We sat on the beach for a while, chatting, with the thought of going in the ocean on our minds.

I assumed it would be incredibly cold, being mid-September and all. Painfully so. I imagined how hard it would be to get in the water, how I wouldn’t want to be in there, and how cold I’d be afterwards. I was assuming the worst.

But I was going to try, maybe even just wade in, if my friend wanted to.

The sun set further and the air temperature got colder, I felt further away from the possibility of getting in the water. The idea had passed in my mind and I’d convinced myself not to.

Until Danielle said “Let’s go for it”.

I still doubted the possibility that I would actually get in. But I was willing to go on the adventure and support her.

And really, what if it was okay? What if it might even feel nourishing?

We took only a few steps into the ocean when the first big wave hit. And then followed up by 2 more.

I literally howled with laughter. Doubled over with when not jumping gleefully over the next gigantic wave approaching. And they kept coming. Within 10 seconds I was soaking head to toe (forget wading in) and in a full on laughing fit.

It felt amazing. Not just the water (which wasn’t nearly as cold as I’d feared) but the waves and the laughter. I laughed because the idea I’d had of slowly wading in, at my own pace was well…really just being lovingly mocked by the ocean in these gigantic waves in the most beautiful way.

It felt utterly divine. Jumping in the waves like I did as a kid, howling with laughter with not a care in the world what anyone on shore (and yes, there were lots of sunset watching folks) might think.

You see, when I’m laughing I feel most inherently me, closest to my true self.

So this moment that I’d been fearing, theorizing how it would go, placing outcomes on.

Was completely out of my control. And magical. And beautiful. 

And invited me home to myself. 


Before we left, I put the camera on my bag and snapped a few selfies, arms wide to the sky.

The usual thoughts that would come with this moment arrived and were swiftly dealt with. Thoughts like “I wonder what people might be thinking about me right now” or  “Maybe this will look better if I put my hair down” or “I wish I had of worn my cooler bathing suit” came and left quickly because the ocean had just swooned me with it’s wildness and these things didn’t seem as important as that.

And I wanted to remember this.

Because the camera helps me cultivate this conversation with myself. It reminds me of what brings me home to myself. It invites me back into that moment, again and again. This one moment in the ongoing visual story of my own life.

Since that moment yesterday I’ve been thinking about the fear, the expectation, the choice to go into the water and the wonder of getting caught up in the joy of it all, realizing how it was so different than I expected and that the hardest part really was that first step in the water. It made me think of folks before they join me for Be Your Own Beloved.

It made me think specifically of folks who email right after they have signed up for the class sharing how utterly terrified they are (and by the way that is exactly who I create this work for…not for folks already comfortable with themselves in photos). Those emails I’m getting these days as the next Be Your own Beloved class gets started in October.

I know this work can feel scary.

I know the idea of cultivating a compassionate conversation with ourselves is hella vulnerable.

I know that often we come to it with whole list of expectations of ourselves and how it’s going to go, often defined by our past experiences with photos.

And then it’s almost always those same people who feel that fear but do it anyways, who write me after often just a few prompts or the first week and it’s though they are standing in that big wave with me, shocked at how playfully they are jumping in the waves, prepared for the white caps where you kind of need to brace yourself for the vulnerability and standing in that energy that I experienced in the laughter last night…knowing that it was far different than what they’d feared and far more nourishing (and fun) than they could have imagined. 

Feeling closer to their true selves than they have in ages.

Sometimes it’s the ocean that brings us home. Sometimes it’s the camera.

And it’s always worth taking that first step into the wild unknown.


If you are interested in joining in for Be Your Own Beloved you can find out all the details here but also don’t hesitate to use the contact form to connect with me and ask any questions that are coming up. I’d love to hear from you.

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  • LeonSeptember 13, 2016 - 9:28 am

    This is such a beautiful, joy-filled story, Vivienne. And that photo is stunning. You already know how much I loved Be Your Own Beloved. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels drawn to it but is hesitating. Do it…you won’t be sorry. Love and hugs!ReplyCancel


Last week I spend a few days gathering with 4 dear university friends almost 20 years after we all lived together.

