Bikini photo shoot debrief...
You may have wondered why I’ve been a bit quieter than usual on the social media front….
I was in a Bikini photo shoot a few weeks ago. As a ‘larger than average’ woman, I wanted to show that my body is just as valuable as smaller bodies, because this is what I believe. All bodies are different, and that's okay.
I wrote a blog a couple of days before the shoot on how vulnerable I was feeling about it, and how the thought of it was making me rather uncomfortable. It felt like pre-exam nerves!
In my wisdom, I decided to push through my fear and embrace the discomfort.
Because, I know it’s important to extend your boundaries and to challenge oneself.
Except, this time, it kind of backfired…
So, I’ve been quiet because I’ve been processing what happened and I’ve wanted to protect the people involved in the shoot, because I know it’s a great project and an important one.
Before the shoot, I knew I would be wearing a different bikini than everyone else. My size is not available (yet) in the range.
“So what,” I thought to myself. “I’m comfortable in my body, I respect bodies of all sizes and I know we are all allowed, and meant to be, different sizes. No problem.”
But, on the day itself, I found the experience extremely challenging and ultimately, very triggering.
Part of the purpose behind the shoot was to get some images of ‘real women’ * wearing the bikinis made by the swimwear company who organised the shoot. The reality was, I wore different swimwear than the others, (because I had to wear my larger, underwired bikini) I was on the outside by virtue of my bikini (I know this sounds ridiculous), and it was painful. I felt this during the shoot itself, and directly afterwards. I sat there on a fold up chair afterwards, stunned, trying to process my emotions.
My face just about sums it up!
Why was I so triggered? Why was it so hard for me?
I wanted to go in there and own my body, to feel fierce and proud- like the bikini photo shoot in the Body Image film/documentary Embrace that I’ve hosted now 8 times.
Instead, I felt like a quivering wreck. My body confidence disappeared and I felt hollow. I strongly felt the discomfort when I was being photographed. I felt awkward. Some words were used that I found extremely triggering. They weren’t meant to be, but they were.
Afterwards, I gave myself a very hard time. I couldn’t understand, how I, a Global Ambassador for Body Image Movement (the team behind 'Embrace') could be in such a negative place after the experience.
Everyone else seemed liberated and empowered, and yet I was not. The irony was, I was there to support the other women! That really stung. I felt like I’d been deluding myself and I was a fraud.
My thought process was: “How can I help people with this stuff if I can’t even sort out my own feelings?!”
So, I’ve been on (another) journey of sorts, navigating my way through this confusing, upsetting place.
At last, I have come out the other side - having taken a week to process - before I could even speak with the organisers, and more time before I could iterate to other people in my world what was going on for me.
My discomfort was real.
People would walk up to me in the school playground and ask how the shoot had gone, expecting me to be bouncy and empowered. I would want to say, “fabulous”, but I would have been lying. And I don’t do that. All I could bring myself to say was, “challenging” and hope they’d stop asking!
So, these are my thoughts, a few weeks on.
Being photographed as a larger person is not the same as being photographed when you are a more ‘conventional’ size.
Fact. You have to deal with other people looking at you and assessing how you look. Which pose is most ‘flattering’? Which bits to cover up?
I could feel the gaze on me and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
I was annoyed at myself for being upset, but I really was.
I realise that pretending we are okay when we are not is a waste. It doesn’t resolve anything.
I talked to a couple of the other ladies in the shoot afterwards, “It’s the same for all of us they said”. But it wasn’t.
I know most of us have bits we are not keen on, whatever size we are. But to stand there, in your bikini, as a larger woman when people just aren’t used to seeing larger bodies, is a tough one.
Imagine if that was you?
Imagine that you are someone whose shape society doesn’t value? Isn’t represented on TV (much)? Isn’t seen as desirable? Imagine being someone treated badly because of your shape?
Because this is what happens to larger people.
This of course, is why I wanted to do the shoot.
I wanted to represent larger people, and show them they have nothing to apologise for, or feel ashamed about. Because they don’t.
But, I didn’t feel empowered.
I felt like I was a more challenging subject than the other ladies. I felt society’s eyes on me and the judgement on larger bodies and I didn’t like it. I felt undervalued and that I didn’t look as good as the others. I was cringing.
I know that this is a one-sided point of view, my own. I have spoken with the people involved and we have all learnt lessons from it. I realise that we ALL have learning to take from this experience. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done it in the first place? I knew I was feeling vulnerable and went ahead and did it anyway. But this was my experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me over a week (and more) to get over it.
Good has come out of it. I met some amazing women. We went through a life experience, that has challenged us all in differing ways and the general vibe was a good one. The intention was good and the project as a whole is well meaning and a positive one.
This has also reminded me of how bad some of us feel on a daily basis, when carrying these thoughts around. It’s toxic, its destructive and it hurts. This was a window for me, back into how I used to feel.
I can hold my head up high. I have struggled with whether to share my thoughts, but I feel I need to because my experience is what some people deal with every day and changing the status quo is my world. Yes, I am a deep thinker and I feel things, but this is my gift as well as my challenge.
Larger people often feel like they aren’t good enough, and we ARE.
We think we will be better people if we are smaller, and that’s not true.
I want to live in a society where we are all valued EQUALLY. Where we can let go of our preconceptions about larger people and where we can see the beauty that exists in all of us. And yes, society isn’t there yet, but there are people out there who get it. Who understand that,
All bodies are good bodies.
I know, we are all a product of our own experience and we all carry our own stuff, especially about our bodies. We live in this society and there are messages out there we unconsciously absorb and reflect back.
That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge the system, though, to do what feels right, to voice our opinion even when it’s tough to do so.
I am in no way challenging the nature of this project. I have deep respect for what these ladies are doing and for the ladies who were on the shoot with me. This work is important. And it will inevitably bring up stuff for some of us, some more than others (!) and that’s okay too.
I still haven’t looked at my individual images. But I’ve got them, and I will do... I’m just waiting for the right moment…. when I can fully support myself and look at the images with the inner confidence I usually have…. Just waiting for it to come back first!
If any of this resonates with you, you might like to take a look at a previous blog I wrote called How to Learn to Love your Body.
* by real women, the company means use of non-retouched, non photoshopped images, because all women are real women!!
I run workshops and offer 121 coaching to help women out of the yo-yo diet cycle and feeling bad about their bodies....
Contact me to book a free 30 minute discovery call to see how I can help you.