Reclaiming the Lens back from Diet Culture
BY Vivienne McMaster
For many of us, photos often don’t feel like an ally on our path of body acceptance.
For a long time, they even felt like an enemy in my relationship to my own body. Any negative story I had about my body, I had a photo that was ‘proof’ of it. It was a place where my internalized fatphobia spoke the loudest. Especially in a world where we are taught to see ourselves through a diet culture lens and are surrounded by retouched imagery prioritizing primarily one type of body size, shape, race, gender expression and ability. I think few of us actually make it out of this kind of messaging unscathed.
I mean, it’s no wonder I thought photos were my enemy. But they didn’t have to be. In fact, they turned out to be one of my biggest healing tools and indeed, my ally on my path to body acceptance.
The shift began on the day that I realized that couldn’t keep treating myself with this level of self-critique and hatred. It became clear to me that I wasn’t going to look back on my life and wish I was a certain number of pounds lighter. But I felt deep in my heart that I was going to really regret it if I kept treating myself this way.
I had to figure out how to change that and find my way to accepting my body.
It seemed counter-intuitive because photos were the place where I felt the most critique about my body. How could it possibly be a healing tool? But what I did know was that every time I took a photo whether it was reaching to touch a rose petal or a photo of my feet standing at the shore as the waves came in or inviting my whole body into the frame, it felt like each photo was helping me figure out how I felt about my body. These photos were helping me find my own voice in a world so dominated by what you should look like and how you should act.
I had let others define my worthiness up until then. But no longer. Now I was going to be the narrator of my own story, camera in hand.
It wasn’t just that I only took photos I LOVED of myself either. In fact, the ones that I found myself reacting to were the biggest healers. In them, I was able to see where that internalized fatphobia still existed and invite in even more body acceptance.
Alongside reclaiming my power back through the lens I also learned about the Health at Every Size movement and Intuitive Eating. I found my way to making peace with food and being active for the sake of joyful movement. It was powerful to find that this idea of returning to your own voice and body intuition was a common thread between all of these healing tools.
It has been 12 years since I started this journey and it continues as a daily practice to this day. Healing my own relationship with my body through the lens of my camera led me to create workshops to share the tools that helped me. It also led me to become a body positive portrait photographer. What was once one of my biggest roadblocks became not only a gift to my life but something I could do to help other people heal.
Now, I wonder what you’re thinking about reading these words. How do you feel about photos? Don’t worry if your answer is that you struggle with them, as I find that many of us do. But you can make the camera your body acceptance ally, too.
Here are some tips to get started:
#1 Reclaim Your Media
This can be one of the most healing things we can do is to seek out bodies like your own especially if you aren’t used to seeing your body reflected back in media. Filling our visual world with an amazing diversity of bodies and identities is one of the most healing things we can do for ourselves.
Find images that have you feeling seen and mirrored as well as images of folks who experience marginalization in different ways than you do. Fill your photo stream (or make a Pinterest Board or Instagram folder) focusing on body diversity including but not exclusively representing your own!
Follow photographers like Shoog McDaniel @shooglet or the Adipositivity Project by Substantia Jones @adipositivity or Melina Paulina @olhardepaulina on Instagram. Other accounts I recommend following are activists and creatives @alokvmenon @nalgonapositivitypride @iheartericka @scarednotscared @curvesbecomeher to name a few! My peer Meredith Noble has made an awesome resource of Body Positive Instagram Accounts I recommend checking out for even more accounts to follow.
#2 Befriend the Camera
Get in more photos. Try taking selfies and going outside of what we typically think of as a selfie. Aim the camera at your feet or reach your hand into the frame and engage with the world around you. Get playful as you learn to see yourself through your own lens again.
Or pass your camera to a trusted friend and invite them to take some photos of you! You could even get a portrait session done with a body positive photographer too or a combination of all of these ideas. Start getting back in your own visual story in whatever way it feels most doable for you at this point!
#3 Invite Yourself into a Compassionate Conversation with Your Body
Our body acceptance path is a process and a practice, not something we need to achieve. In my years of teaching body acceptance through the lens, I often see people starting this journey expecting to take one photo and have it all figured out. We are SO used to seeing our body through a lens of good vs bad and it takes time to unlearn that. I like to think of my body acceptance journey through the lens as an ongoing compassionate conversation where we have room to give voice to questions or statements like “Who am I without these stories about myself?” or say to your body “I can’t see you with compassion today but know that I’m here doing that work to make it happen”. Start a compassionate conversation with yourself and let the connection and acceptance grow.
# 4 Choose Playfulness Over Perfection
I have one more tip for you! And while it might sound simple, it will transform your relationship with photos. Get playful. Yes, you read that right. When we’re critical of ourselves in photos, it’s rooted in perfectionism and the need to see ourselves in one specific way (aka the diet culture lens). Playfulness and curiosity are a powerful antidote to that. The more we can get curious about our body, see it from different perspectives and angles, the more we’ll awaken to our own worthiness and reclaim our power back from the lens of diet culture!
So pick your camera (or pass it to someone else to take your photo) and let’s spark a lens of compassion and ditch the lens of diet culture!
Note from Pranin Organic; More BOPO: Looking for more inspiring stories told by powerful women? You’ll love Kelly’s personal Body Positivity story.
I’m Vivienne, a photographer, writer, body image activist and self-compassion force behind this website and these classes. I’m based on the West Coast of Canada, in British Columbia.
In my work, I explore photography as a therapeutic tool, with a particular focus on selfies as a tool for body acceptance and cultivating self-compassion. I do so through accessible and experiential workshops and activities that put our body acceptance into action and reclaim our power back. You don’t need fancy gear or photo experience to do this work. Whether it’s a smartphone, a point and shoot or a DSLR, all tools for photo exploration (and all skill levels) are welcome. Learn more about Vivienne’s workshops.