And I confess that leading up to the gathering, I was nervous. Not at first, but then the conversation of us all bringing our old photos from that time came up and I found myself really bothered by the idea of looking at them.

And the closer it came, the more my nerves rose about it.

Now, it wasn’t that I was worried about reacting to how my body looked in it. That would have been the case even just 10 years ago but is at the heart of the work I’ve been doing around body image and photos so I’ve become well practiced in supporting myself (and others) around that.

But I was nervous about seeing her. The one in the photos.

The 20-year-old Vivienne who I know would be waiting for me there.

It’s not that I don’t think about her. I do think of her often, that year of my life, and then I try to get it out of my mind. You see, that year these friends and I lived together, in particular, was a really really tough year in a variety of ways.

I didn’t want to look in her eyes and know what she was feeling. It was becoming clear that I had been avoiding her for a long time.

I’ve been doing a lot of work around photo resilience lately and so it was on my mind, knowing that what was coming up for me…this resistance, was a part of that journey for me. Photo resilience, to me, doesn’t mean that we ONLY feel good about our photos. It’s about how we respond and work through the tender emotions and responses that come up around photos.

It’s about showing up in a conversation with ourselves and staying when the conversation gets tough. And this was most definitely a place where I had 100% been resistant to my own photo resilience, where I hadn’t even let myself engage in the conversation with myself about this era of photos.

So as we all gathered and opened up the piles of photo books and envelopes of printed photos. Stories flowed out and some of the photos made me crack up, but there was that underlying element I had been nervous about. Because there she was awaiting me just like I remembered. I looked her in the eye, the 20 year old Vivienne  I had been avoiding. And I knew what I needed to do. I let myself feel it. I looked her in the eyes. I didn’t run away from her this time.

Because to me, that is photo resilience. Feeling it all. Before, during and after seeing the photos and giving ourselves tools for support along the way.

To not try to force myself into feeling positive, but instead, to let the natural emotional progression I’d been trying to repress be free to be felt.

I sat with my resistance, the vulnerability of looking at myself in these photos. What became clear to me though is that I’m not her anymore. I knew that of course, which is why I was trying to distance myself from my 20 year old self.

But I realized that what was at the heart of what I was resisting was also where I could access my resource of compassion for her.

So offered her the compassion that my 39 year old self does have for her. I sent her love. I showed up for her the best I could because ignoring her wasn’t doing me any good, just building up anxiety.

Sometimes looking back isn’t easy. But that’s how we heal those parts of ourselves that feel tender about old photos, the ones that stand out as the pivotal moments. 

And by looking ourselves in the eye and welcoming in that conversation we can help neutralize the charge around it, to ground the energy. Of course, this is not something we need to force or demand of ourselves. To me, that resistance and nervousness was actually a sign that the work was asking to be done (and of course, for some of us, we might also need the support of a therapist to do this work of looking back). But photos truly don’t have to be a place of anxiety or sadness. They can be a place of neutrality and exploration if we let them.

What happened after surprised me even more. One of my friends brought out a bunch of old letters I had written to her and other momentos from that time and our connection. Oh my, had I known this was coming too, I would have been equally as nervous as I was about the photos. Looking back is hard work. But there it was, this stack of letters in my familiar script.

I opened the first letter  I just started to weep. Sitting with the photos had cracked something open in me and these letters were taking me deeper in.

The words and the photos brought me back to a self I was just learning to love. I think that is what a lot of the anxiety was about too. I didn’t love myself then and even though I’ve done such big work on learning to love myself now, I hadn’t gone back to how it felt to be in the midst of that process at this really pivotal time.

I had to go back and learn to love her too.

And while I didn’t put that expectation on myself in this process of looking at old photos and opening up these old letters I had written, that is what happened. The words and the photos held this incredibly open-hearted 20-year-old (and yes, as vulnerable and messy as being so open-hearted brings).

I saw her incredible capacity to love others that would later become her capacity to love herself too.

I saw her visions for herself for the future.

I saw her learning to be loved and learning about heartbreak.

