Eating Disorders are complex illnesses. As a young girl growing up in a larger body in the 80’s and 90’s, I often struggled with body image, to the point of almost falling into the trap of Bulimia while in college. Thankfully, I received early intervention with a wonderful therapist who inspired me not only to make peace with my body, but to then pursue my own career in the counseling profession specializing in Eating Disorders. Through my personal struggle, as well as over 20 years in this field, I know all too well the challenges of improving body image in recovery.
Diet culture, fitness culture, the beauty industry, the fashion industry, social media and entertainment; the picture that they paint of “beauty” is often so narrow. This “ideal” (which by the way is almost always trying to sell us something) so often emphasizes thinness, youth, the importance of being on-trend, styled, and perfected. And these messages almost always leave us feeling like we just don’t measure up. Like we are not now and might never be “good enough”.
One of the ways that I have radically changed my relationship to the word “beauty” in my own life is to see it through the lens of an artist. In addition to being a therapist, I am also a professional photographer specializing in portraiture to show the empowered and diverse beauty in my subjects. I often use portrait photography in my work with clients, as I have found it to be a helpful and powerful tool to assist them in body acceptance, body neutrality, and even to reshape distortions in thinking and see themselves in the light of what they might actually like about their physical appearance.
It’s time for change! Enough is enough with the cultural definition of “beauty”. It’s time to take back that word and redefine it. We can so often marvel at the beauty of the natural world around us, a sunset, the deep blue color of the ocean, the delicate folds of a flower. It’s time to remember that we too are embedded in this big, beautiful world, and that we all have unique gifts and attributes that make us special. It’s time to recognize our own innate beauty, as well as that of those around us, regardless of our size, shape, weight, race, ability, age and gender.
Today, can you pick something about your body that you are grateful for? Can you identify a special gift, talent, feature or aspect of your style or identity that you are proud of? Can you shift the way you see the toxic cultural definition of “beauty” and instead choose to see the whole world, yourself included, as a work of art? Because I want to assure you, you are truly a work of art.
Gina Graham, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social worker in private practice in Downers Grove, IL. Gina has over 20 years of clinical experience specializing in the areas of Eating Disorders, Body Image, Anxiety, Depression, and Adolescent and Women’s Issues. Gina is also the author of Body Beautiful; How Changing the Conversation About Our Bodies Has the Power to Change the World. Gina is also a professional photographer, and offers a unique approach to body image treatment by using empowerment portrait photography in session with clients. Gina hopes to empower girls and women to withstand and overcome the negative pressures in today’s digital and fast-paced world. For more information, visit www.lifelensandlove.com. Body Beautiful is available on Amazon.