I was completely inspired with hope as I sat across from Jillian and listened to her story. The room buzzed with her energy. She was dynamic and powerful. I would’ve never known that just five years before she was in the depths of her struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
Brene Brown (PH.D, LMSW) says in her book, Daring Greatly, “Still. After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough.”
As she describes it, she loathed herself. She couldn’t look in the mirror. She couldn’t even stand to catch a glimpse of her reflection in the glass of a store front window.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, BDD affects about one in fifty people. The Mayo Clinic describes BDD this way:
“Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. But you may feel so ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.”
BDD is all-consuming — a constant obsession about the shame of one’s appearance. This description did not characterize the woman who sat confidently before me. I asked what shifted. I was not prepared for her response.
As she worked for months to master new moves, she began to look in the mirror and see strength and beauty.
As a joke, she and several friends attended a pole dancing class. From the first class, she was hooked and everything began to change. She fell in love with the free flow style of pole dancing. Every time she walked in, she walked out a new person. Suddenly, she was in a room full of mirrors. Her love for the passion and pride she felt dancing propelled her through her anxiety. As she worked for months to master new moves, she began to look in the mirror and see strength and beauty. As she characterizes it, “My reflection is now a reflection of what I can accomplish… I stopped looking at what was ‘wrong’ with my body and started to be amazed at what my body can do.”
Jillian cleaves to her support system of women in aerial arts that join in their journey’s together. She implores women to find something they love in the quest to be physically active. She warns that when we push ourselves to be active in activities we despise, for the sake of achieving a body image goal, we can easily fall into a traps of punishing our bodies instead of nurturing them.
Her words of wisdom harken to well founded research in the area of self-compassion. Juliana Breines writes in her article in Psychology Today, “Five Ways Self-Compassion Promotes a Healthy Body Image,” that “One way to address body dissatisfaction is to change the way we think about our bodies, shifting the focus from evaluation and critique to care and appreciation.” Furthermore, Kristin Neff, PH.D, one of the worlds leading authorities on self-compassion, opens her followers to a whole new world of possibility in becoming on her website. There you can find tools to nurture yourself and build a new, positive perspective.
What brought Jillian to my comfy photography studio couch that day was a desire for her to capture and share her journey of becoming her truest self. She feels like her truest self when she if free-flowing aerial arts. As she said, “Every time I dance, I dance the journey.” She longed to capture that sense of freedom and always be anchored to her truest self, especially on the darker days, when embracing one’s self seems out of reach. I knew immediately that we needed to capture her in the space where the essence of who she is, is most liberated. I sensed just as quickly that her story was one that needed to be shared with women everywhere.
You are not alone. There is hope. You can find freedom and love in your own skin.