I saw her in the midst of perhaps an awkward stage of figuring out who she was.

I saw her awakening to her self-critique and how with support, she was starting to try to shed it but was still very much in the depths of it.

I’ve spent so long trying to not see her, knowing that she FELT SO MUCH and not wanting to go back to all that emotion.

I walked away from a few days that I had been incredibly nervous about, feeling like I found something unexpected in these photos, letters, and conversations. I had found a part of myself again, amongst those friends and our dynamics.

And yes, amongst the photos that told that story, even if it was a hard one to see. 

I left this gathering feeling seen in a way I didn’t expect. From others, but maybe most importantly, from myself.

I had been trying so hard not to see her, for years but it was time to start that conversation with myself again, with my history.

I’m grateful for 20 year old Vivienne patiently awaiting me in those photos and in the memories that surround them.

It was time to see her again.

To look at the young woman in the photos eye to eye nearly 20 years later. So I put my camera on the patio ledge and let myself be seen now too. I let myself just see what needed to be heard, which is one of my resilience practices. I may look sad in that photo but that’s not what I see.

I see a woman stepping up to her old stories, to her photo resilience and letting herself feel it all again.

photoresiliencenew300This is the kind of work we’re doing in the upcoming Photo Resilience class running September 1-15th.  I’m sharing the tools that I used during this time of healing how I saw myself (and continue to use to remain resilient).

Get more details about the Photo Resilience class here. Or if you haven’t experienced the Be Your Own Beloved class, there is a session of that program running this October!

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I hear these stories all the time, the kind that go something like:”I had an amazing time but then someone posted a photo on facebook and now I feel like all that joy is gone and all I feel is shame about the photo”.

Or that folks have tried taking self-portraits but “took one and hated what I saw and have avoided the camera ever since”.

And I so relate to them. I’ve been in each of those moments and I think a lot of us have.

I hear these stories almost every week. I get tagged in posts in body positive facebook groups I’m in when folks share these stories (and thanks so those of you who share Be Your Own Beloved as a resource when folks are struggling with how they see themselves in photos).  Almost every Body Positive memoir I’ve read (and I’ve read plenty of them) or body image experience I hear on my favorite Podcasts has a moment like this in the story of their body image journey where they saw a photo that sent them down too and it comes up in conversations regularly.

We see ourselves in critique in a photo and it feels like it stops us in our tracks as we feel shame for what we see.

But the challenge is, we stop there.

We hold that moment as a truth, as ‘proof’ of what our body looks like or how we feel about it. And, like in those books or experiences folks share on the podcasts I listen to, for many of us, it becomes a part of the story of how we see ourselves.

As though it was written in stone.

But here’s the thing. What is missing from this way of being with photos and in my opinion, is the missing piece in body image healing especially in relationship to photos is this: resilience.

It’s what has been at the heart of my own journey to heal how I see myself in photos too.

I had a story of what my body looked like too, written in stone, confirmed in my heart and mind as proof. In fact, the photo felt like proof of what my inner critic had been saying all along.

And in a way, it took hitting rock bottom with my self-worth that it changed. It took a point where it felt like there was no other choice but to try something other than self-hatred.

It took the tiniest whisper in me saying “Um…pardon me, but I don’t believe that your time on this earth was meant to be spent thinking your body is something you’re meant to hate and fight against. Could we at least try something different?”

And because I was at rock bottom, because I had listened to my inner critic for so long as though it was my guru, that voice felt like something I could at least try.

It felt like what Angela Davis said “Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.”

I feel like that’s where resiliency resides in us. Not in the places where we can see that there is going to be anything different, where we actually have that photo that we can see ourselves differently in. Or that moment when we shift past the self-critique in relationship to that photo we just got tagged in on Facebook.

Instead it’s in the moment where we stand before self-critique and self-compassion and choose a direction. Even if we don’t believe it yet. Even if we don’t think it’s possible.

This is how I became photo resilient. 

I started a conversation with the woman looking back at me in the photo, through the lens. 

And listened deeply for a story that wasn’t rooted in self-critique.

