Accepting your vulnerability and how to be mentally prepared for your next photoshoot - featuring Meghan Gray.
Over the past 2 years working as a photographer in my business at Grace Elizabeth Images I have observed many of my clients and their interactions and responses when having their photo taken. It’s hard not too - within small periods of time I have to build relationships with people that allow them to open up so I can capture the essence of everything that makes them… well them!
After posting a poll on instagram asking people how they felt to have their photo taken - many people responded, sharing that they felt awkward, stress, panic, intimidating, embarrassing and uncomfortable. What I can see is that we all seem to battling the same inner conflicts - the biggest one being our vulnerability. Being photographed is no easy feat and so many people find it confronting, uncomfortable, painful and awkward. There’s no running from who you are.. there’s no hiding. We are living in a society where people are constantly battling for perfection when it doesn’t really exist. I see so many people struggle with their identity and their imperfections when mirrored back to them. I figured that seeing as there’s so many individuals battling the same issue now is as good a time as ever to start talking about it and asking the WHY.
I’ve partnered up with the amazing Meghan Gray from GrayMind Psychology to bring this blog piece to you as I believe it’s a topic that needs unpacking for all of us and who better to talk to then a practicing psychologist!
Nearly every shoot I show up to is met by a range of women and men telling me:
“I hate having my photo taken.”
“I’m not very comfortable in front of the camera.”
“No one really likes photos of themselves.”
“I’m not good at photos - let’s just get this over with.”
So, I’ve felt the need to gain a deeper understanding as to what’s happening for my clients when we are working together so I can help you all through the necessary yet daunting process. I wanted to write a piece that talks about vulnerability, acceptance and personal expectations that circulate in our society and why people are creating these negative perspectives towards experiences. Is it because we live in the world of Social Media where so many of us are only seeing the more glamorous side of peoples lives rather than the raw and imperfect moments that make us who we actually are?
I get it - it’s hard when we are bombarded in the media with perfect looking people who actually don’t look like that a lot of the time. I retouch all of my images but refuse to air brush or make any cosmetic changes or enhancements - it’s my way of making an active choice to put work out into the world where people are still well, people! Let’s not forget that we are human and we weren’t made to look like someone else.
I wanted you all to have practical take-aways that you can implement in every day life and coping strategies you can use when your next shoot arises. What I know from experience is that people feel less anxious when they feel less alone - so let’s cut the small talk and get straight down to it.
G: Meghan why do you think people find it so uncomfortable to have their photo taken?
M: I think there may be quite a few psychological elements at play for any one person when getting their photo taken. Some factors could potentially be around low self-esteem, feeling dissatisfaction in their appearance or body image, feeling self-conscious with the direct attention, their mind worrying and predicting perceived negative judgements about their performance or appearance, or even anxiety around the social interaction component of photoshoots. It even could be around not wanting to appear arrogant or self-centred. I think it could be a combination of these elements at one time that create internal discomfort for us in that setting, making us essentially feel vulnerable and exposed.
G: So many people are struggling with vulnerability - why do you think that is?
M: Unfortunately most people equate vulnerability with weakness. At our core we are all fearful of peoples perception of us, and we often fear others will perceive us as weak, unsuccessful, or a failure. So essentially it results in us constantly trying to prove our worth, to ourselves and others, and so being vulnerable could mean our “flaws” are exposed and others will deem us as not good enough. So most of us feel the pressure to always be confident, stoic, sure of ourselves and portraying that we have it all together. The opposite of vulnerability right.
G: Can you unpack vulnerability as a human emotion for those of us that might not have much of an understanding?
M: The go-to on the topic of vulnerability, Bréné Brown, defines vulnerability as basically ‘uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.’ Vulnerability is at its core to feel and experience all emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. To be truly vulnerable we have to open ourselves up to experiencing those really difficult, unpleasant and dark emotions, such as shame, fear, grief and sadness. The emotions that create so much discomfort, that we judge ourselves and others for having them, and feel pressure to mask and cover our experience of them up. Brene Brown talks about how it takes much courage to be vulnerable.
