If I had a penny for every time I criticized a picture of myself…
Or, if I had a penny for every time one of my lovely clients told me she cringed at a recent photo of herself…
It’s something we all deal with, right?
I don’t know any woman who doesn’t sometimes have critical thoughts when looking at a picture of herself.
This is okay, it’s going to happen sometimes.
However, the most important thing to look at here is what we DO with those critical thoughts.
How far we take them.
How we recover from having them.
What we make those critical thoughts mean about us.
So let’s break this down, shall we?
A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of my clients, and she said “Jamie, I was feeling SO great, and then I saw these holiday photos that I took with my family and it put me in the worst mood.”
She said “I just slammed down my laptop, walked away and became immediately snippy toward my husband.”
Anytime I sense a client resisting what’s real, I jump on it…
Me: “do you have access to those photos right now?”
Me: “can you pull them up?”
So she sat down at her computer, pulled up the photos, and we went through it together.
“Instead of running away from those uncomfortable feelings that the pictures bring up, let’s go there together,” I told her. “Let’s just face it. By being IN it, we can work through it. We can get to know those voices in your head, your fears, and we can sift through what’s true and what’s not.”
I told her to take a deep breath, look at those photos fair and square, and just tell me what was real for her in that moment.
You see, I think we have this idea that we shouldn’t ever feel bad about ourselves. That we shouldn’t EVER wish that we looked different.
We should be over that, better than that, above that.
But that’s not really REAL, is it?
And by running away from those feelings, we’re actually abandoning a part of who we are. And when we abandon ourselves in any way, it makes it very hard for us to trust ourselves or know ourselves.
As my client took that breath, looked at those photos, and started to HONESTLY share her thoughts with me, stream of consciousness, without censoring herself, I got goosebumps. I get goosebumps sometimes when I feel someone being so REAL.
After she went through it all, she laughed a little. “Wow that felt so relieving to just say that all out loud. My whole body already feels lighter.”
We then went on to talk through some of the things that came up. For instance, one thing she noted about herself in the photos was that she looked “old” and wished she looked younger. She saw age in her eyes.
But then, as she heard herself say this out loud, she realized, “but I am not 18 anymore; I’m in my late 30’s! I think I still look at pictures and expect myself to look 18, so whenever I don’t, my immediate reaction is to criticize and run. But that’s so silly. If I let go of this need to look 18, I think I could actually be happy with these photos. I HAVE aged. I have a daughter and a business and a husband, and I have gone through a lot. I think I can actually be proud of that.”
Compassion. Reality. Letting go of a story that she didn’t need to be holding on to anymore. Reframing her perspective. “Seeing” herself in a new way, not an old habitual way.
All of this was coming just from allowing herself to actually FACE her feelings and thoughts.
I had a similar experience recently. I saw some photos of myself from a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago, and while I had some nice thoughts, I also had some critical ones.
“My arms could look better.”
“I’m not as thin as I was at ____’s wedding last year.”
And I just let these thoughts and feelings come up, knowing it was all good, and I could handle them.
I sat with “my arms could look better”, and I was like, yes, this is true. I wish my arms were more toned. I am allowed to think and want that.
But that doesn’t need to MEAN anything about me.
It doesn’t mean I’m less lovable or desirable.
It doesn’t mean I can’t feel confident about myself.
It doesn’t mean I can’t love who I am, my body, and my life.
And it sure didn’t mean that I didn’t have the absolute BEST time at that particular wedding.
I also know that I am always a work in progress, and always will be. I am doing lots of yoga right now, and who knows? Maybe my arms will be more toned one day. That would be nice, but it doesn’t need to happen in order for me to be happy.
I sat with “I was skinnier at _____’s wedding.” And I thought, yes, this is true. I was skinnier. I was at a different phase of my life at that person’s wedding. I was going through a lot of personal stuff, I was traveling less, etc. etc. I’m in a different phase now, and my body looks different as a result. I am doing the best I can to be healthy given all that is on my plate currently.
