#2 - Vivienne McMaster

It's quite a pleasure to have Vivienne as my second guest in the series.  She is an inspiring blogger and teacher of the Be Your Own Beloved e-courses, whose quirky self portraits are a gentle reminder for us to go easy on ourselves, to inject some fun into our days.  I've always wondered what set her on this course, and recently reached out to her to find out.


Lee-Ann:  How did you come to be on this current path of self love and healing through photography?

Vivienne:  I came to this work, to this path through my life experiences.  Using the tool of photography for self love and body-image healing was something that I did to change the way that I treated myself, to build a kinder relationship with myself.

I found my love for photography after going through a low time (a funk, a depression) in my late 20s and it so happened that our phones were starting to have cameras in them, and digital photography was becoming more accessible.  I just started taking photos to try to bring some beauty into my day and what happened was that I found that by inviting myself into the frame and being in the photo, I had discovered an unexpected space where I was in charge of what happened.  I was in control of how I saw myself in the photo, how I took it, how I moved in it, and how I reacted to it if I didn't like it.  I got to be the narrator of my own story for what felt like the first time in my life, and take that power back into my own hands.

I didn't go into it planning to teach or make it a business, but I'm so grateful that that came out of it.  It was clear to me that if these tools and activities that I was doing (by taking selfies) could help me, they could help other people too.  It became not just the work that I loved to do but a greater mission beyond that, and I see myself doing this work as long as there are women and men out there who believe that they aren't enough, that their bodies aren't worthy of love, and that these old stories appear when they see photos of themselves.

L-A:  What issue did you struggle with the most?  Have you fully conquered it or is it still a battle?

V:  I've struggled with negative body image for much of my life and found photos especially triggering.  But of course, that led to it being a powerful place of healing rather than a place of critique.

Thankfully, it's not an everyday battle anymore, as I worked hard to make peace with my body and my self image.  But we're human... there is an ebb and flow to everything so I definitely won't say that I've conquered it as some days are still challenging.  And if I see it only as something that I've conquered, those days would feel like a failure.  Instead, they are a place where I can invite in more compassion and show up for myself.

There are so many layers of healing for many women to do around body image, as we've been inundated with stories of what we're supposed to look like in order to be 'acceptable' or 'beautiful.'  It isn't something that we win or lose but dig deeper into - the unlearning of those standards of beauty, as I like to call them in my work, the rewriting of the story of how we see ourselves.

L-A:  Putting yourself on a public, global platform can feel very vulnerable for some people.  Did you have any reservations, or was it easy for you to share your journey from the beginning?

V:  It has been a slow and steady growing of both my message and my willingness to put myself out there.  I first started teaching about self portraits in general, the artistic, technical side of it, and have slowly let the self-compassion element move more and more to the forefront.  It has always been and is still vulnerable, though.  Every time that I put out something new, the vulnerability is extra fierce, especially because this work is so close to my heart.  I honestly can't say that it's been easy but it's been worth the vulnerability for sure.

I find especially that sharing the stories of my own self doubt and inner critic can be wildly vulnerable but if I'm going to ask people to be brave and share their photos and stories, I need to share mine too, particularly since from the start this work has been rooted in my own healing.  It's important for me to live the work, to be authentic and grow with it, and not just show a polished version of myself.

L-A:  What kind of feedback have you received from e-course participants facing the same struggles that you did?

V:  Most of the folks who join the class have a similar struggle with negative self-talk and self image and have been working on it through other modalities, but may not have thought to try photos as a place of healing, often because photos can feel like the place where those tender stories can come up.  That's who I created this work for, not for folks who already love being in photos or haven't struggled with their self image.

I've seen some incredible revelations happen in the class... women being in photos after avoiding being in front of anyone's camera, let alone their own, for a decade.  Others, within days of starting the class, get photos of themselves that they love even though that's something that they couldn't have imagined happening.  It's been powerful and an honour to witness, and often they just need to give themselves the space, the permission to let that healing happen.

L-A:  You take a lot of selfies and advocate using them as a tool for seeing ourselves with kindness. What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about selfies?

V:  I'm definitely a selfie advocate.  I started living this work almost a decade ago and teaching this work a year before selfies were officially a term, so it's been quite an adventure seeing the selfie culture unfold.  I think it's powerful, as so many more of us now have cameras accessible to us than ever before.

I think one of the biggest and most damaging commentaries on selfies is that people who take them are narcissistic or self-centred, or that we take them for other people's approval.  That's not what I'm witnessing at all or how I feel about the act of taking them.  Sure, there are people who do take them for other people's approval but that's not what I experience or teach.  I encourage people to take their selfies for themselves first and foremost, and be clear on how they feel about them before sharing them.  Because this is really about the connection to ourselves, to our self esteem, to our story that unfolds in a selfie.  It's a place to tell our stories and that's what I'm seeing far more than it being done for other people's approval.  Once we have our own approval, then support or comments or likes become a bonus, not the reason that we're sharing.

L-A:  You teach in various forms - e-books, e-courses, retreats.  What has each format taught you about yourself and your message?

V:  E-courses have been my primary way of getting the work out there, and I love that format.  The way that I like to create them invites someone to read the daily activity on their phone and then take the photo with that same device (fancy camera gear not needed).  I love that we're all around the world doing our activities and then get to gather in community to share our photos in our own time.

Retreats, on the other hand, have been amazing as I get to teach in person and answer questions directly.  In this format, I get to hear and help people more directly when they are facing their inner critic and fear of taking the photo, which is powerful for all of us.  With online classes, they get to process that on their own and come back and get support once they're through it themselves.  They both have value unto themselves.

I find e-books work well as a way to get introduced to the subject and I like for them to contain activities too, but I don't get to interact with the folks through them.  I really value that element in the other formats.  But especially with my work and with selfies in general, sometimes we need to ease towards being able to say YES and give it a try.  So e-books play that important role.  I also provide e-books of the activities in my classes, which is important so folks can keep exploring them after the class.

L-A:  What's next for you?

V:  I'm so excited about what's next!  I've been teaching Be Your Own Beloved for four years and during these last two years, I've been working on the future of this work behind the scenes.  It originated in a book manuscript (and I hope to put it out into the world in that format this year). But I'm also putting some of this new content into two brand-new programmes inviting people to take the next step after the awakenings they had in Be Your Own Beloved, and dig deeper into healing, creating a more peaceful relationship with their body.  We're still using the camera as our medium of course, but it digs even deeper.  It's been a long time coming and I'm so ready to teach this content, but as with most teachers, we live what we teach.  I needed to live this work into action and make sure that I could stand behind it (not just tell others to do it without having experienced it myself).  All my work comes from that place and I'm excited to share this new programme with people at last.  What is it...well, you won't have to wait much longer to find out.  I'll be announcing it in late November, so keep a watch on www.beyourownbeloved.com for the info!