As part of the Dietitians Unplugged Podcast I co-host with Glenys Oyston, RD, we recently were excited to interview Vivienne McMaster who runs an online program called Be Your Own Beloved. Her program is a 30-day course (she offers shorter and longer courses too) that encourage people to make peace with how they see themselves in images. We interviewed her because I have had some clients who participated in her program in the past and they had nothing but great things to say about it. We also thought it would be great to share with our listeners in the hopes of exposing more people to the great work she does. In talking to Vivienne, I was struck with how she encouraged the participants not to judge the photo taking process but instead to approach it with curiosity. When we got close to ending the interview, my podcast partner and I agreed that we should enroll in her next 30-day course.
I started the 30-day course on July 1 and it works like this: each day, Vivienne emails the group with a prompt. The prompts are simple and you are free to interpret them in any way you like. With that, information you are off to start taking pictures. What is really nice is that Vivienne sets up a private online group where you can post your photos (if you choose to) for other participants to see. The support you get from others in the program is very encouraging and helps build your confidence right away.
As a participant, Be Your Own Beloved is quite helpful in getting you to process your own body image feelings in a gentle and safe way. Because of my own personal work in the Health at Every Size® and Intuitive Eating, I've developed some tools to improve how I see my body, but it is still a work in progress for sure. It hasn't always been like that though. Up until fairly recently, I have struggled with very poor body image. Since high school, I remember thinking I was never muscular enough, never thin enough. I was too curvy, too flabby and always ashamed of my "love handles." I have finally started to make peace with my body. I'll be honest, I still struggle with body image. There are good days and there are bad ones. But overall, I've learned to appreciate my body more today than I did before. Pictures have always bothered me and, especially as I struggle with accepting my body as it is, because photos have always been a true reflection with how others see you.
At the time of writing this blog, I'm about half way through the program and I wanted to share some of what I have already learned. The images that I've taken have been some of the best selfies I've ever been in. There are some days that I don't want to participate. Some days my inner critic is very loud, telling me I'm not good enough or this is too hard. Those are the days that I make it a point to be open to the process. Those are the days that I am sure to challenge my inner critic and, over time, hope to make it much quieter. I've also learned that curiosity must be a part of my consciousness. At Vivienne's advice, I take a ton of pictures and that is so helpful. I don't judge them, I just take the pictures with curiosity responding to the daily prompt and just see what comes of it. There are usually 1 or 2 gems in the 40 or so pictures I take. As one of the only men participating in the group, I find that I've also learned how to read the daily prompt and make it mine. I think that just because mostly women participate in the program, there tends to be a feminine quality to the images that are shared. At first I tried to copy that notion but realized, hey, that is not me. So with each prompt, I make sure to add my own interpretation.
This is something that has been personally and professionally amazing. Personally, it is a tool that is helping heal my body image. Professionally, I have found a resource to recommend to my clients. I would tell them that it can be a transformative experience that will begin to heal your body image, to have a safe space to explore difficult issues. I would tell them that Vivienne is kind, compassionate and knows how to help you on this journey.
I'm sharing some of the pictures I've taken. I hope you enjoy them. Some are vulnerable, some are fun but I'm sharing them so that you can see part of my process. I hope you enjoy them as much as I've had taking them.