So ultimately did I look at those photos and make myself think, “YOU LOOK SO AWESOME” in every photo?
No, because that’s not what I really felt. I looked at myself with the most loving and compassionate eyes, because I love myself silly, even with non-toned arms and a little more weight, but I didn’t throw on any fake thoughts.
I got real about my true thoughts and feelings, found acceptance with certain realities, and found so much compassion for where I currently am.
So here are a few takeaways for you:
- First of all, go into those feelings. Go into the discomfort. Make a list, if it helps, of all of the thoughts and feelings that come up when you see those photos of yourself that you don’t like. BREATHE. Get real with yourself, without judgement. Get all those funky thoughts down on paper.
- Once you’ve gotten all the muck down on paper, you may start to naturally feel your “self soother” or “compassionate self” start to come out. It’s usually once we face the pain and get it OUT, that we naturally access our compassion. If it doesn’t naturally come out, see if you can try to see yourself with more compassionate eyes: think about, how would I want my daughter to see herself? How would I speak to her or soothe her in this moment if she saw a picture of herself she didn’t like?
- Go through the things you don’t like: can you be okay with not loving some parts of your body? Can this just be OKAY? Is there maybe a reason you have a bit of extra weight on, like you are dealing with a particularly stressful time right now? Is there an expectation of how you should look (like my client needing to look 18 even though she is 37) that you have been holding on to that you can let go of? Some things you don’t like will be just that – things you don’t like and wish were different. For others, you might even find a shift in perception once you look at yourself with as much compassion as you can.
- Watch for what you’re making your appearance mean about you: watch where your thoughts go … if you feel you look “fat”, what is so painful about this? What are you making it mean about you? That others won’t love you? What are you afraid of losing? Is this really true? Breathe into this. Your inner critic is probably raging, but it’s vital to work through these “mean” thoughts and stories.
- One thing I also find useful in these moments is to look into your eyes in the photo, and find things that you love about WHO that woman is, that go beyond appearance. Who is that woman in the picture? What has she been through? What are you proud of? What makes her strong and resilient? A deeper appreciation for WHO you are will create a foundational, rock-solid sense of self-worth, so that seeing photos of yourself won’t cause your self-worth to be thrown off kilter as much.
As you go through the holiday season and see plenty of photos of yourself, I hope that you are able to soften into the idea that not every photo needs to be perfect, or beautiful, or make you feel amazing about yourself.
It’s okay. You can handle what comes up when you want to cringe. Remember, it happens to all of us. And if you actually go there, there is profound growth that can happen.
You can learn how to – instead of abandoning yourself – stay WITH yourself.
How to see yourself with compassion and love even when it’s hard.
How to be okay with not being perfect.
What. A. Relief.
I hope that you DO have many moments when you look at photos and think “Dang! I look awesome.”
But, I also want you to have the strength to handle it when that doesn’t happen.
You’ve got this. And I’ve got you.
Sending you lots of love this holiday season!
Jamie YOU ARE BRILLIANT! I get soooooo much from reading your blogs — they are SPOT ON 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully write them — they resonate with me as well as probably every woman in the universe! I love how you give us specific examples on HOW to apply new ways of thinking and responding when we aren’t feeling so great about ourselves or need direction on navigating a healthier relationship with food which spills into ALL aspects of our life. So thank you for being you and sharing your work in an open, honest and loving way 🙂
Robin A Adams says
Praise The Lord, Jamie what an awesome message. It really gave me a new perspective on how to look at me; differently and with more patience, love and true perspective. Thank you and I’m sure I speak for all who get an opportunity to read this message. Continue to allow God to use you, mightly!
Love Ya In Jesus Name, Amen
I LOVE this! I had this exact feeling about a picture taken this past weekend. Your article was extremely helpful. Thanks, Jamie!