Cultivating a Sense of Place through the Lens


Finding a sense of place where I live is pivotal for me. I build a relationship with the pockets of nature I find in the city, the way the light falls, the way we as humans interact and nurture these spaces.

What about you? Does having a sense of place and engaging with the world around us play a part in your daily life too? Does the lens play a part in that? I know I’ve always been really engaged with the world around me visually but I do think that the lens deepens that and allows us too make it into a mindful practice, one that can deepen with time.

To me it’s always been as simple as slowing down and letting myself and the lens engage with the world in an inquisitive way.

It’s not about getting perfect photos (sometimes I don’t actually come back with any photos, it becomes more about just BEING). But the lens has a way of helping us give ourselves permission to slow down and take this time. To helping us open up our eyes. 

If you’ve seen my photos on Instagram or in my classes over the years, you’ve probably become familiar with some of the places that I take my selfies. They feel like characters in my visual story. They feel like companions on this healing path. Because they are.

The act of taking any selfie you’ve seen me share is rooted in cultivating and celebrating a relationship to place. And constantly letting it evolve. I love going on photo walks and discovering how the same place I’ve been going on photo walks for years can look anew, the way it can change.

I’ve been living in East Vancouver for the past 6 years and fell head over heels for that place. The community gardens I’d visit weekly. The way the light falls on the sidewalk by my house there. The gorgeous flowers that bloom each season. And, in the beautiful way that life takes turns, I also fell in love with someone who doesn’t live in this city. So, life is taking me to a new landscape (well, newish…I lived here over a decade ago) to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Now, do know that I will be in Vancouver often for some photography work and I’m still most definitely booking photo sessions in Vancouver as well as Victoria. I’m considering myself a dual city-gal work (and friendship) wise!

But outside of work, is the daily photo & self-compassion practice that this is all rooted in. The act of going for these photo walks. And while I’ll miss the visuals, the smells, the light, the plants, the neighbourhood characters of my old neighbourhood and city, I’m excited to start that process of discovery anew.

I’m grateful to have landed in Victoria in a lovely loft home with my sweetheart mere minutes from the waters edge and a really lovely trail along the water, called the Songhees Walkway (as this part of Vancouver Island is traditional Songhees Nation Territory). Like the community garden in my old neighbourhood, the path is the place that’s drawing me in. Inviting me in with the rocky beaches, the morning light, the interactions with birds and otters, the intersection of human life and nature, the arbutus trees leaning over the path, the city perspectives in the background and the openness of the sky.

New characters in a new chapter of this continued, ever-evolving visual story.

Do you relate to this relationship to place? How does the camera play a part in finding your sense of home too? Who are the non-human characters in your visual story?





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  • Renée LayberryNovember 6, 2017 - 9:49 am

    Your words and images resonate so deeply with me on many levels. Welcome to Victoria, and thank you for sharing your passion in this way! <3ReplyCancel

10 Days of Body Neutrality Discoveries


It’s 10 days until the Body Neutrality class starts and I’ve had lots of great questions coming in about what Body Neutrality it is and how it plays a part in ending the way we critically relate to ourselves through the lens. And every time I talk about it with folks in person I see their eyes light up, I see the realizations clicking in their mind even before they say “This is the missing piece I’ve been looking for”.  For the last few years on my personal body acceptance journey through the lens this has been my focus. Because after years on the quest for Body Love it felt like the search was going to be never ending, not because I wasn’t worthy of it but because the standard were ever changing. I realized how much that the quest for body love is something else we’re sold and it was as much a part of diet culture as body hate. I wanted out of the game altogether. I just wanted to be. I wanted to stop constantly striving to be enough and instead just live from a place where I was already enough. Enter Body Neutrality.

Preparing for the upcoming Body Neutrality E-Course, I found myself writing 10 of the core discoveries that Body Neutrality has opened up for me. And they were all earth shaking ones for me. But at the same time ones that now have me feeling more on solid ground with my body acceptance than ever. So for the next 10 days starting tomorrow I’m going to share them with you, leading up to the start of class on October 2nd.

I’ll be sharing them here on my personal Instagram. I’ll also be sharing them as well as your responses to the post over on the @beyourownbeloved Instagram. They aren’t photo prompts (those await you in class) but if you’d like them in your inbox for the coming 10 days, hop on over to the blog post in the link in my profile to sign up and I’ll send them your way.

If you do decide to join in for the Body Neutrality E-Course I do recommend not waiting for the last minute as we’re having a live teaching call coming up (which would easily be worth the price of the class unto itself) before we dig into the activities in class, designed to help you put Body Neutrality through the lens into action. And while we’re exploring this through the lens, as with all of my classes, it’s not really about the photo. The photo is a place where we are asked to put the concepts into action. It’s because we often see ourselves critically in photos that we can use it as a place for transformation.

As a part of practicing what I’m preaching, all the photos I’ll be using for these posts are going to be ones that played a role in my own body neutrality realizations. Photos I would have seen as ‘bad’ or that I would have critiqued before these realizations but that I now feel neutral about, that don’t hold that same power over me any more.