G: As a photographer I see so many people struggle with their identity and their imperfections when mirrored back to them - do you think expectations from social media and society are contributing to this?
M: Of course social media sets unrealistic standards of beauty ideals and it really reinforces the notion I was talking about above, that being flawed or having imperfections is a sign of failure or weakness. It is very clear how much social media reinforces key elements of the cognitive model of perfectionism, which is that our self-worth is dependent on our achievement, performance- related behaviours and/or appearance. Essentially we get daily messages that we are only worthwhile when perfect.
As clients prepare for their shoots, what are some coping mechanisms they can use for the following:
Preparing for a shoot
M: If you have the awareness that the elements of a photoshoot will make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable, then embrace the feeling and bring it with you anyway. Normalise this feeling and remind yourself that you are doing something meaningful and taking action towards something important to you i.e. having a photoshoot because you are building your business or you want memories of an important life event such as your wedding or children. Also try build in a few anxiety regulation tools the day of, such as practicing mindfulness or deep breathing.
When vulnerability issues arise in a shoot
M: Try to approach your emotional discomfort with acceptance. A key emotional acceptance technique is to name it has shown up in your body, use your breath to loosen up around it and state to yourself internally, “I can make room for you”. Essentially bring the vulnerable feeling with you through your shoot.
Negative self talk and self doubt.
M: I utilise the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) model approach to managing unhelpful thoughts about ourselves or our appearance. In this model, the approach is to ‘defuse’ or separate from your mind when it is being unhelpful rather than try fight it or talk back to it (as often we end up MORE caught in our heads when we try doing so). A key strategy is to place the statement “I am having the thought that” in front of your negative thoughts. For example, if in a shoot your mind keeps saying you look overweight or awkward, you would try repeat back “I notice I am having the thought that I am overweight”. It supports the thought to have some distance and recognise its your mind’s opinion and not a fact.
G: Why do so many of us revert to self sabotage or negative self talk in the first place?
M: Research suggests this is actually a biological function in all of us. In ACT, we understand that the brain is actually programmed to have a ‘negativity bias’. This essentially means the mind has evolved to “think negatively” and pick out negative stimuli first. We understand this bias is actually a very adaptive function and is geared towards our safety and survival. I really help people to see that negative self-talk is not a sign of being defective, but rather it’s a natural mechanism built into our mind. The key is learning how to change that relationship with those thoughts through techniques.
G: As a photographer - even when I offer words of reassurance or encouragement during a shoot, I feel like some clients don’t take me seriously, why is that and what can I do?
M: Difficulty receiving and accepting compliments or encouragement from others is a sign of negative core beliefs about oneself. If we hold a negative view of ourselves, and are presented with evidence against that i.e. someone commending us or complimenting us, an incredible amount of internal discomfort and unease is created because it essentially does not match with our truth we hold about ourselves. In psychology this is termed, cognitive dissonance. The discomfort we feel when our brain is trying to simultaneously hold two opposing views at one time. To relieve the internal feeling you will see people cognitively dismiss away your compliant, i.e. “oh its just lighting” or “lucky you’re good at your job”, so that an external reason can account for the opposing view and they no longer feel discomfort.
G: Lastly, how can we learn to love our imperfections and who we are?
M: As an ACT therapist, I encourage the notion of developing ‘compassionate self-talk’ rather then ‘positive self-talk’. Because as mentioned above striving to only think positive thoughts and always feel happy, is a trap and will leave as feeling stuck as it is not achievable. It also counteracts the notion of us encouraging people to sit in and embrace feeling vulnerable. Research suggests that developing self-compassion is not only more achievable but more helpful when trying to manage low self-esteem. In the moments when faced with our imperfections, try think ’Can I be kind to myself? Can I be supportive, encouraging, caring and considerate to myself, recognising that I am a human being with good points and bad points like everybody else?’. This is far more helpful than just trying to ‘pump ourselves up’.
Meghan can be found at GrayMind Psychology located at Shop 7, 2 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington.
Follow Meghan @graymindpsychology or simply visit https://www.graymind.com.au.