Even though it didn’t feel possible yet. 

And perhaps most importantly, continued the conversation even when it got tough. 

That’s the pivotal part. That’s where we become photo resilient.

Not by getting it perfect the first time and never having a hard day with our self-image.

But by showing up again and again.

photoresiliencenew300This is the work we’re doing in the upcoming Photo Resilience class running September 1-15th.  I’m sharing the tools that I used during this time of healing how I saw myself (and continue to use to remain resilient).

Get more details about the Photo Resilience class here. Or if you haven’t experienced the Be Your Own Beloved class, there is a session of that program running this October!

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  • Amanda FallAugust 23, 2016 - 12:25 pm

    Oh Vivienne, thank you. Your honesty and willingness to share your REAL journey always bring me such comfort and hope. I’m not totally resilient (I feel much better about pictures I take of myself, rather than ones other people take), but this helps. xoReplyCancel

  • […] about showing up in a conversation with ourselves and staying when the conversation gets tough. And this was most definitely a place where I had 100% being resistant to my own photo resilience, […]ReplyCancel


Earlier this month I had the honour of doing a talk at Creative Mornings here in Vancouver. If you’re not familiar with Creative Mornings, it is a speaker series that goes on in 149 cities around the world each and every month. There is a global theme each month and a speaker is invited to speak to that theme through their talk.

This months theme was…LOVE…a theme that was of course something I could speak to especially in relationship to seeing ourselves through a lens of love using our camera as our guide. And the best way I find to do that, is to share a bit about my story and how I learned to see myself with compassion and neutrality through the camera.

The day of the event was a great experience. I’ve been a longtime attendee of this event so it was pretty wild to be the one on stage this time. And while speaking is still outside of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, it’s something that feels important to do as a part of this Be Your Own Beloved work not for self-promotion but rather for connection…in hopes that sharing my story of shifting from self-critique to self-compassion just might make the difference in someone else feeling empowered to make that choice for themselves too.

If you’re interested in checking out more talks, a few of my local faves are Sam Bradd’s talk on Visual Language, Danielle Krysa (aka the Jealous Curator) and her talk on Humility, Kim Werker’s talk on Crafting to Fail and Rachael Ashe’s talk on Making by Hand. And if you haven’t been to a Creative Mornings event before you might want to see if there is one happening in your city or one near you!

So here it is (and you can also check it out here on the Creative Mornings site)!

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What does confidence look like through the camera lens?   

We know what we’re told confidence it’s ‘supposed’ to look like. We’re told it’s our goal, told what it looks like, what it wears, what it’s proportions are.

Or at least that’s what I thought. That’s what a lot of us think, even as we’re in the process of unlearning the expectations of what our body is ‘supposed to look like’. It felt like one of the remaining big expectations I had put on myself in my own body acceptance journey.

As though finding ‘confidence’ and taking photos that embody it was going to prove I crossed some body-love finish line.

And I believed that, until I tried to make it happen.

Until I chose ‘confidence’ as my word of the year a couple years ago. I don’t know if you do this practice, of choosing a word of the year and inviting it to permeate and inspire your year. I like to choose juicy words of the year. Ones that are going to shake up my world a bit and leave me thriving even more. Confidence was clearly going to be one of those. A success I’d reach in learning to love myself. A goal.

So I went out that year to discover my own confidence. What would it feel like? What would it look like? How would it change me? 

There were so many realizations that happened when I started to explore inviting in confidence through the camera and into my life as a whole and I’d love to share some of them with you today. I quickly realized that I was starting to equate ‘confidence’ with ‘perfection’ or feel like I was getting it right. It felt like one of those sticking points in my own body acceptance. To let go of ‘perfection’ as the goal and really learn to confidently walk the world in the skin I’m in.

But, much like any journey, it never quite goes as planned does it, and we find ourselves learning something completely different than we expected.

So there are 3 things I learned about what confidence looks like through the camera:


1.It looks different for everyone. 

There is no one way ‘confidence’ looks. I know it’s easy to think that’s not the case. Especially in the visual culture surrounding us ALL the time, including a lot of selfie culture. Confidence is supposed to look carefree, empowered, something we aspire to.

