It's Saturday morning, and I have packed my backpack ready for travelling, in search of somewhere peaceful to take photographs for the Body Love Project. I decided against wearing a dress today for photographs. I choose my comfiest pair of jeans and an old pink jumper. I feel less nervous now, as we make our way to the car. I don't have a set destination for where we're going, but the drive quickly begins to inspire me. The road is winding and I realise to my right is the spectacular view of Melbourne city.
During our travels, we make a rest stop at Studley Park Boathouse. It's well known for it's waterfront venue and fairytale weddings. I find a table with the perfect view of the river and rowboats, and watching the calm water seems to settles my mind. Some days are easier than most, but today i'm tired of feeling so much.
Being Saturday, there are hundreds of people sitting along the embankment, lining up at the cafe, and hiring rowboats. Suddenly, children laughing and running around my feet and the sound of spoons clinking in coffee cups seem to be getting louder by the minute. I beg Pete to take me somewhere else. He squeezes my hand as we walk quickly back to the car, and I catch my breath.
I feel guilty for spoiling such a perfect moment together. We leave before even finishing our coffees. Pete gives me a loving look that is powerful enough to reassure me that it's okay. These waves of fear come and go, and thankfully are becoming noticeably less everyday. These past few weeks I have been blissfully at ease, even through the chaos of photoshoots and client appointments.
Perhaps creativity really is the cure to a wandering mind. I practically live in cafes during the week; writing for my blog, the Body Love project, for book ideas, and now preparing teaching resources for when I officially begin teaching. In a way, it's my own kind of therapy. My mind finally unravels and I accomplish so much more there, with books spread out on the table, laptop in front of me, and a chai in my hand.
It's there in these modest little cafes that I chat to the waitresses and they sweetly offer me ideas for my Body Love Project, confessing their own body issues and I feel so honoured that they confide in me. One fair-haired girl, with freckles like stardust, points to her nose wishing it were smaller. Another girl, with piercing brown eyes and a warm smile, confides that she wants to get filler under her eyes from all the sleepless nights with her newborn. I'm in shock and I want to tell them I think they're perfect as they are. But I remember my own self criticalness, and I genuinely can relate, so instead I talk about how lovely they have been to me. Focusing on what courageous women they are seems to lift everyone's moods again, including my own. I'm astounded and inspired by how open and honest women are, especially since I began this project. It's as though I'm seeing this rawness to women for the first time and it feels so good to not be alone in this journey.
Pete gently squeezes my hand as we're driving away from the Boathouse. We're now somewhere in the backstreets of Abbotsford, a humble suburb filled with lush green trees overhanging the streets. I never have a particular destination in mind, but every now and then, I'm lucky enough to stumble upon the most beautiful location, and it's as though it has been waiting for me all this time. And today I've found it. We turn down a side street and there's a reserve, but i'm immediately drawn to the row of trees framing an earthy path. "This is it!" My eyes are alight. This is perfect. With the exception of gentle chirping of the birds, it is wonderfully quiet.
In almost every past photoshoot I have done, even if it's with Pete, I feel a tinge of self-consciousness. But this afternoon, something feels different. With the warm afternoon sun against my skin, I am glowing and Pete has already begun taking photographs of me. I am so proud of his photography and I trust him completely, though I'm not always the easiest person to photograph. I try not to tell him where to stand or what angle is more flattering, and instead I focus on just being in this moment. I have to look away because every time I look at Pete, he pulls a face and I start laughing uncontrollably.
But my God, this feels so good. My thoughts aren't racing anymore. I'm not worried about what my stomach looks like or if I should be "posing". Everything around me feels so still, and I don't want this moment to end. We spend a couple more hours in this magical place until the sun begins to set, a lovely ending to our little photoshoot. Pete tells me that he wants to
Later that night, my dearest friend Carly invites me out with her friends, and when she texts me I am already in my pyjamas. I had planned a movie night in with Pete but I have this urge to go and dance the night away. When I turn up to the club, it's extremely loud and overwhelming but I make a mission to find Carly. When I find her, she throws her arms around me and asks how my day was. I shout over the music that Pete took photos of me and she says something about being so proud of me for it.
I'm proud of myself, even if the day did start a little rocky and uncertain. I feel as though after years of torturing myself this has all been for a reason. It's taken me more than ten years to really comprehend the meaning of self-love, especially growing up in an environment where there was very little.
But I'm here now. I've found self-love, with the support of other courageous women sharing similar journeys. Each day becomes a little easier, surrounding myself with such incredible people building each other up. It is what I always dreamed of, for my Body Love Project, and now it is actually happening. It feels surreal. And I'm so excited for what this project will bring in the future.