All it took was seconds and for my niece, it was a typical photo and second nature to quickly snap a photo of an encounter to remember. Little did she know what it actually was and proved to represent for me. As someone with both lifelong #AnorexiaNervosa and #BodyDysmorphicDisorder , photos are something to be avoided. Throughout the years, I could count the number of photos I’ve personally appeared on my hands, striving to avoid most of them. On the rare occasion a photo is snapped of me, often a personal judgmental dialogue ensues. Though at this particular moment, in celebration of my 34th birthday, with a beautiful cake placed in front of me, surrounded by my 7-year-old niece, Mom and sister, my niece rushed to grab her iPad to quickly document the moment. Without much time to say no and shield myself, she snapped the photo of all of us together; the first photo we all appeared in together in the years my niece has been alive. It was a moment that when I looked at the photos my niece took, symbolized sheer love and served as a revelation.
Though I still am a work in progress, that moment for me represented growth as I sat with the torrent of emotions funneling through my mind. In a way, I was proud to have sat with those anxious worries of how I’d appear in the photo, choosing instead to focus on how beautiful documenting that moment actually was. Serving as the first photo of generations of women gathered together, it was a pivotal moment and one I knew would be filed away in my mind as a “snapshot memory,” one to be forever cherished and regarded. With my niece, snapping photos became a safe place, thereby freeing me of my fixation on chastising my appearance. That moment was not about my appearance, or self-image, but rather it was about commemorating a moment of togetherness, of love, of family and of my pride in the presence of those I love. It was a commemoration of 34-years of my tumultuous life coming full circle, facing my fears and powering through the difficult moments.
Life for me still and probably will always be an endless work in progress, but as long as I’m still moving, still trying, still putting one foot in front of the other, still standing, it is worth the effort. To some, a photo may be just a photo, but to me, it is a sign of growth, of vulnerability and of my desire to confront the self-defeating flood of thoughts within my mind. The photo was about choosing life over isolation, over disconnecting and hiding; the photo was about stepping forward into the unknown and accepting I would be okay, no matter the outcome.
At that moment, I wanted to teach my niece Brielle that while we can still experience fear within us, we can step forward anyway, quieting those worries and realizing our internal strength is much greater than what holds us back. Staring at the photo Brielle snapped of the women within our family circle, I stared not at the flaws of my face and body, but rather at the generations of women before me, focusing on the love and compassion between us and the remarkable ways in which we can heal.