lizrileyphotography_self esteem

So there I am, sitting at my local artisan bakery, gracefully eating a piece of sourdough toast covered in smashed avo (well, trying to at least, but you know, it’s avo on toast and I’m guaranteed to get the avocado all over my cheeks because of the man size bites that it’s delisciousness MAKES me take.  And yes, just like pizza, avo on toast should exclusively be eaten with your hands!) and then I see her email fly past..

EMBRACE is coming to London!

Eeeek! I literally wanted to kiss, high 5 and chest pump my screen! (but I held back – Rob would kill me for breaking his laptop!!)  I have been waiting for the launch of this documentary to come to London for months.  Now, if you haven’t heard of yet the Embrace movement, check out the trailer here – Taryn Brumfitt’s work with body image and self esteem is extraordinary and if the trailer is anything to go by, this docu is going to be sensational (but bring the tissues!).

And it could not have come at a better time.  Because while I create a new website that will be brimming with amazing and incredible women of whom I have photographed, I have been thinking a lot about all of the women around me, including my own journey, and how we can be swallowed up with self hate, why we withdraw and hide and how we can transition to not only a little more confidence, but the one thing we actually really, really need…some self esteem.

At some stage when I was young, I, like every other woman, decided to make up a story about myself.  A big, fat, lie of a story that I was not good enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough and not deserving enough.  I believed that my life would be so much better once I was thin…..thin and beautiful.   That once I lost the bingo wings, the chunky thunder thighs, the muffin tops, that if only my collar bones would stick out I would be so much happier and worthy.  That I would be loved.  That I would be seen. And that he would love me instead of her.  So I spent half a lifetime chasing endlessly this mystical “beautiful” version of myself that, when I apparently arrived there, would greet me with rainbows and unicorns, endless love and happiness.  But it was always out of reach.  Now I know, however, that what I was actually looking for,  it was never out of reach.  It was always there.  I was just looking in all of the wrong places.

And this is what I want to shed some light on today, because if you are reading this and if you are constantly chasing these ideals of beauty, of happiness, of love but are constantly blinded by fear and shame, self loathing and the non-stop self criticism that leaves you feeling completely f*cking inadequate –

-You really, really need to know that the perception of yourself is not reality and the destination you’re trying to reach is not found in the gym, nor in your fendi handbag, or in your fancy car.  It’s not even outside.

 And I know this all too well.  Because I have been there.

I lived in Europe.  I had the nice apartment, the fancy car, the chick high heels and Fendi handbag and a wardrobe full of clothes for my fancy pants corporate job that had me travelling all over the world.  I went to the gym, ran my butt off on the treadmill and did squats like my life (and jeans!) depended on it.  I looked like I had it all together, that I was on top of the world, with a suitcase of achievements and a collection of things that I unfortunately hung my self worth on.  And look, let’s be honest here.  All these things are great and nice to have (except for the high heels – I’m onto flip flops and ballerina’s now!) and yes, at the time can give you that kick of confidence in your walk, making you feel like you’re turning heads.  But all of this was just a band-aid.  A band-aid which hid a much deeper, darker secret that continued to haunt me.  And it was more than just a little low self-esteem.

I completely, utterly loathed and hated myself. 

I would decline nights out with my friends, because I was so ashamed of myself.  I was disgusted at how I looked.  I felt fat, I felt frumpy, I felt like my ass was constantly hitting the back of my knees and I would have muffin top tantrums big time.  I was sure that my bingo wings were tearing apart the sleeves in my tops and my chunky thunder thighs looked hideous in jeans.  I didn’t want to be around my friends who were prettier than me, skinnier than me and happier than me.  So I would stay at home.  Being a miserable, self loathing sad sack binge eating unhealthy, guilt inducing and soul shattering food and hating myself so much for it that I would then throw it all back up.  All the while wrestling with my own internal fun house critic who continued to tell me that I was fat, shameful and totally inadequate.  And this was not only hurting my waistline, but it was destroying my soul.

So how did I break the cycle?

At that point in time, I made a choice to address the binge eating.  Which actually had nothing to do with food at all, and everything to do with the feelings of stress, love, belonging and hopelessness.  But it was not until a few years later, when I crashed from burnout that I actually finally found what I had been chasing for so many years.

Happiness.  Love.  Connection.  And freedom.  And knowing that there is more to life than the size of my butt.  That there needs to be a f*cking point.

Because it was during this time where I literally had to stop.  I had support of a nutritionist, teaching me how to nourish my body with a wide range of whole foods, how to slow down, how to get grounded.  I finally got to wrap that nasty woman into a nice box with a big red ribbon and seriously chucked, yes CHUCKED her out the window and instead, become for the first time the supporting and compassionate friend to myself that I never was.  I ate food to nourish my body and to enjoy all the goodness this world has to offer – not to lose 10 pounds.  I enjoyed the sweetness and richness of cake without the guilt and the need to “burn off the calories”.  I stopped exercising as a form of punishment.  I went for nice long walks, relaxing bike rides and took up a little yoga along the way.  I had days where I would wake up early, and days of sleeping in.  I took time to admire, to see and to soak up the beauty around me and throughout my environment.  I surrounded myself with meaningful relationships.  Everything I did during this time was something that made me feel relaxed, calm and it was something that filled my soul with joy and happiness.  I let go of hanging my self worth on the items that I owned.  I actually started to take care of my body and love it unconditionally.  I began to honor and respect myself.  I started to look at the lumps and bumps and scars and realised that they were part of an incredible story.  My story.  The story that I was beginning to own……and actually love.  And for the first time, I felt completely connected, completely free.  A freedom that can only come with a deep found love, courage and a bucket of self esteem.

And as I began to heal I picked up again my camera, photographing the incredible women around me.  Their presence, their smiles, their eyes, their stories, their journey.  I had found my purpose.  They inspired me, they motivate me, they put that fire inside of me and they have helped me….to realise the beauty that I also hold within me.  The story that is me.

And as much as I would like to say THE END, I can’t.  Because this is not a perfect straight line to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  It’s a journey, a curve, with mountains along the way.  And throughout this up/down jungle gym of a journey, that inner nasty woman will swing on by for a cuppa, trying to withhold you from the world, trying to convince you that you are not good enough and that you simply don’t matter.  Say hi, give her a wave and tell her to get on her bike…


You deserve to be seen.  To live.  To love. To laugh (out loud). To dance whenever and wherever your heart tells you to.

You are brilliant, amazing, magnificent.  AS. YOU. ARE.

And you don’t need a swanky handbag or a 6 pack to prove it.

lizrileyphotography_self esteem