If I’m really honest with you, I sometimes find myself comparing myself to folks in the body positive world who rock bikini selfies or amazing shots in their bra and undies that make me stand up and give them an ovation. I get caught up in that whirlwind a lot, until I listen in to my way of finding confidence through the camera and remember that it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

And because there is a different kind of confidence awaiting me if I listen in for it. I thought maybe someday it would be but now that I’m starting to see what confidence looks like to me, through my own self-portraits, I’ve let go of any specific type of photo as what I hold up as embodied confidence.

I see it in the incredible people I get to work with too. Confidence is putting your toes into the frame of your very first selfie. Or sometimes not wiping the tears away and looking directly into the lens. For some it’s showing a part of ourselves that we’ve been hiding from the camera for a very long time. It might be not retouching our photo or even using creativity as a tool to see our photos with more love.

Confidence doesn’t look one way. There is no one kind of selfie you need to take to embody confidence. There is just you, showing up for yourself with resilience and an openness to see yourself in a new way. That’s what confidence through the camera looks like to me.


2. It’s from within. It’s the feeling translated through your photo.  And it doesn’t have to be seen by others to exist.

Confidence comes from listening to your own inner voice and letting it be heard. Not just the external expectations. It’s empowered self-awareness. Yet, saying that, it can feel like something that we need to achieve doesn’t it.

Or maybe I should say, it’s about giving less of shit about what other people think and caring more about what you think outside of those external voices! This is definitely a practice where the camera can be so helpful. My experience in that year and every since was that confidence looked like ME looking back at me in the photo and the strengthening of that inner voice than counteracted my inner critic, even if at first it was only a whisper.

What I love about this is that we can translate that inner self-awareness externally. Through our clothes or style. Through our expressions and creative explorations through the camera. And like I mentioned in #1…it doesn’t look any certain way. It’s you, listening in for your story and letting it be heard. 

Oh, and there’s one more piece to this one. It doesn’t need to be heard by others to be valid. I know especially when talking about selfies it’s easy to let confidence be something we derive from other people’s responses, but what I found out in that year of confidence explorations was that I stopped putting the power in the hands of other people, and returned it to my own hands.

Confidence is being the narrator of your own story and telling it your way.



3. It’s a Process.

Confidence to me feels like a process of taking brave action, getting vulnerable and then finding resilience and slowly building ourselves up to a place where we stop being our own enemy and get on our own team.

Taking self-portraits, of course, can be a tool for cultivating that resilience. One of the questions I SO commonly get is “How does one get the confidence to start taking selfies?” and the truth is, if you keep the camera at bay waiting to be ‘ready’, the day isn’t going to come. Because like any tool we use for body-acceptance, the work awaits us on the way there. Not before we begin.

Confidence through the camera isn’t something we achieve. It’s not picture perfect or a ‘perfect picture’. It’s the process of letting go of external expectations and learning about our own and learning to claim space as our weird, awesome, fabulous, quirky selves!

So, if it’s a process, then…

What does confidence look like? It looks like you, right here right now.

Finding confidence through the camera lens doesn’t look like any one kind of photo. It doesn’t even look like anyone else’s photo you’ve seen before, because it is your story unfolding.

In the learning, in the process.

Confidence looks like listening in for the new stories that are going to rewrite the old ones.

Confidence looks like you, stepping into your own power, listening in for your own voice.

There is no right or wrong way to embody confidence through the camera, nor is it a finish line you need to cross someday.

Confidence looks like you and I, in the process of learning this all. 


I’m so honoured to be sharing this post as a part of the Confidence Blog Carnival hosted by BamPowLife. It’s only Day 2 of the event where you’ll find each of these incredible folks (I know…some of my body-positive heroes too) and for the coming 10 days you’ll get to check out a blog post on the theme of Confidence from each of them!

Sarah Vance’s post went up yesterday and you definitely want to read it…she explores how Confidence feels (rather than looks)! And be sure to check out all these other amazing bloggers and their stories throughout the rest of the month!



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