Sometimes, when bombarded with media messages shaping the way you feel about your body, it’s hard to keep a proper perspective of what constitutes a positive body image. For many of us, the struggle with body image is real and terrifying and affects our relationship with food and the kind of people we keep in our lives.
In this post, I will share my experience of working with Alicia, a model based in Austin, Texas. She helped me bring more into focus the importance of fostering positive body image through photography.
The Model Call
I met Alicia in 2017. I had finished my move to Texas, and, after taking a year off from my photography work, I needed new pictures for my boudoir portfolio. Alicia, like most young people, is active on social media, and it is where she found my model call.
Anytime I meet someone new, and I plan on working with them in a professional capacity, I make an effort to talk with them first. All photographers and models need to talk before any photo shoot. Photographers are not tools solely there to push a button on a camera. Also, models are not there to act as objects that contribute to a toxic perception of what makes a perfect body.
She was not getting into modeling because she had hopes of making it in the industry, but rather it was an essential part of a therapeutic process that she hoped would lead to better mental health. You see, Alicia was recovering from an eating disorder.
For years she held to a negative body image of herself. Regardless of her weight loss, Alicia would feel she would never have an ideal body. As she continued sharing her reasons for why she wanted a photo shoot, I began to think of sunflowers.
I read the poem, Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg, during my Persian Gulf War deployment. At the time, the poem helped me understand I was not just a cog in a war machine, literally covered in oily grime, and continually being told, it was not my job to think, and I had no control over my destiny.
I was a human being.
In the poem, there’s a verse that reads:
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
Everything Alicia shared, in our chat, helped me understand that she, too, had been made to feel less than human. Generally, if you don’t surround yourself with positive people, the negative people you’d keep close would eventually cover you with their metaphorical grime.
In the poem, no matter the amount of grime covering the sunflower, it was still a sunflower, and it was beautiful.
I wanted to show Alicia she was never whatever she’d been made to feel about herself. She was not a cog, an object, whose only function was to be at the service of toxic people and their needs. Also, she had expressed how important it was for her to feel in control. It seemed there had always been some controlling force that made her think she had no say in her life.
That’s an awful feeling leaving you feeling less than human.
She was not placed in this world to have people project their grime. Alicia is more than that.
For me, the poem’s message was clear. Despite being covered in grime, a sunflower will always be a sunflower, made more beautiful by the perseverance it demonstrated in continuing to grow out of that toxic dirt.
So too with Alica. I wanted her to understand just how much more beautiful she’d become in surviving and enduring. The goal now was to show her how so. We came up with a vision.
Austin Glamour Photography
Days after our talk, just before sunrise, we met near the Texas State Capitol building. Alicia was dressed as if she’d been out all night and didn’t care.
As I began taking her pictures, I kept reiterating to her that, as an adult woman, she should never feel bad if she stayed out all night. It was nobody’s business.
Out of our entire photo shoot, this was the most important photograph for her.
She said she felt like a superhero who was tasked with saving only one person, and that is herself.
The look in her eye showed she was starting to feel good and believe in herself.
Boudoir Photography Austin
After our photo shoot, I’ve worked with Alicia several more times.
Each time we would meet, we would talk about doing the big one — a boudoir session where she would confront her triggers and conquer her fears.
Where she’d wear clothes that accentuate certain body parts so that she’d understand, in the long term, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and not defined by what we see on social media. Knowing this, she’d realize she’d always be beautiful.
We spent considerable time brainstorming how to go about it and settled on an idea. Months later, Alicia decided she was ready.
We met at a motel and, before executing her idea, she needed to build up to the moment. We talked about her journey, and, as she shared, I was taking her picture.
Confronting Her Fear
Then came her moment of truth.
I think she’s such a brave young woman; she chose to place herself through a therapeutic process that would bring her to this moment — establishing a healthy relationship with herself and with food. When I met Alicia, this was something she could never imagine doing. Now, she’s just having fun with it.
I am so proud of her.
Through this journey, we’ve become friends. I have learned so much about the importance of positive body image, and she has learned she is in control of her life. What she may feel about herself and what she sees on social media is not the reality.
My friend allowed me to share the story of her journey. She hopes it will help other women who may be battling, as she once did, and see, it doesn’t have to be like that.
If you’re someone who is dealing with an eating disorder, first seek medical attention.
Next, place yourself in some therapeutic process.
When you’re ready to contact me, I will be here should you chose to incorporate my vision into your journey.
Would You Like to Learn More About My Work?
Follow me on Instagram @BoudoirbyEduardo.