At the end of each of the Body Neutrality core discoveries I’ll be sharing each day, I’ll have a question awaiting YOU. Because I also want to know how they relate to your journey with body acceptance too. Because we aren’t alone in this journey and a pivotal part of healing body shame is letting our stories be heard.

Join the Body Neutrality E-Course here if you know you’re already in for the whole journey! Or add your email to the list below to get these posts in your inbox for the coming 10 days. Of course, it’s also happening over on Instagram so if you’re not already following me there, come join me at @viviennemcm as well as the @beyourownbeloved Instagram too!


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Waking Up from our Shame Response


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how we respond to photos. Oh who am I kidding…I’m ALWAYS thinking about how we respond to photos but this time through a specific focus.

Our shame reaction.

Now, before I dig into it I want to say that I wish that we could always have a compassionate reaction to photos and I hope you’ve had lots of those moments that feel resonant. That help us feel seen. That make you feel amazing and that you have no reaction to. But throughout the years of teaching these classes I’ve found that folks often feel like they fail if they don’t get that reaction.

And they aren’t failing. Self-compassion isn’t just the ‘good’ moments or photos, it’s supporting ourselves when we aren’t having those moments too and I want to bring voice to these critical moments so we aren’t doubling our shame for well…feeling shame!

It’s one I’ve known all too well. We see a photo of ourselves and we have a response to it. But it’s not actually the response itself that is problematic. It’s what we do after that.

I can see a photo of myself and think “Oh, my belly looks big in that” but that unto itself is just an observation. It’s what comes next that is the challenge. It’s the judgement and the shame response that we attach to that.

For me it used to be:

My belly looks big in that photo…which means I’m unworthy, unlovable and ugly.

I know, that’s a big jump but that’s what these shame responses do to us. I hesitate to make a big list of them because I know that kind of thing could actually be highly triggering. Plus I think many of us are all to familiar with our shame response.

As Clinical Psychologist Marilyn Sorenson wrote in her book Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem “Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong,” she said, “shame is the feeling of being something wrong. When a person experiences shame, they feel ‘there is something basically wrong with me.’”

We can understand this intellectually, but I find that we often experience this in photos without realizing it’s shame in action.

I find with the context of photos, we don’t question our shame response like we might in other parts of our lives. We take images as proof of our unworthiness, unlovability or ‘being wrong’ but don’t question that internalized shame reaction. We don’t call into question HOW & WHY a photo could possibly mean that we aren’t loveable, beautiful, worthy and a downright good human being.

Brene Brown talks about 4 Elements of Shame Resilience being:

  • Recognizing Shame and understanding our Triggers
  • Practicing Critical Awareness
  • Reaching out and Telling Our Story
  • Speaking Shame (Differentiating it from other emotions and breaking the silence of shame)

And I realized how the practice I’ve being doing and teaching these past few years is actually rooted in these core tools without realizing it until now, especially in the context of what we do in my classes.

Taking a photo.

Recognizing our reaction to a photo.

Questioning why we’re thinking that and where it comes from (cause we aren’t born thinking this way about our bodies).

Using the camera as a tool for telling our story, to have a visual image that reminds of that realization. 

And speaking it aloud.

It’s what I get to witness throughout the process of teaching these classes, especially Be Your Own Beloved as our Flickr Group becomes this place of creative expression and yes, shame resilience and photo resilience.

We take the power back through the act of witnessing our reactions, acknowledging them, questioning them (or at least noticing, “this isn’t mine”), sharing the photo anyways and alongside it telling the story of what happened in the process of taking that photo.

I know it’s easy to think that taking selfies is really just about getting ‘good photos’ to share on social media with the hashtag #bodypositive and while there’s nothing wrong with that, we go way deeper.

People think of selfies as something we are doing for the external world to see us, a source of validation but I like to approach it in a very different way. I see selfies as a place for this kind of resilient conversation, a door into our internal process rather than a product we are creating for others.

And yes, some days we have an easeful experience with a prompt and get photos that make us smile big and feel seen. And other days we get outtakes that bring up this kind of shame response. Both our a part of our experience. Both are important and both are our teachers in this process.

We learn to witness a new way to see ourselves.

And catch ourselves when we see ourselves in old, patterned, shame-based ways.

And I talk often in this work about what’s on the other side of that critical old shame-based reaction. I think we see even that through a perfectionist lens. We think someday we’ll only have good thoughts about ourselves. That someday we’ll cross the finish line of body love and can claim success. But that’s not what actually awaits us.

I used to constantly react to the world around me and especially photos, in a shame based way. But the more I followed this process of noticing, practicing critical awareness, telling my story and speaking about shame (even when it’s uncomfortable which is almost always is) it got easier to be resilient as Brene Brown says. Til shame wasn’t my go to response. Sure, it still happens, but the more we practice that critical awareness and wake up to the judgements we have about our body, the easier it is to recognize that reaction and support ourselves through it.

The process of building that shame resilience back up filled up that well of shame with compassion. I no longer equate a photo where my body looks a certain way with my inherent worth.

