photograph revealed only a small resemblance of who I actually am, but it did transform the way I viewed myself.

 We may not feel it every day, but self love is always there, when you least expect you find it. Whether it's wearing a bikini for the first time in years, or feeling fabulous in a pretty dress, or something as small as treating yourself to a chai latte (my guilty pleasure), or taking an extra long bath; it's all self-love. And this is what the Body Love project is all about, giving yourself some well overdue self-love. Letting go of all the little worries, the 'flaws' we think we have, and really being in the moment. If you think of your favourite place in the world, at that exact moment, I bet you were not really thinking about what you looked like. This encapsulates the entire purpose of this Body Love Project. Wholeheartedly celebrating your body, for all of it's scars, quirks, and all that makes you so incredibly YOU.