How To Love Your Breasts: 4 Lessons from Photography Therapy
Body image insecurities can be extremely hard to overcome. Oftentimes they become ingrained as a result of confirmation bias — the idea that once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view, while rejecting information that could cast doubt on it.
In my case, I was worried that my small breasts were unattractive, so I was biased to absorb any negative information that could confirm that fear. But in doing so, I essentially became a prisoner of my own assumptions and biases.
Recently, I learned about a form of therapy that can help counteract confirmation bias. Photography therapy (phototherapy) is a practice of therapy where a photographer uses portrait photographs as a catalyst to help a patient realize that her body image is distorted. During phototherapy, the photographer takes black and white nude photos of the patient. The goal is to capture the patient in her most vulnerable state, focusing on aspects of the body that cause her the most anxiety. After the photo session, the photos are used as stimuli to help the patient open up and evoke new self-realizations.
I first discovered phototherapy through the documentary film My Small Breasts and I, which follows the story of a woman named Kate Bailey who suffers from debilitating body image insecurities. Kate had always been highly insecure about her breast size, but after trying phototherapy she completely transformed her view of her self image. She went from barely being able to leave her house in a tank top to being able to confidently wear a bikini in public. I was extremely intrigued by Kate’s transformation — so much, that I decided to try phototherapy for myself.
As it turns out, Kate’s photographer, Ellen Fisher Turk, is based out of New York City, where I currently live. Fortunately, Ellen still practices in New York and she graciously agreed to photograph me. When I told her about my personal journey with self-acceptance and my mission with Your Breast Self, she offered to photograph me for free — a true testament to her commitment to help women change how they view themselves.
The phototherapy ended up being an enlightening experience. While my insecurities weren’t as extreme as Kate’s, I definitely related to the mental shift in perspective that she experienced. I not only felt more confident with my body afterward, I also felt more capable of opening up about my insecurities and proactively addressing them, rather than avoiding them or letting them consume me.
If you relate to my story and suffer from your own body image insecurities, I recommend checking out phototherapy. Even if you don’t go through the therapy yourself, learning about why and how it works can be very insightful in helping you understand how to develop a positive body image. Here are my top four takeaways from my experience and why I believe it can help you.
1. You Will Overcome Your Fears
“I’m quite on a high now because I’ve done it. I’m quite pleased with myself.” -Kate Bailey
Putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation and coming out better for it can help you overcome your fears. For someone like me who was unwilling to undress without covering myself in the gym locker room, completely de-robing and allowing myself to be photographed by a stranger was terrifying. But Ellen was great about making me feel comfortable and gradually easing me into the session. I undressed at my own pace and with each photo that Ellen took, I felt myself becoming more and more desensitized to my fear of the experience. With gentle encouragement from Ellen, I eventually took the plunge and stripped off everything. It was difficult to refrain from posing a certain way or tensing up, but eventually I was able to let myself “just be” in the present moment.
After the photo shoot, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I felt relieved but also highly exhilarated. And the experience honestly wasn’t that bad! The hardest part was the anticipation right before I did it — kind of like ripping off a band aid or jumping into a cold shower.
Ellen refers to this emotional high as “coming out of the other side of the fire.” This happened for Kate, it happened for me, and it can happen for you too. You just have to be willing to step into the fire. Jumping in is always the hardest part because we tell ourselves stories that the outcome is going to be worse than it actually is.
2) You Will Gain More Confidence
When you come out on the other side of the fire, it kickstarts a more confident approach to life. Ellen has had clients that went through the therapy and afterward gained the confidence to get out of unhealthy relationships, lose weight, and change careers.
After my own experience I felt much braver, and I noticed myself taking little steps outside of my comfort zone in other areas of my life. I stopped covering my chest with a towel when I undressed at the gym. I started wearing sports bras without a bra underneath. And now here I am talking openly online about my insecurities and trying to help other women learn from my experience. Each of these small changes made me feel more empowered, fueling my momentum to push boundaries in other areas of my life.
3) You Will Develop A New Perspective
“It’s like you’ve had the fun mirror your whole life, and now you have a real mirror.” -Kate Bailey
Phototherapy can help you generate a new perspective that you can’t see when you’re trapped in your own myopia. This is a gradual process, but if done correctly, it can have very powerful impacts.
Ellen facilitates this process very carefully. After the shoot, she insists on printing thumbnail versions of the photos in batches and showing you multiple photos at once. In doing it this way, rather than allowing you to view the photos one at a time, it forces you to see yourself from new angles and vantage points that are not possible when looking at a singular view of yourself in the mirror.
Additionally, because the images are black and white nudes, they highlight the purest form of the human body, stripping out all other distractions. The multiplicity of the images and the lack of distracting external information creates a powerful visual that helps you see yourself in a new light.
It doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually you will start to experience a shift in your mindset. At first your eye latches on to all of the things you normally criticize about yourself. I found myself checking to see if I looked completely flat in my sports bra, or if my breasts looked deflated when I was laying on my back. It was like this obsessive, compulsive tendency to check and analyze my “problem areas.” But after letting myself sit with the photos for a few weeks, I started to see other things. I started to notice that the curve of my back and the profile of my breast looked really beautiful. Or that in photos where I was caught smiling, I liked the way I looked — breasts included. When I started to notice things I liked, I started to feel differently about myself as a whole.
“At first we see everything we don’t like, but as we look and we’ve seen frames that we do like, it diffuses the fear, the anxiety, the judgment.” -Ellen
When I asked Ellen why this happens, she said it’s because our minds have a natural tendency to resolve dissonance between conflicting beliefs. Our minds want to believe we are either beautiful or not beautiful — but not both at the same time. When you begin to see aspects of yourself in the photos that are truly beautiful, our mind works to resolve any dissonance between what we see and the negative self image we’ve believed for so long. Eventually positive thoughts begin to diffuse the negative thoughts, and this diffusion creates room in the mind for a new perspective to enter — one that’s grounded in self-appreciation and acceptance.
4) You Will Uncover New Insights about Yourself
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — C.G. Jung
One of my biggest takeaways from the experience was awareness of my ingrained thought patterns. I wasn’t consciously aware that I was telling myself so many negative stories because it was how I was used to operating. I had been criticizing and tuning out positive feedback for so long that I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.
But going through the process of making myself feel vulnerable and seeing myself as someone else sees me helped me open up about my insecurities in ways that I had never been able to previously. The phototherapy helped me take a step back and see myself from an outsider’s point of view. This jolted me out of my habitual thinking and helped me develop a new awareness of the way I processed information.
Because of confirmation bias, we’re prone to believe what we want to believe. Perception is our reality. Thus to change how we feel about ourselves, we have to help our minds believe a new story and see ourselves in a new way.
Phototherapy can be a great way to start this process of completely changing how you view yourself. It has helped women with a variety of self esteem issues, including rape victims, women with eating disorders, and women with negative body image issues.
The lessons I learned not only helped me with my insecurities about my breasts, but they reinforced the importance of stepping outside of my comfort zone, putting myself in new situations, and leaning into my anxieties rather than avoiding them. The combination of these effects is where I think the real benefit lies, and it reminds me of the importance of prioritizing these lessons in everyday life. A negative body image can be difficult to overcome, but with the right tools, progress is possible.
If these ideas resonated with you, please send me a comment or subscribe to my personal blog, Your Breast Self. Thanks for reading!