Now, our inner perfectionist might be taking hold about now as you’re reading this post and be telling you that you should have this all figured out and not react in a shame-based way but that’s not how it goes.

I needed to do this in an extended period of time, through a practice of meeting myself in the lens, no matter what the reaction or outcome is. To simply show up and use selfies as a way to self-connect and self-reflect.

It’s not something we can just think ourselves out of. The camera has been a place to put body acceptance into action through this process of shame resilience. And yes, that’s vulnerable. And that’s what makes it work.

I know that the lens isn’t going to be everyone’s tool for shame resilience but I deeply believe in it’s potential to help us build shame resilience. The process of taking selfies with compassion provided that outcome for me and in the past 6 years of teaching these kinds of classes, have witnessed this shame resilience through the lens in folks I’ve guided through this process too. It’s something we naturally do in the process of the Be Your Own Beloved class and I’m really excited to be guiding folks through this process in a session of the 30 day class starting Friday September 1st.

Because it’s a vulnerable process I really do make this class gentle as we begin and ease us into the process of taking our photos, noticing our responses and telling our stories. By showing up in front of the lens over 30 days of doing this, change happens and things shift. We dig much deeper into the process of questioning the reasons for our shame in my more in-depth classes but it’s important to me that we start gently and deeply root ourselves into the process of witnessing ourselves and telling ours stories (and falling in love with the creative process of taking selfies in the process).

If you’d like to put your shame resilience into practice through the lens (in a gentle, beginner friendly way) come join me for Be Your Own Beloved. Class starts soon!

Whether or not you do this work with me or on your own, I hope that next time you see a photo be it a selfie or one someone else took of you, you take that first step and notice your reaction.

Even just calling it out and saying to yourself “I think I’m having a shame reaction” helps us reclaim our resilience and power back in that moment. It allows for that recognition that you are having a response rather than that you are inherently those things that your inner critic is telling you in the form of shame.

Practice the act of noticing your reaction and the rest will unfold. The more we notice it, the more we can recognize why (and often it’s a result of internalized messages from oppressive systems like fatphobia, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism) and be able to step into telling our story and stepping out of the isolation of shame and realizing we aren’t alone and break the shame spell.

To wake up to the way shame reactions are defining your relationship to your body in images and beginning the process of using it instead as a tool for photo and shame resilience.


Find out more about Be Your Own Beloved here!

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The Words Underneath the Photo


When you arrive at the garden just as it starts to rain but something draws you in.

Your feet lead you right to that flowering Camellia and you pick up a fallen blossom and take a photo. Knowing that you took nearly the same photo last year on an April Day, towards that same path, with rain falling in the background of that photo too.

And you take it all the same because these photos are like pinpoints in the visual map of your life. The kind that loops and cycles and brings you to the same points again to reflect on what has changed.

While you’re standing in the same place. In the same conditions, with a flower in your hand.

You are not the same and at the same time you are. You have answers you didn’t have then. Puzzle pieces now found and many left to find.

You think of how different (and also the same) things could be next year.

And you look forward to this future date with yourself. In the pouring rain, camera in one hand, camellia in the other.

I’ll meet you there.


Sometimes the photos are the catalysts for the words to spill out too…if a photo you take today feels like it has more to say and you let the words spill out too…tag me in it or use the #beyourownbeloved hashtag and I’ll be on the lookout for it. I’d love to hear what #thewordsunderneaththephoto are for you today too.



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Returning to the Practice


We return again and again.

To the practices that nourish us. Last week I was chatting in a mentoring session with one of the lovelies in the Body Peace Program about the practice of taking photos and how we think we fail or are doing it wrong if we lose the practice if we get off track.

But it’s the returning, the resilience that is the practice itself isn’t it. 

My photo practice has always ebb and flowed. Winter makes it even harder. But the returning keeps happening. When the light comes. When I feel that urge to grab the camera. When I realize how long it’s been since I’ve gone on a photo walk.

The returning is the practice.

And it’s felt good this past week to see flowers blooming and in the breaks when the rain holds off for a bit, the camera and I have been going out for walks. Not waiting until the sun is out to go out and seek the beauty that awaits.

I also just got a message from a lovely reader saying that she missed seeing these kinds of photo posts on the blog. And I do too! But I confess in the world of Instagram, especially coming from the early days of blogging, it’s easy to feel like no one reads blogs anymore.

But  I didn’t begin blogging all those years ago because other people were going to read it. I started it because I wanted to cultivate a writing practice (and the love of photography and self-portraits ended up happening in the process).

So thanks to her suggestion I feel like I’m going to give myself permission to come back here and share more self-portraits on the regular. More photo walks. More stories.

Because everytime I take photos it’s a part of the practice.

The returning, again and again.

Last weekend I was out on Vancouver Island in Victoria and took a photo walk, like I usually do, without any big expectation on where it would take me. I have a soft spot for the Garry Oak Meadows of the Island so when I saw those curvy trees and rocky ground I was drawn right there. Here’s what the camera found:





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