"This is me. Proof that physical and mental health are beautiful no matter what they look like, that everyone deserves to love themselves, and that anyone can find their way to self-love by making the choice to start practicing."
A journey towards self love by Phoebe Angeni.
My journey towards self-love happened almost by accident, beginning, as most things do for me, with my passion for art. I’ve had a lot of difficulty throughout my life with mental and physical health – when I was little I developed PTSD, and I’ve gone through bouts with depression, anxiety, an unhealthy relationship with food, a chronic illness, and the side effects of all of these: self-hatred and weight gain. To quote Hagrid: ‘It was dark times, Harry, dark times.’ Lucky for me, early on I took a lifesaving interest in acting and literature, and I found a way to escape – into performing, reading fantasy novels, and writing poetry. I could be anyone I wanted to be when I didn’t feel safe to be myself, and I could live in any world I chose. Actor became my identity and performing became my life, my greatest joy, and my purpose to keep going through the hard times.
Two years ago, when I started to think about my acting career after university, my lifestyle began to shift. I knew objectively that being overweight would make it almost impossible for me to book and successfully perform the roles I wanted. On a more immediate level, I also got sick to the point where I had to take a semester off of university. Reality Check. I was forced to see myself not only as a Performer but also as Phoebe - to step fully out of character and into taking better care of myself.
For the first time, with the support of my mom, my doctor, and my therapist, I started to pay attention to my body’s health as well as my mind’s. I began doing a lot of yoga, got certified as a teacher to deepen my practice, and because I don’t like doing laundry (and I was too intimidated to go to the gym anyway) I started practising yoga naked. Nudity has always been my happiest and ultimate creative state – when I feel my most authentic and available for inspiration, so nude yoga was a natural next step. Moving through my yoga practice, I began to befriend my body, realising both how much it had carried me through and how much I had, in return, starved it of love. On the yoga mat, I chose to make my health journey first and foremost about honouring and loving myself, to uphold that standard of total self-love through practice, and to take that practice as seriously as I take my art and career. I know that, by definition, perfection is unattainable, so when I made this commitment I also knew I would fail (a lot), and I have, but as Beckett says, I am failing better each time.
Ultimately, to get to a healthy weight I lost about 100lbs, and as you can imagine there were a lot of noticeable changes – especially in the department of extra skin. When I started considering reconstructive surgery, I not only baulked at the cost (hello - I have student loans), but I also noticed I felt shame and fear because I was afraid that wanting to remove some of my extra skin meant that I didn’t fully love myself. I realised, however, that surgery for me is not about negative feelings towards any part of myself, rather, it’s about feeling more comfortable in my body. If and when I do have the funds and decide to get surgery I want it to be about honouring my body, letting go of what I no longer need, and starting a new chapter in my life. In the meantime, I decided that to honestly approach the possibility of future surgery through a place of love and gratitude I needed to take a break and have some fun celebrating the present moment: the health I’ve achieved and the beauty of who I am right now – extra skin and all.
However, even in the present moment, I’m still a junkie for creativity and a sucker for self-improvement, so I set myself some artistic challenges to attempt to go beyond gratitude and find delight in the way I look.
Challenge 1: Model for Life Drawing
I’ve been talking about how free and liberated and naked-loving I am, but the reality is that before this challenge I was the only one who had ever seen myself fully nude. I figured it was time to walk the walk, and, with the support of one of my best friends in the front row, I ended up LOVING IT. Throughout the two hours on my chaise lounge under the stage lights, I felt like a total goddess. The experience was almost like a moving meditation, and the physical concentration of remaining still while trying to sneakily ease the discomfort in my falling-asleep limbs replaced my internal monologue of reminders to suck in my stomach. Priorities. I took several peeks at the artists’ drawings in progress, and I was astonished to see myself reflected in such uniquely beautiful ways – each paper Phoebe showed me the possibility of finding joy in the way I look outside the context of my perfectionist mind.
Challenge 2: Nude Photo Shoot
I have always secretly (or not so secretly) wanted to do a nude photo shoot, and this past winter break the cosmos and my schedule finally seemed to align. I wanted to take photos in the nude because, unlike painting, photography is an objective medium and records subjects at their most naturalistic. It was the ultimate test to see if I could love all of my details, intimately captured, sans omission. Again I ended up LOVING IT. My photographer Kelsea’s support and encouragement allowed me to not only feel natural and comfortable in my environment but also to have fun. Like I said, the shoot was fantastic, and when I got the photos back, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of peace because for the first time I clearly saw the poetry of myself looking out from each image.
In the end, it wasn’t about the nudes - it was more about my journey to the nudes and my amazing support system along the way. I didn’t know if I would feel any kind of emotional or pictorial success from these experiences, or if I’d see myself any differently afterwards, but, in allowing myself to feel afraid of failure and try anyway, I’ve learned a lot about loving myself. And if I can do it – so can you.
Social media links: @phoebe_angeni @kelseaholderphoto @makeup_amanda