The Seen and The Seers

On Sunday night, after coming down from a double boudoir session high, I read a message from a fellow Body Project member that punched the ego straight out of my psyche. What followed helped shift energy within and without me and lead to an incredible awareness of my thoughts and actions--past and present--as well as a deep vulnerability that made me feel naked in my own home. It was the first time I had been humbled in such a raw way.

The things we hold against ourselves rest heavy on our hearts and eat away at our sense of worth. Forgive yourself for everything you have thought, said or done that you may have told yourself could not be forgiven. With an open and willing heart, you can be freed from the prison of self-damnation. —Iyanla Vanzant

With her permission, I am sharing parts of our conversation, but leaving out names. She began with a message stating her apprehensions toward being a part of The Body Project. Here is the latter of the two:

The letter I wrote about my body is kind of…well first of all, I’m not sure whether it’s too long. (A full page.) And second of all, I’m worried it may be a bit intense. I wrote about some of my early experiences with anorexia and the mental shift that I had to go through in order to recover from it, and how I feel that mental shift correlates to The Body Project. But the bit I’m most worried about is that I wrote about you, and how you inadvertently affected my experiences when we were kids. I’m partially proud of what I wrote, but also partially afraid that it might be hurtful. And that’s not what I want at all.

She wanted to check with me to be sure I wanted to read it. I immediately wrote back:

I welcome anything from people's histories. Of course, I had no idea I'd be a factor in someone's history. What did I do/say? I'm so sorry if I ever made you feel negatively about yourself. Please share this with me.


Throughout the next hour waiting for her response, I thought of myself as that stereotypical mean girl and my mind spiraled down a million negative paths. My stomach dropped and my face crumpled into confusion. I assumed I had ruined someone's life with some nasty, ignorant insult kids/teens are so apt to throw out without thinking.

I couldn't stand the thought of being that person. I needed to know what I had done. So I wrote a follow up:

I just can't stop thinking about this. I just can't believe I was ever a part of causing harm to you.

Within seconds, she calmed my worries, reassuring me that it was nothing I had directly done, but my inadvertent involvement in the particular situation was something she held onto for ten years and felt she needed to let go. Since I appreciate honesty, I told her to lay it on me. This is her letter to me:

When I was in sixth grade, I developed an eating disorder. I did all sorts of things to try to lose weight, from starving myself to drinking vinegar. I knew it was harming me, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I felt like “getting help” would be too melodramatic, because I didn’t think my disorder was severe enough. I worried people might think I was just trying to get attention if I made a big fuss over it.

These feelings were reinforced one day in gym class. We were standing in line waiting for our turns to throw a discus when one of the kids in front of me cracked a joke about anorexia, and the other kids laughed. I made up my mind then and there that I could never tell any of those kids about what was going on. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Life is very different now. Over the years, I figured out that my urge to starve myself really had nothing to do with trying to lose weight. It was a form of self-punishment that I used whenever I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I learned that those nasty internal voices were liars. I learned to identify the starvation urge as a symptom of something else, so that I could take care of myself properly whenever I started to relapse. Through that understanding, my body and I have come to peace with each other.

Our bodies aren’t just bodies. They’re where we live. They’re where we experience the joys and pains of life. My body is where I connect to the people around me. It’s where I share my love, my strength, my laughter. And it’s where I accept love, strength, and laughter from others when I need it most.

Why did that day in gym class stick in my head so much? Because those kids weren’t just random classmates; they were my friends at the time. Why do I bring this up now? Because one of them was you, Katy.

You see, this isn’t just about me. This is about all of us: the seen and the seers.

This is about you: how you grew from a kid laughing at a bad joke to a brilliant photographer, working to make the world a better, more compassionate place by opening people’s eyes to the human beauty around us.

This is about the people who will see your book: how they’ve chosen to take in these images, to let themselves be changed by them, to let their daily interactions be affected by what they’ve come to see as beautiful.

This is about figuring out that our urge to judge by impossible standards has nothing to do with beauty. It’s a form of self-punishment that we use whenever we feel that being human isn’t good enough. This is about identifying that where we do or do not see beauty is a symptom of something else—something that is affecting our entire world.

This is about choosing to be healthy, both in how we see ourselves and in how we see others.

This is about coming to peace with each other.

I am forever grateful for this woman's bravery and honesty. It's hard to confront someone! I hope that if you've ever found yourself saying or thinking anything that would greatly affect another, remember the bruises your own soul has endured and let it go. Or if you've been bruised, be honest. Let's start healing.